Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Texting in Italian

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Texting in Italian

Article excerpt

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IN A RECENT ARTICLE on Italian vowel clusters in singing, the present author outlined a method for analyzing all vowel digraphs, in a manner that differed in a few details from the methods usually encountered in the literature on lyric diction.1 The two most significant departures were 1) the distinction between hiatus (iato) and diphthong (dittongo), and 2) the reinstatement of an older analytic tool in Italian linguistics-the hard/ soft (aspro/dolce) opposition between individual vowels. In this article, the results of a survey of vocal selections in Italian will be given, with a view to determining the relationship between systematic linguistic analysis and actual musical practice. Before doing so though, it will prove useful to review briefly these two departures.

The iato/dittongo contrast is standard in contemporary Italian linguistics, and defines whether vowel digraphs belong to separate syllables (iati) or are constrained within a single syllable (dittonghi).

Earlier analyses of Italian sound structure divide the seven vowels into two groups:

aspro /a/ /e/ /ε/ /o/ /c/

dolce /i/ /u/

In other words, dolce vowels are only those that may function as semiconsonants (syllable-initial or diphthong on-glide, /j/ and /w/). The aspro vowels cannot do this. In musical terms, dolce semiconsonants are typically granted no rhythmic duration in musical notation, while aspro vowels are either the syllabic vowel or the second element of a falling diphthong, and as such receive explicit or implicit durational value in musical notation. Note also that only the dolce vowels are fully high (close) vowels. In purely articulative terms, their close status encourages their use as semiconsonants [j] and [w], in that the brief duration of such articulations naturally "explode" into the ensuing more open vowel, in a way that the more open vowels themselves cannot do with one another. In other words, the constriction created by the semiconsonants functions as a release valve for the "subconstrictive" air pressure, in much the same way as fricative or plosive consonants, and the glottal stroke.

This article will explore selected Italian operatic and song scores with a view to determining exactly how composers set vowel digraphs to music. Will an unstated standard emerge for each category of digraph, or should we expect to find a high level of agreement in some categories and less agreement in others? Will consistency emerge within the vocal music of a single composer, or period, or genre? In what contexts do composers rely on the common sense of the singer in determining the manner in which a diphthong or hiatus is to be rendered? In what contexts do composers feel the need to be quite prescriptive in the handling of vowels, in terms of rhythm and text underlay? These matters can be quite vexing for non-Italian-speaking singers, and the guidelines that underlie natural rhythmicization of text are not always straightforward.

For our purposes, we shall classify Italian vowel digraphs into seven categories:2

1. Falling diphthong (first-vowel syllabic) in a stressed syllable or monosyllable, ending with a dolce semivowel.

mai / lui / Laura

2. Falling diphthong (first-vowel syllabic) in a stressed syllable or monosyllable, ending with an aspro vowel.

mea / credea / mia / follia / sue / tuo

3. Hiatus (iato), or two-syllables (second-vowel stress).

aita / beato / maestro / iato

4. Unstressed (usually pre-stress) digraphs (excluding rising diphthongs).

creatura / ohimè / neonate / violino / perpetuo

5. Rising diphthong in a stressed syllable.

piano / fiori / quando / puote

6. Rising diphthong in an unstressed syllable.

piacevole / pietà / fiorito / piùttosto / guardare / squisito

7. Digraphs that create a pure vowel.

giá / giovane / cielo

The results of this study will address two particular areas of expected variance in how composers set such digraphs musically:

1. …

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