David Munrow: thoughts on vibrato and a glimpse into his record collection
- Introduction: literature on vibrato consulted by Munrow
- The catalyst for Munrow’s essay
- Munrow’s views
- Interpreting the results
- Biographical note: Ed Breen
1 It was not, however, the first study of its kind as Seashore acknowledged when he co-authored an overview of previous work at the end of his study.2 One of the most striking among the surveyed papers was by Max Schoen, the first investigator of vibrato to make use of the University of Iowa’s laboratory equipment.3 Schoen concentrated on the varying pitch of vibrato using experimental techniques that he had been developing since 1921 when he first began his studies into pitch variations in voices.4 By developing a ‘Tonoscope’ (basically a kind of stroboscopic technique) Schoen was able to record surprisingly thorough measurements of the vibrato in recordings of ‘five world-famous opera singers’ performing the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria. Yet just six years later Carl Seashore was already able to expand on Schoen’s data thanks to advances in both electrical recording and photographic techniques; furthermore, he was able to indentify and consider other types of vibrato besides pitch-vibrato.
The vibrato in music is a periodic pulsation, generally involving pitch, intensity, and timbre, which produces a pleasing flexibility, mellowness and richness of tone.8
There are three rival camps on the point of vibrato desirability. There are those who object to any kind of vocal pulsation, whether vibrato or tremolo; those who maintain that vibrato is acceptable in its place on tones which naturally would tremble; and those who champion the vibrato unreservedly.13
The vocal muscles producing vibrato must reach a certain stage in their development before they can function in that capacity. With some the muscles develop quicker than with others; but probably if they are going to function involuntary at all they will do so during adolescence.14
It is not a matter of voluntarily fluctuating the muscles, but of letting the muscles fluctuate themselves […] the correct muscle-set will be known when the muscles fluctuate. Once the right position is achieved the kinesthetic clues for it will become familiar so that it is not difficult to get the correct muscular adjustment at will repeatedly.15
A slight and more or less rapid fluctuation of pitch for expressive purposes.19
From a purely theoretic standpoint, the vibrato, as a means for securing a heightened urge for expression, should only be employed when it is musically justifiable.21
Current opinion tends to disfavour the true vibrato unconditionally, but to encourage the tremolo or singer’s ‘vibrato’, provided that it is consciously and skilfully controlled and used with restraint for deliberately expressive purposes.22
The Gesualdo passage pointed by Professor Stevens may indicate a sexual climax, but that is no excuse for performing it so as to sound like the kind of noises that people would make when undergoing such a climax.28 [my emphasis]
This correspondence is the first really good argument in print about vibrato which I have come across. It illustrates the confusion that exists about the word – exactly what it means, how it is defined and how far it should go.30
A real contrast between resonance and dissonance cannot be given proper consideration with general vibrato. (Roche)
Vibrato [is] used as a means of ornamentation and expression. (Stevens)
On these matters [vibrato] the ear is the ultimate judge. (Roche)
Vibrato is hardly a legitimate means of musical expression at all. (Suckling)34
Figure 1: Björling extract
|Key||Munrow's record||Author's source||Vibrato speed on long note (cycles per second)||Vibrato depth on long note (cents)|
|JU||Solenne in quest' ora Jussi Björling tenor, Robert Merrill baritone.|
RCA CM 9844-E (10")
|Jussi Björling: Greatist Hits|
|JP||Duet from Cantata No 42 J.S. Bach |
Eileen Farrell Soprano, Jan Peerce Tenor.
RCA LM 6023
|Private record collector||6.2||249|
|PM||Kyrie from Missa da capella – Monteverdi.|
Prague madrigal singers
Supraphon SUA 10558
|Transfer from LP||6.1||147|
|TYT||John Barleycorn |
The young tradition.
