Magazine article American Music Teacher

Bel Canto: A Performer's Guide

Magazine article American Music Teacher

Bel Canto: A Performer's Guide

Article excerpt

Bel Canto: A Performer's Guide, by Robert Toft. Oxford University Press, 2013. www.oup.com/us; 288 pp., $29.95.

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This recently published volume is designed to inform singers of performance practices employed in what is commonly referred to as the bel canto style of singing, more specifically between 1780-1830. Toft's premise is singers were expected to compose vocally appropriate decorative passages (ornaments) in recitatives, songs and arias, and to also present repertoire in other prescribed musical and visual styles that were popular during that period. Such ornaments were expected by audiences during that time not only to demonstrate a singer's creativity, but ultimately to heighten the dramatic impact of the text.

This guide would be an excellent companion book to Martha Elliott's Singing in Style ..., which encompasses vocal performance practices other than bel canto, but Toft's work provides greater source material and more musical examples specifically in that style. Bel Canto ... is organized into two principal sections: Part One--The Principles of Bel Canto-1. definition and brief explanation of the bel canto style; 2. phrasing; 3. rhythm and tempo; 4. tonal contrast (timbre), register and vibrato; 5. ornamentation; and 6. dramatic action. Part Two consists of six extended musical examples that display these principles in notated form.

There is a significant amount of detail in the chapters relating to phrasing, ornamentation and the musical examples, to which nearly 75 percent of Toft's volume is devoted. …

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