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Thursday, 26 January 2017

Nobody said it'd be easy

As 2017 dawned V said lessons would become more serious. We started with four bars of  Agilita (agility) from Panofka's 24 Vocalises. A vocalise is dully defined as "a singing exercise using individual syllables or vowel sounds to develop flexibility and control of pitch and tone". Another definition includes "other meaningless vocal sounds" as if to emphasise the dullness.

Whereas vocalises are often used by pros, V among them, to warm up before recitals. One, by Rachmaninov, is so beautiful it has entered the international repertory.

Scales with a difference and much harder than they appear on the score.

You want hard? I've got hard. Recently I've been picking apart Mozart's song An Chloë, note by note. Somewhat faster than any of the twenty-plus songs I've previously tackled, also more obviously Mozartean, liberally speckled with curlicues. Here's Rouchswalwe's favourite (see pic), the sadly late

Lucia Popp

chosen because she takes it slightly slower. V has sung An Chloë publicly and Consonants! is pencilled on the score - with good reason. Hard yes, but gorgeous and that helps.

QUITE DIFFERENT Want a terrific wine at £12 (at least from The Wine Society)? Try Ventoux Epicure, Ch. Valcome. Vineyard in the lee of Mont Ventoux, graveyard of some in the Tour de France.


  1. Sounds like "scat" singing. I suspect the wine is improved by the runoff of all the bodily fluids of those cyclists, their legion fans, and the leakage of the vehicles driven and parked along the route. Oh....and the spilt beer and placard paint.

  2. MikeM: I take it you mean the vocalise, not the Mozart.

    More likely the wine is enriched by mastodon sweat and tears, and the excreted body fluids of Primitive Man. In some regions (I can't be sure about the Luberon which is roughly where Ch. Valcome is created) the vines are deliberately planted on unfruitful soil, forcing the roots to go deeper and deeper for nourishment. And, thereby, pick up more and more exotic minerals, etc, en route, adding to the flavour.

  3. Yes, the vocalise, the nonsense syllables. I regretted my wine comment later, for about half a second, hoping that I hadn't put you off the bottle. Came to my senses quickly. My dear old dad seemed to posses a mechanism that caused him to lose appetite whenever anything unsavory was mentioned at the dinner table. Perhaps he was trying to teach us to be couth and not mention steam rising from dog poop at the table, but even talk of sour milk made him blanch.

  4. MikeM: Your dear old dad and me, yup, kindred spirits. Not just sour milk, but heated milk and - for that matter - milk itself. Yeccch.

    And he succeeded, give or take you've ended up couth, conversant, competent, clever and - what's this? - crackerjack (coll. US). When did you last use that as a synonym for the adjectives that preceded it? I inherited my Roget (dated 1968) from my dad and I guess if "crackerjack" is included in the current edition the bit in parenthesis now reads (coll. US, obs.).

    I also like "blanch".

  5. I never used crackerjack, though I've read and possibly heard it. The Crackerjacks I was involved with were nouns - sugar coated popcorn in a box with a trinket included. As for milk, I didn't care for it at first, but DOD insisted I drink a big glass with supper each night. I would wait, of course, until it was warm and even more unsavory, then stand by to see whether my DOD would prevail or my DOM would persuade him to let me off the hook. I would often be allowed to drink only a portion before being excused. Milk will always be bad.

  6. Ahhh, you've really made my evening complete, mein lieber Robbie! Herzlich, Deine Rouchswalwe

  7. Love that Rachmaninov vocalise, I have it on a disc with the Symphonic Dances and Island of the Dead, must listen to it again. Also recently acquired one of a whole repertoire of vocalises commissioned by a notable director of the Paris conservatory early in the 20th century who recognised that the ones being used were dull and poor, and asked all the big composers of the time - Messiaen, Poulenc, Ravel and others, to write some more. This recording is a modern one with piano and alto-sax. It's OK, trouble is I'm not actually all that crazy about French early 20th century music, but I should think they might be interesting exercises for singers.

    I like a Ventoux, tend to find I like the reds from that broad region best these days. When on a trip to the Uk with my students, I bonded with the elderly husband of my boss over it - they owned a reputable hardware business in town, very civic minded people, she an eager culture vulture, he followed behind carrying her large stock of white covered French paperbacks. In vain did I try to persuade any of them to sample from the list of New World wines at the hotel; order the Ventoux, he said, you can at least rely on it for the money. Ah, but Ventoux always makes me think of poor Tom Simpson, I protested. He turned to me with interest; Tom Simpson, he said, trained for a time in St Brieuc, with men he had known... it was a nice moment.

    Sadly they were proved right about the wine, the Australian gewurztraminer was unrecognisable and fairly horrid.

  8. Lucy: By the time I'd posted the above I'd moved on with Panofka - only to bars 5 and 6, mind you - and sharps were beginning to complicate things. I'm not entirely convinced by the vocalise's utility, la-las take away the words and make things easier to sing, but self-delusion is only a step away. I've just tried singing An Chloë as a vocalise and the difficulties inherent in fitting German words to trills and runs not surprisingly disappear, but then so does the character of the song. Early days yet, of course. I've just been over to YouTube to remind myself of the Rachmaninoff (Anna Moffo, v. seductive) and discovered there were just as many instrumentalists as singers doing the piece.

    When we did touring holidays, before we bought the house, we always took in the Ventoux area. The weather always seemed to be baking hot, we'd sit with beers in Bedoin at the foot of the mountain and reflect on its split personality: the shady groves (olives?) lower down and the parched life-threatening contours above. I met Tommy Simpson when I was working on Cycling and Mopeds, cheerful chappie, "no side" as they used to say.

    In those days the Ventoux wines were over-shadowed by the nearby Southern Rhones (esp. Gigondas and Vacqueyras); now they've come on enormously.

  9. I have a friend who sings with the Glimmerglass Opera in the summer (she's a painter--one of those aggravating people who are good at many things), and she used to make me vocalize with her when I was in a choir. And it did seem to help. Plus there was the sense of doing something a bit wild, so it felt freeing.

    But really I am an ignoramus about singing and just enjoy your various trials and tribulations.

  10. Marly: At first hearing vocalises don't sound all that hard, just a string of legato la-las. But then I'm told - gently, and all the more pressing thereby - that each note in the linked series must be precisely identified. If the notes were sung staccato this would be simple, slur them and you drift out into a formless ocean.