Transatlantic TRA 172
|Transatlantic Folk Box Set|
The living tradition series, ARGO RG562
|‘World Music’ has not been sourced for this paper.|
|JN||‘Triste Espana’ Janita Noorman & Musica Reservata. |
Philips SAL 3697
|Transfer from LP||12.7||45|
|JB||‘Triste Espana’ James Bowman & EMC|
BBC Broadcast (Plaistow)
|This recording is not available. The same track is taken from ‘Music for Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain’ Testament SBT 1251||7.1||111|
|LT||The mad scene Lucia de Lammermor, Donizetti|
ATL 4079 Fidelio
|AD||Agnus Dei from Mass in B Minor. Alfred Deller. Leonhardt Baroque Ensemble. BachGuild BG 550.||LP transfer purchased from http://www.scholaantinqua.net/||6.7||227|
|CL||‘Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone’ Cleo Laine. |
Fontana TL 5 316
|Cleo Laine: The Collection|
|‘Llul arique’ The Flute of Latin America – Los Calchakis. Major Minor records SMLP76||‘World Music’ has not been sourced for this paper.|
Carl Dolmetsch, Joseph Saxby
Decca LM 4518 (10”)
Pearl CD transfer.
|HY||Air on a G String |
Hozan Yamomoto Shakuhachi
Victorola VICS 1458
|Doina Oltu Hora|
Panpipes and Romanian Folk Orchestra
|‘World Music’ has not been sourced for this paper.|
|‘Mevlana’ Mustafa Kandirali|
Clarinet and Turkish night club band
|‘World Music’ has not been sourced for this paper.|
|HS||Feathers by Hale Smith|
Eric Dolphy saxophone.
ESQ 32. 153
|Out There/Eric Dolphy|
Figure 2: speed and depth of vibrato in prominent long notes from the above recordings.
A wonderful display of brute force […] performed by ignorant screamers who feel proud of their athletic achievements.40
Figure 3: Björling’s spectrogram created by the author
Many of the best early opera singers did use vibrato with taste, care and could effect a portamento.51
Too wide a smile often accompanies what is called ‘the white voice.’ This is a voice production where a head resonance alone is employed […]. This ‘white voice’ should be thoroughly understood and is one of the many shades of tone a singer can use at times, just as the impressionist uses various unusual colours to produce certain atmospheric effects.
For instance, in the mad scene in Lucia the use of the ‘white voice’ suggests the babbling of the mad woman, as the same voice in the last act of Traviata or in the last act of Bohème suggests utter physical exhaustion and the approach of death.
An entire voice production on these colourless lines, however, would always lack the brilliancy and the vitality which inspire enthusiasm.52
The pupil suffering from tremolo or even very strong vibrato must have courage to stop at once and to forego having a big voice. After all, the most beautiful voices in the world are not necessarily the biggest voices, and certainly the tremolo is about the worst fault a singer can have. But that, like almost any other vocal defect, can be cured by persistent effort of the right kind.53
Figure 4: graph of results for vocal extracts.
Figure 5: Spectrogram of Deller’s vibrato developed
Figure 6: Spectrogram of Cleo Laine’s vibrato developed
Figure 7: Pressure vibrato in the recorder playing of Carl Dolmetsch.
Figure 8: Air on a G string played on the Japanese shakuhachi.
Figure 9: extract from a long note in ‘Feathers’ by Hale Smith (Eric Dolphy, alto sax)
- Apel, Willi: ‘Vibrato’ in The Harvard Dictionary of Music. London: Heinemann, 1944.
- Blythe, Alan: ‘David Munrow Talks to Alan Blythe’ The Gramophone, May 1974 1974.
- Chowning, John: ‘Perceptual Fusion and Auditory Perspective’ in Music, Cognition, and Computerized Sound, edited by Perry Cook, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1999.
- Caruso, Enrico: Luisa Tetrazzini Caruso and Tetrazzini on the Art of Singing Metropolitan Company, 1909, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Luisa_Tetrazzini_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_20069.jpg.
- Cook, Nicholas, & Leech-Wilkinson, Daniel: ‘Charm Tutorial: Techniques for Analysing Recordings: An Introduction’ http://www.charm.rhul.ac.uk/content/svtraining/analysing_recordings.html.
- Donington, Robert: The Interpretation of Early Music. London: Faber and Faber, 1963.
- ——— ‘Vibrato’ in Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Eric Blom, 1954.
- Flesch, Carl: The Art of Violin Playing. Translated by F. H. Martens. Vol. 2. Boston, 1924–30.
- Leech-Wilkinson, Daniel: ‘The Changing Sound of Music: Approaches to Studying Recorded Musical Performance’ CHARM, www.charm.kcl.ac.uk/studies/chapters/chap1.html.
- Marafioti, P. Mario: Caruso’s Method of Voice Production: the Scientific Culture of the Voice. New York; London: D. Appleton and company, 1922.
