Below is a link to Lilli Lehmann’s recordings and an audio book of her book ‘How to Sing’ on Spotify. Lilli Lehmann recorded when she was about fifty eight years old. I welcome you to listen to her singing and reflect on the wisdom of her teachings.
…the standard of singing is lower than it was, both upon the operatic stage and in the concert room. The voices of contemporary singers do not compare for beauty with those of the past; nor does their technical training, save in the rarest instances, nearly approach the same height of perfection.Herman Klein, Essays on Bel Canto, 1923.
Herman Klein’s book Herman Klein and the gramophone : being a series of essays on the Bel canto (1923), the Gramophone and the Singer (1924-1934), and reviews of new classical vocal recordings (1925-1934), and other writings from the Gramophone is a gateway into developing your ear for the sound Bel Canto.
On the internet there are people claiming to teach Bel Canto but it is not even a shadow of the method.
By reading Klein’s book (available for free on Internet Archive) and combining this with old recordings freely available on music streaming sites like Spotify and historical vocal pedagogy freely available on internet sites like IMSLP, you can begin your journey to piece together what Bel Canto is supposed to sound like. (My websites has references for you to start you on your way).
I suggest this is an excellent way to begin if you are thinking of taking classical singing lessons. Don’t dive into classical singing with the first singing teacher that comes your way. Ask yourself the following question: ‘Do I like the way my prospective teacher sings?’.
The chances are that you will come out sounding just like them, so browse before you buy! Ask the teacher to sing for you. Audition the teacher!
This is why I am demonstrating and singing on my website. I am auditioning for you before you part with your money and time.
Here is a beautiful recording of Lilli Lehmann with a woman who may be her pupil, to labour the point. Herman Klein remarks in his essay on Lilli Lehmann’s recordings that he believed Hedwig Helbig was a pupil of Lehmann’s. Listening to the recording, it may be true. Why? One can hardly tell them apart. The same flawless technique and beauty of sound, despite the primitive recordings. However, there also may be another reason. On page 590 of Herman Klein’s book, Herman Klein and the Gramophone, in a letter to the editor, N. Marschall writes that Lilli Lehmann’s sister’s daughter was Hedwig Helbig. Helbig, he says, was Lehmann’s devoted companion and accompanist. To me, this is also a good explanation for the technique because Lilli and her sister, Marie, had both been taught to sing by their mother.
The principles of the vocal art, as I shall here describe them, are classified under the following heads:
Adjustment and Attack
Management of Registers
Tone-Colour and ExpressionHerman Klein, Phono-Vocal Method, page 9.
This post addressed the question: what sort of training do classical singers need?
Above is a quote, by Herman Klein, writing at the beginning of the 20th Century. Klein was a pupil of Manuel Garcia. Klein, for me, sums it up. Singers need a method. They need to be able to isolate the techniques, perfect them and then apply them.
Daniel Shigo’s You Tube Channel is the most reliable gateway for you to listen to the technique Klein describes in the quote above. On Mr Shigo’s You Tube channel, perfect demonstrations are executed of Klein’s Phono-Vocal Method by, the Contralto, Janet Spencer. The techniques are then applied to examples of solfeggio and songs.
Classical Singers should aim to spend several years on technique after which they should sing only songs and only the ‘simpler’ arias for several years. The songs or simpler arias of composers such as Handel and Mozart should be the focus for a developing singer. Why Mozart?
Mozart demands everything. To begin with, a beautiful voice controlled and directed by correct scientific breathing; ample resonance; an equal scale achieved by the perfect blending (or if you like it better, the obliteration) of the registers; a clean attack; a steady sostenuto; a smooth, pure legato, an elegant use of the portamento; a well graduated messa di voce or management of crescendos and diminuendos; flexibility, agility, and brilliancy of execution; and, not least of all, the capacity to sing absolutely in tune.Herman Klein, Bel Canto, 1923
And what is the reason for all of the above. The years of toil? The focus on the Old Italian School Method? The focus on singing what is appropriate?
