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Music Theory: Italian And German Vocal Styles

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Italian And German Vocal Styles

by David James

Why is it that most persons are more interested in vocal than in instrumental music? Obviously because, as Richard Wagner remarks, "the human voice is the oldest, the most genuine, and the most beautiful organ of music—the organ to which alone our music owes its existence." And not only is the sound or quality of the human voice more beautiful than that of any artificial instrument, but it is capable of greater variation. Although a good artist can produce various shades of tone on his instrument, yet every instrument has a well-defined characteristic timbre, which justifies us in speaking, for instance, of the majestic, solemn trombone, the serene flute, the amorous violoncello, the lugubrious bassoon, and so on. The human voice, on the other hand, is much less limited in its powers of tonal and emotional colouring. It is not dependent for its resonance on a rigid tube, like the flute, or an unchangeable sounding-board, like the violin or the piano, but on the cavity of the mouth, which can be enlarged and altered at will by the movements of the lower jaw, and the soft parts—the tongue and the glottis. These movements change the overtones, of which the vowels are made up, and hence it is that the human voice is capable of an infinite variety of tone-colour, compared with which Wagner admits that even "the most manifold imaginable mixture of orchestral colours must appear insignificant."

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