Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Read the Footnotes! Garcia on the Timbres

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Read the Footnotes! Garcia on the Timbres

Article excerpt

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

ONE OF THE MANY WAYS that Garcia helped us in our thinking about the voice was to differentiate timbre from the vowel. He allowed that there were two timbres: clear and somber, or bright and dark. The vowel sounds were separate from the timbres, the vowels being formed in the oral cavity with the tongue as the primary influence, and the timbres formed in the pharynx, primarily under the influence of the position of the larynx. Vowels can have a bright or dark character separate from the timbre. If the larynx was low it resulted in the somber timbre. A high larynx resulted in the clear timbre. This was the basis of a broad range of colors of the voice with which to express the emotion and thoughts of the character being portrayed.

In his second volume of the Complete Treatise on the Art of Singing,1 Garcia provided many examples of coloring the voice to communicate the meaning of the text. Here is a section called "The Timbres" from Chapter 4 of Volume 2, entitled "Expression." There are extensive footnotes in the text that contain very interesting insight into his understanding of the influence of physiology upon tone quality. The figures are scanned from my ancient edition (undated), published by Schott's and Sons in Mayence (Mainz), Germany in parallel French and German.


A few tries suffice to ascertain that each emotion, however slight the shade of it may be, will appropriately affect the vocal organ by modifying the capacity, the conformation, the rigidity, in short, all the physical conditions of it. The organ is therefore a mould which is constantly transformed under the action of the various emotions, and imparts their imprint to the sounds which it emits. Thanks to its admirable flexibility, this organ also aids, up to a certain point, in the description of exterior objects, as one can observe even in simple conversation. If it concerns, for example, representing a hollow, long [étendu] or thin object, the voice produces, by a mimicking movement, hollow, long or thin, etc., sounds.

The timbres are such an essential part of the discourse, they are so truly the condition of a sincere feeling, that one could not be negligent in the choice of it without falling infallibly into error. There are those which reveal the intimate feeling which the words do not always express sufficiently, and which they sometimes even tend to contradict. The pieces which portray indecision, troubled thought, irony, poorly restrained grief, require only the mixture and instability of the timbres; also it is necessary to express each of these feelings by the kind of disorder which is appropriate to it; wherever the idea is precise, the timbre maintains its unity.

We have said above (see Part One, chapter III); that the somber timbre (metallo oscuro, or coperto) was produced when the tube was deep and bent at a right angle by the lowering of the larynx; while on the contrary, the clear timbre (metallo chiaro, or aperto) is obtained when the buccal tube is slightly curved, the larynx is presented at the isthmus of the throat. At the point at which we have arrived, these notions do not suffice at all. It is necessary to know that the lips of the glottis can vibrate equally, either when the posterior extremities are put into contact (by the bringing together of the internal processes of the arytenoids), or when these extremities remain separated. In the first case, the sounds are emitted with all the brilliance possible; in the second, the voice takes a dull character.65

This brilliance or this dull color of the tones can indistinctly modify the clear timbre and the sombre timbre, and offer the student a throng of resources which permit him to appropriately vary the expression of the voice.66

The examples which follow will serve to illustrate the importance of this observation. The curse of Edgardo;

Maledetto sia l'istante

(Donizetti: Lucia, Finale. …

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