Opera’s lost generation of stars…a whole generation of singers seems to be missing in action. Where are the stars now in their 50s? There are precious few of them. The blight extends to some in their 40s. So what has happened? A significant cause is a lack of proper education, not only about how to sing, but about which roles are appropriate for which voices and, equally important, how to say no.Anne Midgette, The New York Times, May 28, 2006. Quoted in Denes Striny’s book ‘Head First’
The quote above brings me to Lilli Lehmann. Lilli Lehmann was the opposite of what is described above. Here is a wonderful summary of her talents.
Among the singers of that date whose superiority over their successors is most evident I count Plancon, Schumann-Heink, Battistini and Lilli Lehmann. The last-named, a frequent Covent Garden visitor about the turn of the century and an early pillar of the Salzburg festivals, deserves a place among the wonders of musical history. To begin with, her versatility was astounding; she sang 165 operatic roles, ranging from the Queen of the Night and the Forest Bird in Siegfried to Carmen, Fricka and Ortrud; among the most famous were Brunhilde, Isolde, Norma, Donna Anna, Constanze (in the Seraglio) and Leonora (in Fidelio). I have thirty of her recordings, mostly made about 1907 when she was nearly sixty, and including some of the most taxing music ever written for the soprano voice – such things as “Casta Diva”, “Ah, For’ e lui”, “Non mi dir”, “Martern aller Arten” and “Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?” Of course there are moments when the strain of age is felt; but the sheer technical mastery, and the command of various styles, are such as to put singers of a later day to shame.’Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Covent Garden, page 52.
When I read the quote above, in a little book on Covent Garden, I was fascinated to learn more about this wonderful singer. Once I discovered she wrote a singing book, biography and diary notes, and, her recordings were reviewed by Klein, I was hooked. Lilli Lehmann loved technique.
It is not enough to sing well; one must also know how one does it.Lilli Lehmann, How to Sing.
Lilli Lehmann is my point of reference for this website. Why? I had found what I needed most of all in my classical singing training – inspiration.
This post marks the beginning of three years of study to refresh my voice and prepare myself to teach singing responsibly. I have called these three years, 2020 -2023, ‘The Lilli Lehmann Project’.
The Lilli Lehmann Project will use Lilli Lehmann’s book ‘How to Sing’, as well as her other writings, reviews of her singing and her recordings of her singing, as a point of reference. ‘How to Sing’ is available for free on IMSLP. You can also listen to an audio version on Spotify or purchase it for a couple of dollars on Kindle. I will also be studying other historical vocal pedagogy and historical recordings which are now available on the internet.
My companion on this journey is my beloved guitar. Specifically, a Romantic Guitar custom made by Dr Sue Court to produce as much sound as a little guitar can make and to be as light as possible so that I can stand while I sing. The guitar is strung with synthetic strings that replicate the 19th strings which were made of gut. And, most importantly for singing, I will be re-tuning the guitar. For example, my reference will be 432HZ when I sing Verdi etc. 421HZ when I sing Mozart. Why? Because I am intrigued by Herman Klein’s comments on this subject in his essay ‘Bel Canto’.
Before I start looking at the technique in ‘How to Sing’, it is important to get back to the basics of how to stand, how to form vowels and consonants and how to breathe. To do this, Lilli Lehmann approves of Oskar Guttmann’s book ‘Gymnastics for the Voice’. This book is also free on IMSLP. It is also a wonderful little book and I will be continually referring to it.
Today’s post begins with how to stand while practicing. Mr Guttmann suggests to stand in the base position (see below) for breathing practice. I now always use it. It is fantastic. Nobody has ever suggested this posture to me before for singing. In this position one cannot stand in a slovenly manner or sway. It is not a performing posture but is excellent for the studio.
Now, let’s stand in base position and get started!