- Metfessel, Milton: ‘The Vibrato in Artistic Voices’ in Studies in the Psychology of Music Iowa: The University Press, Iowa City, 1932.
- Morrow, Michael: ‘Musical Performance and Authenticity.’ Early Music, 6, no. 2 (1978), 233–46.
- Morrow, Michael, and J. M. Thomson: ‘Early Music Ensembles 1: Musica Reservata’ Early Music, 4, no. 4 (1976), 515–21.
- Munrow, David: ‘Dm 9/11: Vibrato’ The Royal Academy of Music Archive, London, 1969/1970.
- Potter, John Vocal Authority: Singing Style and Ideology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
- Roche, Jerome: Review of ‘Monteverdi and His Contemporaries’ The Musical Times, 110, no. 1522 (1969): 1252.
- ——— ‘Vocal Vibrato’ The Musical Times, 111, no. 1526 (1970): 387–88.
- Schoen, Max: ‘Pitch and Vibrato in Artistic Singing: An Experimental Study’ The Musical Quarterly, 12, no. 2 (1926): 275–90.
- Seashore, Carl E.: Psychology of the Vibrato in Voice and Instrument, University of Iowa Studies in the Psychology of Music. Iowa City, Ia.: The University Press, 1936.
- ——— The Vibrato, Studies in the Psychology of Music V. 1. Iowa City, Ia.: The University, 1932.
- Stevens, Denis: ‘Vocal Vibrato’ The Musical Times, 111, no. 1526 (1970): 387–88.
- Suckling, Norman: ‘Vocal Vibrato’ The Musical Times, 111, no. 1528 (1970): 601.
For the last ten years Edward worked as a singer and specialized in choral music and oratorio. He has performed with ensembles such as Chapelle du Roi, Kammerkórinn Carmina (Reykjavik), Euterpe Baroque Consort (Antwerp) and The London Festival Orchestra; and with many of London’s professional church choirs including St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. He now teaches at Morley College.
- The most obvious example of this is: G. Moens-Haenen, ‘Vibrato’ In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online, http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.catalogue.ulrls. lon.ac.uk/subscriber/article/grove/music/29287 (accessed March 1, 2010).
- Carl E. Seashore, The Vibrato, Studies in the Psychology of Music V. 1 (Iowa City, Ia.: The University, 1932), 344.
- Max Schoen, ‘Pitch and Vibrato in Artistic Singing: An Experimental Study’, The Musical Quarterly, 12, no. 2 (1926).
- The date, 1921, is supplied in Seashore’s summary when he reviews Schoen’s work: Seashore, The Vibrato, 345.
- Ibid., 8.
- Ibid., 9.
- Ibid., 349.
- Robert Donington, ‘Vibrato’ in Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Eric Blom (1954), 764.
- Milton Metfessel, ‘The Vibrato in Artistic Voices’ in Studies in the Psychology of Music (Iowa: The University Press, Iowa City, 1932).
- Ibid., 18.
- Ibid., 69.
- Ibid., 18.
- Ibid., 72.
- Ibid., 84.
- Carl E. Seashore, Psychology of the Vibrato in Voice and Instrument, University of Iowa Studies in the Psychology of Music (Iowa City, Ia.: The University Press, 1936), 48.
- Willi Apel, ‘Vibrato’ in The Harvard Dictionary of Music (London: Heinemann, 1944), 791.
- Donington, ‘Vibrato’.
- The pages in question are nos. 168 and 169 which also contain some crossings-out and an annotation in Munrow’s hand: David Munrow, ‘Dm 9/11: Vibrato’ (The Royal Academy of Music Archive, London, 1969/1970). Photocopied sheets from: Robert Donington, The Interpretation of Early Music (London: Faber and Faber, 1963).
- Carl Flesch, The Art of Violin Playing, trans. F. H. Martens, vol. 2 (Boston, 1924–30). Quoted in Donington, The Interpretation of Early Music, 169.
- Donington, ‘Vibrato’, 765.
- Jerome Roche, ‘Review: [Monteverdi and His Contemporaries]’, The Musical Times, 110, no. 1522 (1969).
- Denis Stevens, ‘Vocal Vibrato’, The Musical Times, 111, no. 1526 (1970).
- Jerome Roche, ‘Vocal Vibrato’, The Musical Times, 111, no. 1526 (1970).
