87 comments

fascinating. I would hope that in the future you might do a show on how vocal tremolo techniques evolved over the centuries. Giving examples of men, women and counter tenor singing of music from 16'th to 19'th century. That would be interesting. I am reminded that in the violin field there is lots of discussion about how much vibrato should be used to play Bach, as an example. I think that it is Rachel Podger who plays Bach very flat with little vibrato and lovely her sounds are. Not everyone likes that flatness. I am then reminded about the overly vibrated sounds of Yehudi Menhuin whose style stressed a great deal of vibration. His Bach is on the other end of the spectrum.  I think also of the tunes Handel and Rossini wrote for soprano and coloratura voices, many of which push the voice to the furthest extremes of vocal gymnastics.
So, there is much to say about vibrato and your presentation was very stimulating.

Roger North’s second “Waived” example is to me a brilliant description of exactly a healthy “modern” vibrato, exactly what we are searching for here.

I'm more annoyed by people brandishing Geminia's quote for justify wagnerian vibrato in Monteverdi, than peope avoiding too much vibrato.

https://scholarship.claremont.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.ecosia.org/&httpsredir=1&article=1105&context=ppr

About Roger North's remark about the similarity between the "trembling" of human voices and the sound of a trumpet, many sources of the age frequently said period lip-reed ("brass") instruments (chiefly, cornetts and trombones) were the closest to the human voice, and a slight "trembling" is as a matter of fact intrinsic to the nature of their sound.

Maybe, up to the early XIX Century vibrato was used, but was much subtler than the kind we nowadays use.

The natural vibrato is done with the help and support of the diaphragm. Many, that try to imitate opera singers, do so with their vocal chords. This is when a vibrato becomes a trill. Over time with excessive use, their voices becomes so damaged that it is impossible for the individual to keep a sustained note without varying the pitch. Heard this from an international opera singer that gives master classes.

Wonderful video as always! I was eager for some reference to the tremulant doux & fort stops; perhaps there is some connection with the different kinds of vocal vibrato discussed. All best!

Excellent. I really love how your videos combine serious source work, foresight, musicality and humour. And this time for me the subject is especially interesting. I still remember a lively discussion many years ago at a congress on singing in Early Music at the Schola in Basel about the moment when a singer transitions from vibrato to ornamentation. Nowadays, the trenches between performers and theorists don't seem to be as deep anymore.

A very cool episode!
Voice Humana seems like a mechanical chorus effect back then!
And the drawing of the vibratos seem much like what nowadays you see in DAW software!

Could you do more improvisations in Renaissance and baroque if you have time or make a video about some ideas/principles about how to improvise and ornamentate, change harmonies in baroque/renaissance music. 😀

Great – very interesting Elam. I think the French aesthetic of 'flattement' (and instrumentalists fondness for it, in this period) is also something worth considering!

I can't thank you enough for the work you are doing!!! I just mustn't forget to NOT drink tea when watching your episodes, because the animations are so funny sometimes there is danger of spitting tea on my phone… 😂

There you have it! All these recordings of baroque music are purposely dry and dull to suite a certain acquired taste of hybris.

A frail note is supposed to sound frail.

Well, as far as I'm concerned, the quickest way to ruin the Tallis Scholars or The Sixteen is to add sopranos with big, warbly vibratos = GHASTLY!

Thank you so much. I've been hoping to find this kind of discussion. I have a suspicion that straight tone singing is related to the modern penchant for preferring women (and in the pop world even men) to sound like children. In the case of early music, women are to sound like little boys. I do not agree that historical correctness should be an excuse for what I consider to be anti- human or even misogynistic preferences.

when playing my period woodwinds in ensemble, a variety of effects are used to stress or sweeten sounds. one of my favorites is vibrato or slight pitch bend by means of shading a tone hole with a finger.

choirs sound better when pitch is held to a tight pitch band – Pope Benedict remarked on this when hearing the choir of Westminster Abbey, comparing its virtues to the insufferable papal choir of the St Peter's. the Voce Umana demonstrates that tight pitch band, producing a sweet sound.

soloists will produce vibrato simply by force of diaphragm action (and the tremulant applied to the Vox Humana was demonstrated as a solo, not a chorus).

