James Rush.

The philosophy of the human voice : embracing its physiological history; together with a system of principles, by which criticism in the art of elocution may be rendered inteligible [i.e. intelligible], and instruction, definite and comprehensive to which is added a brief analysis of song and recita online

. (page 58 of 59)
Online LibraryJames RushThe philosophy of the human voice : embracing its physiological history; together with a system of principles, by which criticism in the art of elocution may be rendered inteligible [i.e. intelligible], and instruction, definite and comprehensive to which is added a brief analysis of song and recita → online text (page 58 of 59)
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presion in song ; so the habitual practice of the ambitious and un-
meaning Bravura, destroys, in a great degree, a perception of the
original signs of feeling in song ; and by its artificial dificulties
and contortions, destroys the comand over the means, originaly
ordained for the expresion both of speech and of song. If I
had the oportunities of European experience, I might speak with
greater knowledge and precision ; but far as I have observedj
singers who excel in the florid execution, acquired by the mere
drill of the Conservatorio, and exercised in the rotine of the
Concert- room or the Stage, are not often gifted with that delicacy
of mental perception which sometimes acompanics the organization
of a musical ear. For the temperament of a singer can as readily
be perceved, in his peculiar management of time, stress, and into-
nation, as the thot and pasion of an original and independent
writer can be gathered from his style.

What is called a musical ear, seems to depend on an inscrutable
instinct, and the exercise of atentivc observation by this sense:
and tho our history indicates, that high acomplishments in elocu-
tion must always be grounded on its discriminations; still the
training of the ear, by those who ex(^el in the afected dificulties of
the Florid song, and the formal character both of taste and feel-
ing thereby rendered habitual; in a great measure, destroy


the conection between the state of mind and its vocal sign, consti-
tuting the proper expresion of speech. There have been Actors,
who under an enlightened system of Elocutionary instruction,
might liave entered into the philosophy both of passion and
speech ; and who, by discipline, could have reached the flexibility
of florid execution in the singing voice. And yet we have cause
to beleve, that had this power over the intricacies of song, been
habitualy exerted, particularly under the absorbing vanity, so apt,
in this case, to acompany suces, it must have destroyed the comand
over the equable concrete, Avhich would have enabled them to give
their consumate intonation to the language of the tragic poet.
We will supose, Mrs. Siddons, with a nice perception of Time and
Tune, might perhaps have joined-voice with the incomparable
Mara, in the expresive songs of Handel or Mozart, without im-
pairing her power over Shakspeare. But she would have been
lost forever to all the influence of thot and pasion over speech, had
she been trained with Catalani, to that extreme of vocal execution
which is said to have outstriped the conventional means of nota-
tion, within the wonder-serving inventions of the comjwsers of
the day.


The term Recitative is aplied to the intonation of certain dra-
matic and vocal compositions. It had its name from being em-
ployed for narative or recital, in contradistinction to the intonation
of song, which was apropriated to expres the mental state of Feel-
ing. Recitative is however employed at present in the Italian
Opera, and other compositions, as the suposed means of speaking
expresion, as well as for the comon purposes of the dialogue.

Nothing has puzled musical logicians more than the atempt to
define this term.

Rousseau, in his dictionary, speaks of it thus: 'Recitative. A
discourse recited in a musical and harmonious tone. It is a
method of singing which aproaches nearly to speech, a declama-


tion in music, in which the musician should imitate as much as
posible, the inflections of the declaiming (o)' the speaking) voice.'

Busby gives the folowing definition : ' Recitative. A species
of musical recitation, forming the medium between Air and rhe-
torical Declamation, and in which the composer and performer,
rejecting the rigorous rules of time, endeavor to imitate the inflec-
tions, acent, and emphasis, of natural speech.'

One calls ' Recitative, a kind of singing that difers but little
from ordinary pronunciation.'

Another says, 'Recitative is speech delivered thru the medium
of musical intonation.'

And others, still more general, describe it as, ' singing speech,'
and, 'speaking song.'

