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Falsettone is the term used by modern Italian musicology to mean an ancient vocal technique consisting in strengthening and amplifying falsetto’s white sounds, so as to utter highest and bright notes, which still sounded, at the same time, rather piercing and quivering[1]. The term falsettone is also used for the mixed vocal register which could be achieved by the said technique.

History and description

The technique is reported to have been used, starting from about A4, by the tenors of the Baroque and Classical Ages, either baritenors or hautes-contres and tenori contraltini, who might also have raised up to high B flat the threshold of the register passage.

According to different authors[2], baroque and neoclassical tenors simply used falsetto to utter high pitch notes, with the exception of hautes-contre that were able to reach up to B flat in an alleged full voice, that was, in fact, a "mixed head and chest voice, and not the full chest voice that Italian tenors would develop later" [3].

Nowadays, resort to falsettone register has practically disappeared: such notes as high C, C-sharp, D are usually uttered in a forceful way or, improperly, “from the chest”. Even the famous E5 of Bellini’s I Puritani, which used to be left out or sung in falsetto (for example by Luciano Pavarotti), has often been performed forcefully by the new Bel Canto tenor generation of the late twentieth century.

In that same period, the Italian musicologist Rodolfo Celletti, who was also an amateur singing teacher, tried to restore, as much as possible, the falsettone technique training the tenor Giuseppe Morino, of whose memorable debut in the tenore contraltino role of Gualtiero in Bellini’s Il pirata, at Martina Franca’s Festival della Valle d'Itria, there exists an audio and video recording by the RAI.

Notes

  1. ^ cf Caruselli, Grande, vol 4, p. 1196, article: "tenore"; Celletti, Storia, p 167.
  2. ^ Potter, pp. 19/23; Grove, vol. 2, p. 113, article: Falsetto
  3. ^ Potter, p. 23. Such mixed register does not seem, after all, that different from Celletti and the editor of Grande Enciclopedia’s 'falsettone'

Sources

  • Rodolfo Celletti, A History of Bel Canto, Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0198166419 (quotations from the Italian edition: Storia del belcanto, Discanto Edizioni, Fiesole, 1983)
  • Salvatore Caruselli (ed), Grande enciclopedia della musica lirica, Longanesi &C. Periodici S.p.A., Rome, vol 4
  • John Potter, Tenor, History of a voice, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2009, ISBN 978-0-300-11873-5
  • Stanley Sadie (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Oxford University Press, New York, 1992, 4 volumes, ISBN 978-0-19-522186-2
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