Tenor

Tenor: History of a Voice

JOHN POTTER
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vkqks
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  • Book Info
    Tenor
    Book Description:

    From its emergence in the sixteenth century to the phenomenon of the "Three Tenors" and beyond, the tenor voice has grown in popularity and esteem. This engaging and authoritative book-the first comprehensive history of tenor singing-presents fascinating details about the world's great performers, styles of singing in different countries, teachers and music schools, the variety of compositions for the tenor voice, and much more.

    John Potter begins by surveying the prehistory of the tenor in the medieval period, when Gregorian chant and early polyphony had implications for a voice-type, and proceeds to the sixteenth century, when singers were first identified as tenors. He focuses on many of the greatest tenors-- those who predated the gramophone as well as those whose recorded voices may still be heard--and considers the ways in which each is historically significant. The names range from legendary early figures like Ludwig Schnoor von Carolsfeld (Wagner's first Tristan) to those more familiar like Enrico Caruso, Richard Tauber, Mario Lanza, Roberto Alagna, Ian Bostridge, Andrea Bocelli, Il Divo, and, of course, Pavarotti, Domingo, and Carreras. Admirers of the tenor voice will especially appreciate the book's unique reference section, with bibliographical and discographical/video information on several hundred tenors.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16002-4
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. CHAPTER 1 THE PREHISTORY OF THE VOICE
    (pp. 1-21)

    What is a tenor? We know today’s tenors as heroes of the operatic stage, often flamboyant personalities with rich and powerful voices, who move us with their interpretations of Wagner, Verdi, Puccini, Rossini or Mozart. We associate the voice with the great Passion settings of J.S. Bach, the oratorios of Handel and Mendelssohn. Anyone reading these words is likely to know tenors who are members of choirs or vocal ensembles, which may sing anything from renaissance music to barber shop. The voice itself is not easy to describe but most music lovers will recognise one when they hear it. The...

  6. CHAPTER 2 HANDEL, MOZART AND THE TENOR–CASTRATO CONNECTION
    (pp. 22-43)

    The increasing tendency to think of the tenor as a high voice was partly the result of a number of individual singers who were judged to be particularly charismatic, with unique abilities to move their listeners. This phenomenon occurred both in the French realm of the haute-contre, where the high tenor flourished under both Lully and Rameau, and in Italy, despite being reduced to secondary roles in the age of the castratoprimo uomo. Lully’s haute-contre parts rarely go above A, and he used a succession of singers, from Louis Dumesny (who made his début inIsisin 1677) to...

  7. CHAPTER 3 NOURRIT, DUPREZ AND THE TENORINO D’HIER
    (pp. 44-57)

    At the beginning of the nineteenth century the international opera circuit flourished as never before, with well-funded series throughout Europe and in North and South America. The most successful singers travelled extensively, lured from contract to contract by increasingly skilled negotiation. Like the castrati who had taught many of them, the great tenors of the period were often widely cultured and likely to be composers, instrumentalists or conductors as well as singers.

    Manuel Garcia, for example, who created the role of Almaviva in Rossini’sIl barbiereand founded the Garcia musical dynasty that spanned the whole of the century, was...

  8. CHAPTER 4 THE TENOR AS ARTIST
    (pp. 58-77)

    It would be an over-simplification to suggest that the new breed of post-castrato tenor simply replaced those of the eighteenth-century tradition; above all, we should remember that recordings would not become widely available until the early years of the next century, so there were no universal models for young singers to aspire to. Tenors were still very much individualists in their basic vocal sound and technique, as they were in personality. The general tendency, however, was for singers not to have been taught by castrati (there were few of them left) and for serious study to start later, often at...

  9. CHAPTER 5 CARUSO AND THE ITALIAN SUCCESSION
    (pp. 78-92)

    The Italian singing tradition evolved over a period of some three hundred years until the first decades of the nineteenth century. We cannot know what the style sounded like in its pre-nineteenth-century form but the evidence suggests that it was characterised by smoothness of line, flexibility of phrasing and an ability to sing with lightness and agility. We know that singers would improvise additional ornamentation, especially at cadences, which became opportunities for virtuosic display. Chest and head registers were expected to be joined seamlessly, with tenors by the end of the eighteenth century having wide ranges, typically from a baritonal...

