Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Herman Klein: A "Contemporary" Link to Mozart (III)

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Herman Klein: A "Contemporary" Link to Mozart (III)

Article excerpt

prov*e*nance (prov'a-nans) n. Place of origin, source. [LAT. Provenire, to originate.]

In 2007 I presented in two subsequent columns1 excerpts from Herman Klein's book The Bel Canto.2 Klein was a former student of Garcia and became a well respected critic and voice teacher. I was reminded of Klein and his work through Daniel Shigo's blog called Voicetalk3 and an article he wrote concerning his work on Klein's all-but-forgotten manual, The Phono-Vocal Method. Here is the introduction to that original column from 2007 followed by additional chapters from The Bel Canto.

During my study of the work of Manuel Garcia II, I became aware of the name of Herman Klein. Klein was a well known music critic and voice teacher in London who also spent several years in New York City. Among many other literary accomplishments he provided critical reviews of newly released recordings for the English journal The Gramophone from 1924 until his death in 1934. He was the first to offer critical analysis of recordings (mainly singers) made during the infancy of the recording industry and during its transition from the original acoustic method to the birth of the electrical age of sound recording.

One of the life experiences that qualified Herman Klein for his role as a critic of singing was his long association with Manuel Garcia. Klein's family hosted Manuel Garcia in their home in London for several years beginning in 1874. Garcia's studio was on the first floor of their home in Manchester Square. Klein studied with him for a period of about four years while he was a young man still living in his parents home. Klein always showed promise in literary pursuits, and Garcia advised him that a professional singing career was probably not in the cards. So, he dedicated himself to writing and the study and teaching of singing. He became a highly respected teacher in his own right and continued his friendship with Garcia. He helped the old man write his last work, Hints on Singing, published in 1894.

In 1923 Klein published a modest book entitled simply The Bel Canto. In this book he sought to describe the technical foundations that he felt were important for singing the music of Mozart. Klein's expertise in this area came from the fact that he had worked so closely with a man who had very close to association to first and second generation Mozart singers and whose father was Rossini's favorite tenor (Manuel Garcia pere).


To the code of laws that governs the Italian school of singing there need only be added a few words on the subject of enunciation and diction. Here the laws are again almost universal; but the rules for their application should be modified according to the language employed by the singer.

'Music,' as Garcia has said, 'though the language of the emotions, can only arouse them in a vague and general manner. To express any feeling or idea we must make use of words. Hence the importance for the singer of delivering these with the utmost distinctness, correctness, and meaning, under the penalty of losing the attention of the audience' (Hints on Singing, p. 45).

The mechanism of verbal utterance is the same in singing and in speaking. So far as the pronunciation of consonants is concerned, it must not be altered or varied, unless greater distinctness of articulation can be so obtained. For instance, what might be regarded as exaggeration in ordinary speech or drawing-room conversation seems perfectly natural in singing or stage elocution. I have generally found that, granted the vocal gift, the person who speaks well stands a better chance of making a good singer than the person who speaks badly.

The disparity between English and Italian as singing languages is greatly over-estimated and can always be overcome, although it seldom is. The advantage of the Italian lies chiefly in the more 'open' vowels-an advantage not to be despised, seeing that 'intonation, sustaining of the voice, expression or quality of timbre, tonic accent, and vocalization are all entrusted to the care of the vowel. …

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