The García Family: The Pedagogic Legacy of Romanticism's Premiere Musical Dynasty

By Stevens, Robyn A. | Journal of Singing, May/June 2009 | Go to article overview

The García Family: The Pedagogic Legacy of Romanticism's Premiere Musical Dynasty


Stevens, Robyn A., Journal of Singing


THE GARCÍA FAMILY OCCUPIES a unique place in music history. Their legendary abilities as singing actors, composers, and pedagogues prompt Howard Bushnell to state in Maria Malibran, A Biography of the Singer: "of all the great musical dynasties of nineteenth century Europe, the García family stands supreme."1 Indeed, the Garcías' diversified musical and intellectual abilities exerted a powerful influence, affecting the Romantic ideal in music and literature from the movement's inception. George Sand, Victor Hugo, Ivan Turgenev, and countless composers fell under their spell. The significance of their diverse accomplishments, however, would be overshadowed by their achievements in the arena of voice pedagogy. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Garcías' studios earned international fame, producing some of the greatest singers and teachers of the age, and establishing a pedagogic legacy that has endured to the present time.

Manuel del Pópulo García (1775-1832) formed his first "Academy" in 1823 while performing in London.2 His teaching method adhered to the centuries old techniques employed by the castrati, emphasizing bream management, vocal flexibility, and a thorough understanding of musical structure. To this well established tradition, García père added his personal observations concerning vocal registration and development, defining "register" as a "series of consecutive sounds produced by one mechanism differing essentially from another series of equally homogeneous sounds."3 He advised the student

. . . to manage the high notes and guard against tiring them through study, because this part, being the most delicate, is that in which the timbre is altered most easily. On the other hand if one exercises particularly the low and medium notes, one fortifies them . . . making the low sounds arrive on the ear with a force more or less equal to the high notes . . .4

García père's speculative observations later would receive substantive support through his son, Manuel Patricio García (1805-1906), whose research in vocal physiology resulted in the development and use of the laryngoscope. In Transactions of the International Medical Conference, 7th Session, Volume III, a record of lectures held in London during the summer of 1881, García fils stated his frustration at being unable to adequately explain the vocal process to students, and how he came to invent the laryngoscope.

When I began to teach singing, the physiological explanations I was obliged to give my students were purely empirical and did not inspire me with any confidence as to the results . . . To dissipate my own doubts I could think of but one method - it was to see a healthy glottis exposed in the very act of singing . . . One September day in 1854, I was strolling in the Palais Royal, preoccupied with the ever recurring wish so often repressed as unrealizable, when suddenly I saw the two mirrors of the laryngoscope in their respective positions, as if actually present before my eyes. I went straight to Charrirére, the surgical instrument maker, and asking if he happened to posses a small mirror with a long handle, was informed that he had a little dentists' mirror which had been one of the failures of the London Exhibitions of 1851. I bought it for six francs . . .5

The invention of the laryngoscope not only established a new branch of medical study, but revolutionized ideas about voice instruction.6 The subsequent use of scientific observation in support of traditional teaching methods established García fils as the father of modern voice pedagogy.

Manuel Patricio García's findings would result in a revision of thought concerning repertoire for the young singer. García often stated that his own vocal weakness resulted from his father making him sing the tenor role of Don Ottavio in Mozart's Don Giovanni with an unformed baritone voice at age nineteen.7 Addressing the student's need for appropriate repertoire, his sister, Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), took upon herself the job of editing all the singing volumes published for use at the Paris Conservatoire. …

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