  10. CHAPTER 6 THE ROMANTIC TENOR HERO
    (pp. 93-120)

    At the beginning of the twentieth century it helped to be Italian if you were a tenor, but it was not essential. Among the competitors and successors of Caruso and his compatriots were singers from the rest of Europe and from the USA (and as the century progressed, from Hispanic America). The European line could also include a darker German influence that often eluded Italian tenors: while there were many robust Italian tenors, most were too anchored in the lyric tradition to make the final push into Heldentenordom. This was the period when our current idea of the tenor as...

  11. CHAPTER 7 SPLENDID ISOLATIONISTS? THE BRITISH ISLES IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
    (pp. 121-135)

    With a small number of notable exceptions, the twentieth century appears to have been dominated by Italian tenors, with public imagination captured again and again by the voices of a succession of extraordinary stars from Caruso to Pavarotti. Actual history is more complicated than that, of course, and individual countries had their own characteristics which sometimes bypassed the mainstream altogether. Britain had a thriving domestic musical scene, but was seemingly incapable of producing singers either vocally or temperamentally suited to international tenor stardom, and (together with France and Russia, discussed in the following chapters) reflects a colourful individuality that applies...

  12. CHAPTER 8 FRANCE AND THE DECLINE OF LINGUISTIC LYRICISM
    (pp. 136-143)

    France had been as important as Italy during the nineteenth century, but the Duprez experience had served to re-energise the Italian tradition and in retrospect must have seemed something of an anomaly. The less forceful French style that had its roots in pre-Duprez elegance continued to flourish within France, but became increasingly un-exportable as the Italians carried all before them.

    Paris, like London, continued to be a magnet for opera singers of all nationalities from the nineteenth into the twenty-first centuries. The Paris Conservatoire was a very different institution from the English music colleges, however. Students received a rigorous, all-round...

  13. CHAPTER 9 RUSSIA AND THE PRESERVATION OF LOST TRADITIONS
    (pp. 144-152)

    Russia has also evolved very differently from the rest of Europe; having been one of the key stops on any successful tenor’s itinerary during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the country became virtually cut off from the mainstream of Western singing until the Cold War began to thaw. This resulted in an isolation that preserved its own traditions, based on vocal fashions that prevailed before the Revolution.

    Italian singing may have been problematic for the French, but it was embraced wholeheartedly by the Russians towards the end of the nineteenth century. While the most of the rest of...

  14. CHAPTER 10 THE TWENTIETH-CENTURY HELDENTENOR
    (pp. 153-168)

    The Heldentenors of the late nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth had all been possessed of large voices but were generally able to contain themselves sufficiently to sing certain lighter roles, in particular those of Mozart. Their first experiences, even if they had begun as baritones (which many of them did), were often in lyrical dramatic roles, from which they made their way to Verdi and Wagner as they got older. The German-speaking countries inevitably led the way (and even today theFachacknowledges a German authenticity), but there are no barriers in principle to any country...

  15. CHAPTER 11 POST-WAR LOSSES AND GAINS
    (pp. 169-192)

    In wartime, institutions fail and the arts inevitably become drawn into government propaganda machinery. Musicians often find themselves hapless victims of appalling circumstances which are beyond their control; high-profile tenors on the losing side are bound to be at risk from political misjudgements of their own and cynical manipulation by politicians. Historically, there has been a curiously positive relationship between tenors and the military, the origins of which may go back to the formality ofopera seriawhen tenors were cast as soldiers, mature father figures or aristocrats and the like. As we have seen, in countries where conscription was...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 193-215)
  17. BIOGRAPHICAL LIST OF TENORS
    (pp. 216-289)
  18. AUDIO, VIDEO AND WEBSITE SOURCES
    (pp. 290-291)
  19. BIBLIOGRAPHY AND FURTHER READING
    (pp. 292-293)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 294-308)