When a conductor asks you to perform without vibrato, imitating the sound of boy trebles in English choirs, know that he or she is taking a rather extreme approach which is based on an aesthetic preference that was invented in the second half of the 20th century as a reaction to the way that Verdi and Puccini were being performed in the second half of the 20th century and not on anything that was ever written in any actual Medieval, Renaissance or Baroque treatise.

This is the kind of geeky content I live for, keep it up! However, it would be nice to have the names of the pieces that you play, that vox humana piece was beautiful.

Excellent video. I totally agree with you. I am a singing teacher, and "vibrato" or, as the video says, the "vocal undulation", is something innate to a healthy voice. The fact of "prohibiting" the natural undulation of the voice implies a "strangulation" in the correct phonation of the vowels. I'm afraid that the "extremism" of some "Taliban radical historicists" obviously poorly informed or advised, and lacking the slightest notions of "vocal hygiene" has shattered the voice of many choristers for years. By the way, not only is the "human vox" record in the organs, let's not forget bow instruments. We are all used to listening to violas da gamba playing "without vibrato" but we should ask ourselves if it really was that way in its historical moment or not. Thank you again…

Indeed the name “Vox humana” applied to wavering sound stops seems to confirm that the “vibrato” voice was the norm, but either the tremulant valve device, or acoustic beats effect (generated by imperfect unison tuning) rather produce a dynamic vibrato, not a pitch one. So the “proof” isn’t as strong as it seems.

Hmm, on the point of the organ stops , the truth is that unlike some instruments a sonogram of a sung note will contain undulations in both intensity and pitch, even if sung without an intense vibrato… it’s a feature of all voices.

May I tell the subscribers of this YTChannel that they NEED to visit the Early Music Site ? It’s a dream playground for musicians with an inquiring mind !

These are the best videos on early music ever. Your take down of the fascistic monotony of enforced so-called 'norms' is highly appreciated.

I think that this video sums up very well how the historical evidence demonstrate that, without any doubt, voices were never expected to be free from some kind of natural vibration and that it was considered to be an expressive feature, to the point that all instruments were trying to imitate it with various means. Then, of course, we can discuss the type and how much vibrato we want to employ. By listening to recording of singers pre-World War I (the first performers of Puccini and Mascagni!) we can see that they are generally "straighter", especially the women, than today. But none exhibit quite the same degree of slightly out-of-tune pressed "straight" sound that was deemed compulsory in early music schools and is still required by many conductors (fewer and fewer of them, luckily). I think that it is time to deconstruct that model.

Small point, but in Quitschreiber's "Tremula voce optime canitur," the first two words are in the ablative case, and the grammatical subject is an undefined "it," so a more careful translation might be "It's best sung in a trembling voice."

I think vibrato is emotion.

they would hadn't wanted to show their emotion to god.

old music is for god.

new music is for human.

The structure of the argument hinges on the interpretation of the original terms. In nearly every case, the theorists could be talking about types of trills, especially in regard to the training of the voice.

i freaking hate vibrato. to me it sounds fake as hell. i understand this is just my personal quirk, and there's nothing objectively wrong with it. but it reminds me of those overly dramatic singers who started in the USSR, who used to praise altruism and higher goals in life. and who in the 1990's switched sides instantly and started licking businessmen's buttholes. Iosif Kobzon and his likes.

Very informative and entertaining! Personally, I’ve always felt that singing without vibrato tends to produce what my voice teacher called ‘white tones’. Limited in volume, timbre, and unpleasant to the ear.

Here in Italy we have a Singer, Antonello Venditti, that have particulary used the vocal undulations in his songs; very interesting video, thanks!

