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Chopin and Other Musical Essays
written by "Finck, Henry Theophilus, 1854-1926"
...Italian song prevailed throughout Europe until the time of Rossini. And in all the annals of music there is nothing quite so strange as the extraordinary craze which existed during this time for the instrumental style of vocalism. A special class of singers—the male sopranists—was artificially created, in order to secure the most dazzling results in brilliant, ornamental vocalization. Various kinds of trills, grace notes, runs, and other species of fioriture, or vocal somersaults, were introduced in every song, in such profusion that the song itself was at last barely recognizable; and this kind of stuff the audiences of that time applauded frantically. Everybody has heard of the vulgar circus tricks performed by the most famous of the [190]sopranists, Farinelli—how at one time he beat a famous German trumpeter in prolonging and swelling his notes, and how, at another time, he began an aria softly, swelled it by imperceptible degrees to such an astounding volume, and then decreased it again in the same way to pianissimo, that the public wildly applauded him for five minutes. Thereupon, Dr. Burney relates, he began to sing with such amazing rapidity that the orchestra found it difficult to keep up with him. Dr. Dommer justly comments on this story that, for such racing with an orchestra, a singer would be hissed to-day by musical people. It was not only quick and animated songs that were thus overloaded with meaningless embroideries by the sopranists and the prima donnas that followed them. Slow movements, which ought to breathe a spirit of melancholy, appear to have been especially selected as background for these vocal fireworks. I need not dwell on the unnaturalness of this style. To run up and down the scale wildly and persistently in singing a slow and sad song, is as consistent as it would be for an orator to grin and yodle while delivering a funeral oration. A question might be raised as to how far the great It...

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