Voices, singers & critics

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Amadeus Press, Nov 1, 1992 - Biography & Autobiography - 294 pages
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John Steane's subject, in all three sections of this book, is the art of singing. In the first part he takes the material, the voices themselves, in the second he considers the work and achievement of ten individual singers; and in the third he listens through the ears of an earlier generation of critics, finding much to learn.
The 'Assortment of Voices' in Part I is a sorting, a distinguishing of voice-types with regard to timbre and quality as well as range, repertoire and power. Description of terms such as coloratura, soubrette, spinto and baryton-Martin involves the meaning and derivation of the words. The need is argued for a new category, the soprano-mezzo, and for a broader but more sharply delineated notion of the Heldentenor.
The ten singers chosen for special attention in Part II range chronologically from the great baritone Mattia Battistini, who lived two-thirds of his long life in the nineteenth century, to Maria Callas and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in our own day. Rosa Ponselle and Giovanni Martinelli are given special attention.
Part III criticises the critics, from Dyneley Hussey and the veteran Herman Klein to Neville Cardus and the presiding authority Ernest Newman. These were entertaining writers as well as acute critics, and with John Steane's observant commentaries they provide a quickening of response to music in general and singing in particular.

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