Changing Vocal Style and Technique in Britain, 1750-1900

Sarah Potter (sarahpottermusicology@gmail.com), Changing vocal style and technique in Britain during the long nineteenth century. PhD, University of Leeds, 2014.

This thesis presents an overview of solo singing styles and techniques prevalent in Britain during the long nineteenth century, drawing upon evidence from didactic writing, correspondence, critical review, biography, voice science research, and early acoustic recordings in order to analyse changing approaches to voice production and musical expression. The discussion of vocal style is underpinned by discussion of a changing approach to larynx height, and concepts of chiaroscuro, bel canto, and expression are reconsidered in the light of technical discussion. The origins of the continuous larynx-lowering now expected of the modern operatic singer are recognised in early nineteenth-century voice science literature, but notable trends in selective larynx-lowering are identified from the mid nineteenth century onwards. This confirms the ideal of continuous larynx-lowering as a twentieth-century development, and has significant repercussions for current approaches to historically-informed performance and the singing of ‘early music’. The changing use of vibrato effects, portamento and messa di voce, and the application of expressive devices more generally throughout this period are considered within the context of nineteenth-century approaches to voice production.

This thesis is accompanied by a four-CD portfolio of recordings that demonstrates experimentation with nineteenth-century styles and voice production techniques, the emulation of early recorded vocal performances, and the realisation of nineteenth-century repertoire using historically-appropriate approaches to style and technique. Repertoire includes didactic material, operatic arias (including those by ‘bel canto’ composers), repertoire annotated by renowned pedagogue Manuel Garcia II, and works sung by celebrated nineteenth-century performers and early recording artists. Also included is experimentation with audio filtering that seeks to emulate the limited frequency capture of early acoustic recording apparatus with a view to further understanding the evidence of nineteenth-century voices on record.

The completed thesis (and accompanying audio) can be downloaded (free of charge) using the British Library e-theses online service: http://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?did=4&uin=uk.bl.ethos.638939.