A Commentary upon the Art of Proper Singing

Publication details: Originally published in 1668. Brooklyn: The Institute of Medieval Music. Translated and Edited by Austin Caswell.

Who was Bénigne de Bacilly? (c 1625 – 1690) French singing teacher and composer who lived mainly in Paris. Although important as a composer—he  published several books of chansons and secular and sacred airs—his most valuable legacy is the vocal treatise Remarques curieuses sur l′art de bien chanter (1668), a prime source of information on French 17th-century vocal practice. (From the 1994 Oxford Grove Music Encyclopedia)

What is A Commentary upon the Art of Proper Singing? This work is divided into three parts. The first deals with singing in general. The second and third parts concern themselves with the application of singing to French words, with regard to their proper pronunciation. Bacilly is a strong proponent of teaching by imitation—that is, the singing teacher must demonstrate vocally for the student in order to communicate proper technique, intonation, diction, etc.

Great Quotes from A Commentary upon the Art of Proper Singing:

The voice and its placement are gifts of nature and can only be perfected—never acquired—through training.” (Bacilly 6)

“It is, therefore, a grave error to say that a person isn’t a good singer, but that he is a good voice teacher… And above all, if his voice contains any harshness and roughness, how will he be able to transmit sweetness, lightness and delicacy?” (Bacilly 16)

The throat must be so well-disposed by nature that the singer is able to sing a piece pleasantly and according to the rules in a very short time and with almost no training, so that the listener has good reason to be confused about how long the singer has studied.” (Bacilly 24)

“So doing, the teacher can sing together with the student, so that the student ever afterwards will be able to sing without concern over his pitch, on condition that he sings the tones as much as possible from the diaphragm (du fonds du gosier), which is the sole guide to “correctness” in singing.” (Bacilly 28)

“It is essential that the teacher have a good voice himself, and above all that he have good pitch. I wish to emphasize this vocal prerequisite, because the teacher must demonstrate vocally to the student. After all, singing is not learned by text books, nor by rules and regulations unless there is good vocal demonstration to reinforce them.” (Bacilly 31)

“It is a very common maxim among teachers of singing that if a person wants to sing properly, he must open his mouth… it is just as great an error to open the mouth in the wrong places. This is especially true of certain vowels and dipthongs which rather than openness demand that the mouth be held nearly shut.” (Bacilly 133)

Hover the cursor over any quote to pause it.

Note: The quotes I have selected do not necessarily reflect my own views on the subjects they address, and they may not be scientifically accurate. They were chosen because they are representative of the author’s views. –Dr. Nielsen