Before we are taught what we require in knowledge, we do not
perceve how little satisfies us : and altho we have yet much to
learn on the subject of the voice, we have taut ourselves enuf, to
authorize the remark, that all these definitions, written to instruct,
contain no further exjjlanation, than might be given by the hum-
blest auditor at an Oratorio. By the terms of all these defini-
tions. Recitative is somehow made-up of speech and song. As the
elementary movements of song had, in a degree, been known and
described, the meaning of its term might have been inteligible.
But, regarding speech, on which these definitions are in part con-
structed, let us hear Rousseau, under the very article -vve have
quoted. ' The inflections of the speaking voice are not bounded
by musical intervals. They are uncontroled, and imposible to be

A knowledge therefore of the construction of Recitative, by that
of its mingled or interwoven constituents, song and speech, the
later of which is here declared to be utcrly inaprcciablej must
acording to Rousseau at least, require some other powers of c!om-
prehension, than we at present posses. For having no perception
of the characteristics of one of the constituents, our knowledge of
Recitative seems to have been, if I may be alowed to jest, not un-
like that of our personal acquaintance with the heads of a family,
when the father is niuried to an inaudible, intangible and invisible

In general description, Speech, Song, and Recitative, arc varied


forms of intonation ; deriving their specific difercnces from the
number, kind, and combination of tjieir respective vocal move-
ments. Having described the melodial peculiarities of Speech, and
of Song, which are the only divisions of vocal expresion founded
on instinctive indications, let us by the light of our history, en-
deavor to point out the characteristics of the artificial intonation
of Recitative.

The Plainest style of Recitative, for its style varies, is charac-
terized by the folowing construction.

First. It has no systematic rythmus or musical measure in the
progresion of melody.

Second. It never gives more than one note to a single sylable ;
song sometimes aplying several short notes over one.

Third. It employs the protracted radical and protracted vanish
and the wave, on long quantities^ and ocasionally the equable
concrete on short ones.

Fourth. Its melodial intervals, or the discrete movements of its
radical pitch, are of every extent, both in upward and downward

Fifth. It employs the means of time, force, vocality, abruptnes
and intonation.

These are the simple constituents of Plain Recitative : and the
folowing are some of the principles of their aplication.

The melodial succesion variously consists of the monotone, and
of other phrases, in every interval of radical pitch. It makes no
systematic distinction between a diatonic groundwork, and the con-
trasted emphasis of wider intervals, which gives efective power,
dignity, and expresion to speech : the sucesions of its pitch being
rather acording to the promiscuous mingling of song. I have Jiot
recognized, in what is caled unaccompanied recitative, an aplica-
tion of the doctrine of key ; its melodial relationships having in
this respect the characteristic of speech. The cadence or full
pause is made by phrases of every form, from the monotone, to
the rising and faling discrete octave ; the curent melody consisting
of the protracted radical, or protracted vanish, with an ocasional
rising and faling concrete and wave. All these constituents are so
intermingled and aranged by the composer, as not only to suit
that caprice, he may miscal Expresion, but also to give that order


to the constituentsj he may choose to call Melody. If however
we cease to beleve upon authority, that Recitative is wonderf uly
expresive, we will then begin to reflect, how this suposed variety,
founded on wider intervals and waves, with a frequent recurence
of upward and downward skips, and with so many mounting and
plunging cadences, must, by its constant and violent obtrusions, be
shockingly monotonous to the Natural Science of an ear, acustomed
to a true vocal expresion, under the easy and gratifying variety of
cultivated speech.

Such being the structure of Recitative, its expresion can have
but little resemblance to that of the speaking voice. Comparing
its plainest form above described, with the intonation of speech,
which it pretends to borowj its only means of expresion on indi-
vidual sylables, for its curent has none, are included under the
folowing heads.

First. The expresion of slow and of rapid uterance ; and of long
and of short quantity.

Second. That of the degrees of force ; both as to emphasis and

Third. Of vocality ; particularly of gutural vibration, and the
ofotund. вАҐ

Fourth. Of intonation ; by the ocasional employment of the dis-
crete rising fifth or octave, for inquiry ; of the downward skip,
for positive or imperative declaration ; and of the wave of the
semitone and the minor third, for plaintivenes. But even these
are so iregularly mingled with contra-meaning constituents, that
like the same constituents in the throat of the mocking-bird, tlicy
lose much, if not all their exprcsive character. Nor are they
aplied according to invariable rule : for I have heard true inter-
ogative words, intonated with a sinq)le monotone, or ditone ; de-
clarative questions with a downward fifth, or octave ; and forcible
imperatives, with the widest ascending intervals. This, with the
'Little Book' and pencil in hand, was noted at the Oj)era.

