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Corwin Slack


January 8, 2009 at 11:21 AM

The 18th century violinist Tartini said "per ben suonare bisogna ben cantare" (to play well it is necessary to sing well). One of his most famous students, Maddalena L Lombardini Sirmen, toured Europe and played the violin and sang. She eventually gave up the violin for a more lucrative career as a singer.

When we listen to greats like Kreisler and Prihoda and Quiroga and Thibaud we hear something quite different from the sound of modern violin playing. 

When we listen to great singers of the past we likewise hear something very different than our modern singers. 

 Here is the great soprano Rosa Ponselle singing Vissi d'Arte very early in her career.

The sound is not heard today but one feels that this was what the great violinists had in their head when they sought a singing tone. When I first heard this sort of singing, I thought it was quaint, archaic and a little stilted. But the more I listen I hear incredible vocal technique. It is all about tone and tone all the time. By tone I mean a quantity of resonant sound that is a resource to shape for artistic expression. 

Nothing seems forced. Why do we shy away from this sound today? Why has it fallen out of fashion? Our singers (classical) make a basic pitch but the rich resonance is not present and, I think, not sought.

It is lacking in modern violin playing. Modern sound is so dull and boring. It gets dressed up with a certain incision but there is no individuality, no voluptuousness and no tone. 

I think we ought to listen to singers a lot more. 

Start with Rosa Ponselle, continue on with Benjamino Gigli, then make your way to Renata Tebaldi, and then to so many more. 

Eventually we may start to understand and appreciate singing in violin playing.





From Stephen Brivati
Posted on January 8, 2009 at 10:35 PM


couldn`t agree more. I started listening to Rosa Ponselle after seeing Arnold Steinhart mention her as a big influence in,  i think, the book on the Guarneri by David Blum.  Astonishing.....



From Karen Dotson
Posted on January 9, 2009 at 2:18 AM

I just wanted to say, I really enjoyed your blog. I also loved listening to the You Tubes you posted with your blog. Gave me a lot to think about in terms of sound.

From Tess Z
Posted on January 10, 2009 at 4:38 AM

  Voluptuousness is the perfect term.   


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