I have wondered if the desire for ensembles to sing or play without vibrato comes from the desire for purer tuning. This is rarely addressed in articles and presentations.

You seem to confuse vibrato & tremolo a bit too easily. A detuned organ stop is pure tremolo. An organ tremulant presumably does both. I love the MS with the line graphics…tho still unclear to me whether the middle one means vibrato or tremolo. The text seems to imply tremolo…???

Then there's the "ornament" I frequently hear applied to early Italian vocal music…almost like a repeating note. Or is this notated?

Spectacular! Thank you for all this information and for this care you put doing that.
Perhaps, it would have been even more complete speaking about the difference between singing as a soloist and in a choir… In the second case it's obvious that a vibrate would be inappropriate.
Please, go on uploading!

As a wind instrumentalist, this fascinates me. In early German, Austrian, and central European orchestral recordings, none of the wind players used vibrato. To this day, orchestral brass and clarinet players, at least in American and most European orchestras, generally eschew vibrato. (I've asked clarinetists about this. One of them said it was because of the clarinet's complex tone. I retorted, "I bet my oboe is more complex than your clarinet!")

I don't like wobbles any more than anyone; but a healthy vibrato is an asset to any wind player — as is the ability to cancel it when the music requires.

This is yet another confirmation that most so-called authentic performance practice is an invention of the mid-20th century based on pure fantasy.

Thanks as always. Very interesting hypothesis, although I believe that when it is advised to eliminate the vibrato in the current executions it is a starting point to eliminate an exaggerated lyric vibrato in order to arrive after a more appropriate use of the same when necessary. Excessive vibrato harms the clarity of the polyphonic executions, but an intelligent use of vibrato certainly enriches a solo performance.

To hear some of the featured expressive effects – wavering tone, steady tone, tremolo etc- it's worth looking up "Alessandro Moreschi sings Ave Maria " posted by Javier Medina. The sound is excellent & you get a good idea of the way singers of an earlier era used their voices. Moreschi (who was famously 'the last castrato') was around 50 when he made his recordings (1902 -4). The Sistine Choir – with whom Moreschi sang – is likely to have adhered to long-established traditions of vocal production. Moreschi used certain effects to highlight the emotional impact of his singing & those who heard him, one gathers, were often moved to tears.
By the way 'Vocal vibrato' is a great video & very informative! Many thanks.

Thanks for this video. It has provoked a little bit of discussion about whether English Cathedrals sang in the Italian style and only recently took on a straight tone based on the preferences of Willcocks at King's College. I was trained in the English style of choral music and at no time did I ever receive instruction to sing without vibrato or to impose it on my voice. Adults tended to have some vibrato due to age and development but that may also be because of their bel canto training learned later on in college.

People tend to forget the importance of the break between Catholics and Protestants in England. To assume Italian manners was to assume support for the enemy and lack of support for King Henry VIII or Queen Elizabeth I. The English were generally horrified by the castrating of children for use of the Pope and later in opera. The English developed counter-tenors instead.

Culture moulds our reality and that influences musical style including vibrato. To use a zen approach, the mind hears first and the human voice responds.

Very nice, Elam. I like reading the Latin you post. 😀 Yes … of course … the music history is invaluable and well-researched. Many thanks!

Thank you very very much for videos! It's so precious for people who have no access to archives…or just lazy))))

I did a bachelor of music performance at an australian university, and in one of my lectures the lecturer said that you should not 'use vibrato' in church music, especially from before the classical era.
I had been singing in church choirs for 10 years at that point, and I had always sung with my whole voice, which happened to have a 'wavering' quality. She said it was wrong. Well, the working musicians and working singers have passed down a way to do it over the centuries and someone who has only studied it and never spent this time actually playing music was telling me how it should be done? Yeh… no. Don't accept that.
Thanks so much- love your final statement!

Leave a Reply