- Norman Suckling, ‘Vocal Vibrato’, The Musical Times, 111, no. 1528 (1970).
- This date is suggested by the RAM catalogue. www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a.
- Munrow, ‘Dm 9/11: Vibrato’.
- Donington, ‘Vibrato‘.
- Munrow’s actual words: ‘if we accept for the moment the fairly simple definition of vibrato as…’ Munrow, ‘Dm 9/11: Vibrato‘.
- By ‘long’ I mean a note which is long within the context of the piece.
- Daniel Leech-Wilkinson and Nicholas Cook, ‘Charm Tutorial – Techniques for Analysing Recordings: An Introduction’ http://www.charm.rhul.ac.uk/content/svtraining/analysing_recordings.html.
- Sonic Visualiser is Free Software, distributed under the GNU General Public License (v2 or later) and available for Linux, OS/X, and Windows. It was developed at the Centre for Digital Music at Queen Mary, University of London http://www.sonicvisualiser.org/. This particular spectrogram plots (among other things) the pitch of a sound (in cents) against time; and in the example shown here the notes sung by Jussi Björling show not only their fundamental tone but also their partials (harmonics) too. For an explanation of measuring vibrato from spectrograms using Sonic Visualiser readers are referred to: Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, ‘The Changing Sound of Music: Approaches to Studying Recorded Musical Performance’ CHARM, www.charm.kcl.ac.uk/studies/chapters/chap1.html. Chapter 8, Paragraphs 72–77.
- Munrow, ‘Dm 9/11: Vibrato‘.
- P. Mario Marafioti, Caruso’s Method of Voice Production: the Scientific Culture of the Voice (New York ; London: D. Appleton and company, 1922), 35.
- Seashore, Psychology of the Vibrato in Voice and Instrument, 11.
- Please note that in the Sonic Visualiser software programme, this measuring device is locked into the image on screen so that any spectrogram can be viewed at any magnification level without affecting the measurements from this ruler. In this case I enlarged the image significantly in order to set the measuring tool at the peak and trough of the waveform as accurately as the naked eye would allow.
- Michael Morrow, ‘Musical Performance and Authenticity’, Early Music, 6, no. 2 (1978), 237.
- Michael Morrow and J. M. Thomson, ‘Early Music Ensembles 1: Musica Reservata’, Early Music, 4, no. 4 (1976), 515.
- Morrow, ‘Musical Performance and Authenticity’, 241.
- Alan Blythe, ‘David Munrow Talks to Alan Blythe’, The Gramophone, May 1974 1974, 2010.
- Ibid., 2009.
- John Potter, Vocal Authority: Singing Style and Ideology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 115.
- 5 clear cycles of vibrato were taken as the standard measurement for vibrato speed throughout this paper.
- Munrow, ‘Dm 9/11: Vibrato‘.
- Luisa Tetrazzini Enrico Caruso, ‘Caruso and Tetrazzini on the Art of Singing’. Metropolitan Company, 1909, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Luisa_Tetrazzini_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_20069.jpg.
- Seashore, The Vibrato, 10.
- John Chowning, ‘Perceptual Fusion and Auditory Perspective’, in Music, Cognition, and Computerized Sound, ed. Perry Cook (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1999), 265.
- Due to their scarcity, these cycles could be what John Chowning refers to as ‘jitter’ however, but they have been included because he also explains, ‘The auditory system […] is able to detect a variation in period of a small fraction of a percent.’ Ibid., 236–64.
- Readers are pointed in particular to section 20.2.3 ‘Source Identification’ and the corresponding audio example on the compact disc that accompanies the book. In the example Chowning creates a G-pitched sinusoid, then adds harmonics and finally a regular vibrato. The human characteristics of the sound with vibrato can be heard clearly. Ibid.
- I refer readers here to Stevens’ remark quoted earlier that the singers in his madrigal recording only used vibrato for the embellishment of key moments.
- Munrow mentions his admiration for both Cleo Laine and Alfred Deller in an interview for Gramophone Magazine. Blythe, ‘David Munrow Talks to Alan Blythe‘.
- Ibid., 2009.
- Flesch, The Art of Violin Playing. Quoted in Munrow, ‘Dm 9/11: Vibrato‘.
- Roche, ‘Vocal Vibrato‘.