Bel Canto Singing Style Essay

1176 words - 5 pages

While the term “bel canto” is a rather loose term, Celletti’s words seem to sum up what bel canto was generally about. The Italian term translated to “beautiful singing,” developed in the late seventeenth century, where it became a technique used to create a beautiful sound as opposed to the imitation of instruments by the voice. It was also intended to set virtuoso singers apart from amateur and choral singers, which resulted in a new kind of vocal expression. Giulio Caccini, a member of the Florentine Camerata, was one of the theorists to advise against imitation of instruments by the voice. Instrumental virtuosity came about during the same time as the bel canto style was developed. The human voice was a model to be followed by instrumentalists who developed an affinity towards the melodic purity of the voice. As Celletti points out, the principal followed during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries is that instrumental sound should emulate the human voice in both “colour and expressiveness.” In short, the bel canto style originated from a strong effort of imagination and technical skill in which singers and instrumentalists joined forces.
Many scholars use the term “bel canto” as a comprehensive label for all vocal performance between 1600 and 1850, and did not begin to represent a style of singing until the second half of the nineteenth century. One of the starting places to bel canto was Monteverdi. In a letter to Alessandro Striggio, Monteverdi states that “for males and females alike, the appropriate musical language is simle canto spianato, (plain, unadorned singing), but that divine beings should express themselves in the symbolic language of tirate, (scale-like runs), gorgheggi (shakes), and trills.” When I think of bel canto, the first thing that comes to mind is melody and lyricism. This is one of the more obvious characteristics of the style. The production of legato is also necessary, as it shows off the voice in a seamless manner, unlike what was previously produced by instruments. A bel canto singer also must have flexibility and agility, a technique acquired by lots of training and practice, so that the singer can flow through lines quickly and be able to sing ornamentations freely. Registration becomes an issue particularly in the higher registers, as a lighter tone is required to produce a floaty resonance appropriate to the style. Other musical traits and techniques of bel canto used for expression of include purity of timbre, clean diction, exceptional breath control in order to manage fluid phrasing, accent, emphasis, tone of voice, staccato, portamento, messa di voce, tempo, vibrato, ornamentation, and gesture. Late eighteenth and early nineteenth century treatises consistently inform us that vocalists were inclined to use all of these techniques except vibrato. They reserved vibrato for boosting the expression of certain words and for gracing longer notes. The techniques of singing vary between male...

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