Ten Singing Lessons

Publication details: 1901. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers.

Who was Mathilde Marchesi? (1826-1913) German mezzo-soprano, a renowned teacher of singing, and a proponent of the bel canto vocal method. She was an assistant to Manuel Garcia II (1805-1906) before establishing her own studio, in which she trained Nellie Melba, Emma Calvé, and Emma Eames.

What is Ten Singing LessonsThis book contains the “lessons” of six fictional young women:  Louise, Louison, Bertha, Rose, Valentine, and Marie. Through the vehicle of describing these lessons, Marchesi communicates many of the pedagogical principles on which her teaching was based. In particular, she frequently addresses the vocal onset (attempting to clarify Garcia’s infamous coup de glotte) and vocal registration (chest, medium, and head, in her conception).

Great Quotes from Ten Singing Lessons:

There are teachers who tell their pupils to sing from their feet, and others who tell them to get the tones out of the backs of their heads. Some advocate singing entirely from the stomach, and others even ask their pupils to sing from the pelvis. And most of these are at the same time requiring from their student such vicious methods of tone formation that inflamed vocal chords [sic] and aching throat muscles tell the pupils that somewhere in the region of the larynx the sounds are really made.” (Marchesi xii-xiii)

“Owing to the popular delusions in regard to what is called “Wagner singing” (which is not singing, but screaming and shouting), too many opera-goers have learned to admire a new sort of prima donna, a person who has a robust voice and an exceedingly robustious style, who rushes energetically from one side of the stage to the other, who pants and puffs from the violence of her exertions, but who projects passionate temperament into the atmosphere much as a fire-engine squirts water from a hose.” (Marchesi xiv-xv)

“The three registers must be even in respect to quality and strength. I would also caution the pupil against a too violent attack (called coup de glotte) which many teachers counsel, and which wearies the vocal cords.” (Marchesi 31-32)

My revered teacher, Manuel Garcia, opposed, as I have long done, the attack of tone with the open glottis, which results in an outpouring of breath, without bringing the vocal cords into action. Unfortunately, this new system has found swift acceptance. Strange aberration! Garcia…was wont to make them strike the desired tone, holding a lighted candle before them. When the light was extinguished by the attack, this proved that the glottis was open; when closed, the light burned steadily.” (Marchesi 63-64)

On chest to middle register: “If you proceed to G natural with chest-tones, the passage to the medium register will sound very ill; so make the change of register on the scale on E natural and only take F natural as a chest tone, when the tone  to be used with a dramatic significance, and demanding strength, cannot be avoided.” (Marchesi 104)

On soprano chest tones: “In many countries the wrong, emphatically wrong, opinion prevails that the cultivation of the chest tones not only damages the development of the high tones, but entails their complete loss. A voice without chest-tones is like a violin without a G string. So now, my blond Bertha, bravely bring out your chest-tones as far as D or E flat, and then proceed to the medium.” (Marchesi 105-106)

On the tremolo: “Let us now try and attack F sharp with the head-voice. Excellent! That is excellent! The tone has resonance and power. Your three former teachers would have spared you the tremolo had they understood the cultivation of the head-voice..” (Marchesi 110) “Whoever sings, or has sung, the high notes in medium tones, is bound erelong to bleat like a goat.” (Marchesi 152)

“I permit my pupils, except beginners that have not yet sung and must therefore commence with but a few minutes, to sing one hour, divided into practice-periods of fifteen minutes each, daily. Practice with the full volume of tone, without forcing or screaming.” (Marchesi 125)

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 authors’ views.