Early Singing Masters of the Classical Italian School (part one)

Milan Cathedral (Dome, Duomo)
Early Singing Masters
of the
Classical Italian School

Early Singing Masters
of the
Classical Italian School


Serious singers have always been curious about a way to improve all aspects of their performance and development. Early singers of the Classical Italian School were very interested in education about breath control, style, pitch/intonation and expressiveness to continuously stay at the top of their game. In the early days, it was through experience, work, trial and error that singers improved their craft. Singing education was handed down from singer to singer. Finally the singer/musician with innate ability to teach would announce themself as “maestro di canto”, open a business and work happily teaching; improving the next generation of singers. Monody and opera developed in the seventeenth century and along with it an empirical voice production of distinctive tones, limpidity , coloratura and messa di voce. Present day writings refer to the term “Bel Canto” or beautiful singing in Italian. While this was the distinctive sound of the Classical Italian School, the singing masters and maestros of the day never referred to it as such. Originating in Italy, this training strengthened the voice and was capable of developing singers into excellent soloists that enjoyed great success and made their fame outside the confines of their country.

Signor Francesco Lamperti

The Lampertis, father and son, taught singing in Italy and Germany for approximately half a century, between 1850 and 1910. Giovanni’s father Francesco claimed to have learned the singing style from the great singing performer and teacher, Antonio Bernacchi.
Francesco Lamperti Sr. was born March 11, 1813, in Savona, Italy. He studied at the Milan Conservatory. Francesco was employed as an organist, and directed orchestra. He served as the director of the Teatro Filodrammatico in Lodi. Francesco taught at the Milan Conservatory from 1850 until 1874-5, then moved his teaching practice to his home. He published six known exercises and works in Italian and English, Studies in Bravura Singing for the Soprano Voice, 1875, and A Treatise on the Art of Singing, 1877. Francesco’s influences were the great singers and composers of the golden era, Rubini, Presto, Malibran, Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini and others. Some of Francesco’s students were David Bispham, Friederike Grun, Desiree Artot, Teresa Stolz, Marie Van Zandt and Lizzie Graham. Francesco was married and was blessed with many children, there were nineteen. Francesco’s two sons were educated at the Milan Conservatory. One of his sons, Giovanni Battista served as accompanist in his father’s classes.

The unusual timbres and limpid production that they acquired, together with their messa di voce and coloratura, made their singing of operatic arias famous outside Italy.
LUCIE MANEN-- The Teaching of the Classical Italian Song-Schools, Its Decline and Restoration, 1987.

Giovanni Battista was born June 24, 1839 in Milan.  When he was nine years old he served as a choirboy in the Milan Cathedral, an exceptionally large, gothic cathedral that stands in the Piazza del Duomo.  He held this job for two years of which he was paid monthly, one hundred Austrian Lire.  Giovanni entered the Royal Conservatory of Milan as a student at age eleven studying piano,and composition.  Giovanni finished his studies in composition and piano at the Conservatory at age 14 and continued working in his father’s studio as accompanist. He became a sought after accompanist and was quite celebrated by all the talented singers and actors who came to him to be coached.

Giovanni followed in his father’s footsteps and taught his first music classes in Milan. He was a strict and demanding teacher and rewarded students for exceptional progress. The arrangement he most preferred was to have three to four pupils in the lesson at the same time. While one pupil was singing, the others were expected to be engaged, learning and to be patiently waiting their opportunity to sing. In 1858, his pupils began to appear in public, making debuts in the Italian cities of Padua, Milan, Como and Novara. Giovanni was also directing opera. He directed two of Rossini’s operas,

“William Tell”, and “Moses” and Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”. Giovanni left his profession for a time when he served his country in the military during the Franco-Austrian War, also called the Second Italian War of Independence.

After the war, Giovanni continued his profession, working with Colonesi, the baritone and Morini, tenor who were singing at La Scala. The two Lamperti’s, father and son were having a strained relationship, full of jealousy and contention. A pupil acquainted with both men described an account of Lamperti Sr. dismayed with his son about leaving him to do all the work. Giovanni moved away from his father. His father, Lamperti Sr. became ill and Giovanni took over his teaching responsibilites at the Royal Conservatory. He continued to live in Italy for some time teaching, composing and directing music until 1879, when he moved to

teaching, composing and directing music until 1879, when he moved to Dresden, Germany at the request of Marcella Sembrich one of his very talented students.

Marcella Sembrich when on to become a great international performer. She sang over 450 Met performances in her 11 seasons. She performed the role of Lucia over 40 times at the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Giovanni had taught hundreds of students and could not recount the names of all, many who became celebrated artists. He continued to write and publish works. He garnished many honors such as an honorary member of the Royal Academy of St. Cecilia, Rome, and an honorary member of the Philharmonic Academy of Bologna. In 1905, he moved his entire studio to Berlin, Germany. His pupils followed him. There was such a large studio, he hired his student, William Earl Brown as assistant. Mr. Brown published a book of maxims, “Vocal Wisdom” that Lamperti dictated to him word for word. This book was handed down to Lillian Strongin who translated and published an enlarged version. In this small book, are concise and witty truths that Lamperti would use in teaching his students. Reflecting the art of the masters,singers and composers of the greatest most prolific single period, it was the Golden Age of Song.

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