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Francesco Lamperti.

There have been teachers of the art of singing whose sole aim was effect,—who were inspired by this baser construction put upon the art value. True vocal art invariably has a within and a without point of view. The within concerns thought, ideal and achievement; the without, its effect upon the world. Achievement satisfies the soul; effect satisfies the populace. The great artist only satisfies himself when achievement is the basis of his effect. He who is not truly great, is, as I have before intimated, satisfied that he can produce upon the populace the effect without the achievement. In his case extremes have not met. He lacks the true foundation. He is wanting in an understanding of the truth as revealed through, and expressed by, the latitude and scope of the vocal instrument as a fundamental art principle. These few reflections explain why, in the field of letters, in composition, in politics, in music, only a few men stand apart from their contemporaries, honored by posterity and classified by history,—such a man was Francesco Lamperti.

We must concede that a man for whom the temple of fame has reserved a niche where he shall stand, that the world may do him homage, is to some extent a debtor to his environment and his inheritance. In this example his greatness is in the field of music and his indebtedness most certainly is primarily to the land of his nativity. With his endowments, if Lamperti had been born in British America, musical history would have been robbed probably of one of its most brilliant pages. His indebtedness to heredity is perhaps no more noticeable than that of other men of equal renown. He was born in Milan about 1814. As a boy he showed remarkable musical gifts. At twelve years of age he is said to have accompanied eminent singers satisfactorily; at seventeen he was a successful organist in one of the Milan cathedrals. He enjoyed the acquaintance of Rossini Belini and other noted musicians of the period with whom the above named composers associated. Having been thrown under the influence of such men, we can not conceive of his not being deeply influenced by the Italian school of dramatic singing. Rossini’s models took precedence over all dramatic and operatic vocal composition during his life and for many years after. The influence that such music must have had upon young Lamperti shows itself throughout his entire career; in fact, I look upon it as the key note to his success,—all the additional information that is necessary of his unswerving loyalty to a certain type of voice and certain quality of tone, and the man’s greatness as a teacher of the true vocal method.

We are not told who his teachers were, nor is it necessary to know. It is easy to believe that his association as accompanist with many of the prominent singers during his early youth led him naturally into the coaching field, later into a study of the vocal instrument, and finally, recognizing his special fitness, he found his proper sphere as a teacher of voice placing and interpretation. He never sang in opera, and we are not told that he ever sang at all.

He was a man of small stature, and not prepossessing to look upon. He taught in classes, and I am inclined to the opinion that that system prevailed in the early part of this century and most of the century preceding. It was the custom in the early days to bind out the pupil to the teacher for several years, one of the terms of the agreement being that the pupil was to receive daily instruction. Now, granting this to be the case, the teachers being successful must have many pupils; they therefore must needs meet together for their instruction,—and this is in no way unreasonable when we consider that the class met every day for a session of two or three hours. Under those circumstances a pupil would not fail of getting even more than what is equivalent to our present mode of two or three half-hour lessons a week. The difficulty of conducting such a system in America is to find pupils who are able to exempt themselves sufficiently from social, home, and other duties to be able to give the two hours and a half every day to their work, which they would be glad to give if they were in another country for the exclusive purpose of study, and which, in the manner of living a century and a half ago, was expected and entirely possible to those who had adopted vocal music as a profession.

Lamperti, also, is said to have given much attention to individuals in his class at the expense of others who were less talented. He was not courtly or impressive in his manner, nor did he exact deference from his pupils. He paid little or no attention to them except in his relation as a teacher of singing. It is said that his method of teaching the high notes was a most easy and natural delivery; the high, light, suspended tone must be taken without effort, and, once properly formed, increased by the study of the mezza de voce and agility studies. He ignored entirely the subject of registers.

Lamperti was noted for his abruptness, but not unkindness, in the treatment both of pupils and voices. He spoke much in metaphor, and his language was more of an Italian dialect than the pure Florentine Italian, which made it difficult for foreigners, especially those who studied the language in its purity, to grasp the full meaning of many of his observations. He inspired his pupils by precept rather than by example, resorting to idealizing and to exciting the imagination to get certain tone effects, but never giving a tone in illustration. Like many and most of the greatest and most successful voice teachers, he ignored entirely the physical side in his work, preferring to get a tone which could be said to be a cause of a good vocal condition, rather than to first formulate the right condition and look upon the tone as its result.

He was not noted for his generosity. He was much devoted to his family, and especially to his first wife, who was the mother of most of his 12 children. Absorbed in his profession, living in and for his pupils and bound up in their successes, he is said to have given to the world the unparalleled number of 60 successful and finished artists, among whom may be mentioned such names as Campanini, Lillie Lehman, Madame Albani, Gallassi, Alvary, Emma Thursby, Sims Reeves, Sembrich, Stoltz, Volkmann, Robinson, Reichman, Organi.

What was Lamperti’s method? It is not a difficult question to answer. First, recognition of the beauty and charm of simple, natural tones, and the wonderful possibility of such tones being increased and developed to great breadth and power.

Second, a keen and accomplished discernment of what was ideal in art.

Third, intimate acquaintance with the standard Italian works and writers, whose compositions must forever stand as models on the score of recognition of and loyalty to the limitations of the vocal instrument.

The old Italian method, then, was, and is, natural tone developed by natural means for natural uses. We hear that the old Italian method is a lost art; we know better. We hear that there is a modern Italian method that is an improvement upon the old; again, we know better. Lamperti knew better. While his contemporaries were answering the demand for more rapid development because the times had changed and the school of opera was more exacting, he, with superlative wisdom, clung to the traditions which had brought to the world so much that was beautiful in the realm of vocal tone. Such a man, with such training and experience, could not be turned aside.

We ourselves should become better teachers from studying the lives of the renowned artists with whom this generation has been so closely in touch. The greatest of all teachers was Lamperti. With his death closed the era of the school of composition which inspired the greatest of teachers to the greatest attainments known to history in this special field. The new school of opera has yet to find its Lamperti; and the question yet is vital, Shall the modern school of composition recede from the position it has taken in making such extraordinary demands upon the vocal instrument, or shall the man be raised up who can furnish an equally large number of great artists to successfully cope with the vocal difficulties presented by the new regime of great orchestras, large auditoriums, and dramatic operas?

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