Plain Recitative at once strikes the comon ear as very remark-
able, and so distinct from speech and song, that its structure, and
its characterj for it can scarcely be regarded Jis exprcsive to a
natural earj must wiien compared with the structure and ex})resion
of speech and of song, give a definite perception of these three


vocal functions, and enable us to point-out what is peculiar to
each. AVc pcrceve, that one cannot asume the character of another,
without droping its own character, and becoming altogether that
other : and that definitions Avhich set-^brth Recitative, as a musi-
cal intonation of speech, or an engrafting of the inflections of
speech on song, or of song on speech, are without either clearnes
or truth. We can further perceve, that as speech never employs
the protracted notes, but always the equable concrete, or its modi-
fications, it does not, under this broad distinction, partake in efect,
of the character of song or of recitative ; and both these, using
the protracted notes, are more nearly related ; and with slight
change do mutualy pass into each other. And so it hapens, that
the singer often gradualy j^ases from the above described Plain
Recitative, to the florid execution, by freely introducing all the
intonations of song. Hence instead, of this plain construction
with its few constituents, he introduces to a greater or less extent,
the risiiig and the faling concrete in all their forms; tremors,
notes, waves, and even divisions and shakes : in short, while aply-
ing these constituents, under a bared and rythmic time, he does,
in efect, produce the full characteristic of song itself.

Of these three forms of intonation, it apears, that Speech and
Song, both by construction and efect, are most unlike each other;
that even the plainest Recitative, by construction more nearly re-
sembles song, and in its execution by vocalists, most readily runs
into it ; that Speech has the most extended and delicate powers
of expresing thot and pasion ; by the union of a conventional
language with an instinctive intonation, and a perfect adaptation
of one to the other ; that Song, by the sucesion of its notes, and
concrete intervals, and other forms of intonation, together with
vocality, quantity, and force, has, exclusively of words, its own
peculiar maner of exciting feelings of grandeur, pathos, gayety,
and grace; and that Recitative, which, by one of the not unfre-
quent delusions of perception, was originaly introduced, and has
since been continued for centuries, as embracing within itself the
characteristic expresion of both speech and song, docs, by this
vain efort to join two incompatible functions, realy destroy the
peculiar and delightful character of each.

Composers may among theuLselves have framed rules for a con-


ventional meaning in Reeitative, to which being long acustomcd,
they may have come at last to beleve them to be the rules of
instinctive expresion. If those, not under the influence of habit,
do sometimes listen witli pleasure to Recitative, or say they doj is
it not from this vocal Odity having been invented, or revived in
modern Italyj Italy has, thereupon, asumed to give law to the
musical world ; or from its being expected at the Opera ; or care-
lessly heard, in anticipation of the suceding Air ? Such influences
too often pervert our perception, and reconcile us to a vitiated
taste. Besides, it is as far, in the present state of the human
mind, from being true, in Art, as it is in Governmentj that an
alowed dictatorial authority, except in the saving-energy of a des-
perate case, is a protection against eror and coruption. The Archi-
tecture of Italy, with a sort of prescriptive right to direct the
world, has in most of its departments, from the old Roman, down-
ward, done as much violence to the principles of unity, grandeur,
simplicity, order, and cautious variety j as the false pretensions of
Recitative have done to the true and beautiful system of vocal
expresion both in speech and song.

After Recitative, by some capricious straining after novelty,
was introduced, it became an object with the reflective part of its
votaries, as well it might, to find some ground to justify its use.
With this view, it was by a strange conceit, clased among the
Imitative arts ; and its peculiar intonation was su posed to be a
refined copy of comon speech, raised to the ' Beau Ideal ' of vocal

The folowing free translation of an extract from an article by
Marmontel, in the French Encyclopedia of Diderot, under the
word Recitative, describes this ' theory.' ' When the Italians pro-
posed to give a melody to theatric declamation, the purpose in
joining music with it, like the purpose of exalting prose into
poetry, was to erabelish Nature in imitiiting licr. In other words,
to give to declamation a character more agreeable to the ear, and
if posible, more exciting to the feelings than tliat of natural speo

Online LibraryJames RushThe philosophy of the human voice : embracing its physiological history; together with a system of principles, by which criticism in the art of elocution may be rendered inteligible [i.e. intelligible], and instruction, definite and comprehensive to which is added a brief analysis of song and recita → online text (page 58 of 59)