Choral Technique and Interpretation by Henry Coward

Webpage by contemporary American composer William Copper. Recommended choral music

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Mus. Doc. Oxon.



     Of the many factors which go to make a pleasing
and successful musical performance, the most 
important is that combination of colouring, intensi-
fying, and shading which we term Expression in 
music.  A composition may be every so cleverly
written, but its vitality often depends upon the way
it is presented, -- whether the spirit of the work is
revealed, the proper atmosphere caught, the crises
well arranged.   There is no doubt that scores of
compositions have been killed by first performances
which have lacked the requisite artistic tone of
expression, while other works which have happily
and properly survived ran great risk of being 
consigned to oblivion through the same cause.
   The now historical example of the first per-
formance of The Dream of Gerontius is a case
in point.  When this classic was first put into
rehearsal the new idiom was incomprehensible to
the choralists, while every one failed to grasp the
then strange combination of mystical, diabolical,
and ecstatical elements which run through the
whole oratorio.  The result was that at the initial
performance the musical expression which should 
have illuminated the work and made the whole 
intelligible was almost entirely absent, and the
performance was a complete fiasco.  Those

of us who were convinced of the supreme merits
of the work -- which in my opinion marked an
epoch in choral composition -- were very sad and
   This incident shows how imperative it is for
conductors to grasp the principles of artistic
expression, to cultivate critical acumen and to
enlarge the faculty of taste, not only to do justice
to works which they may have to conduct, but also
because the ultimate status of a choir or conductor
depends upon artistic renderings as embodied in
musical expression.
   This pre-eminence of musical expression is so
universally felt that singers and instrumentalists
take their rank more from possessing the power to
sing or play with expression than from possessing a
good voice or digital dexterity.  It is true that a
singer with a good voice alone, or a player with
special technique, may win a temporary reputation,
but it is only temperamental artists who achieve and
maintain positions in the front rank.
   The difference between the two is: one is merely
a singer with a voice, and the other is a singer
who can sing; in instrumentalists one is a mere
technician, while the other is an artist.
   To emphasise the importance of expression it
will only be necessary to recall to mind the present-
day vocalists who occupy leading or front-rank
positions, whose voices are of very mediocre
quality, but who, by virtue of their emotional,
temperamental, and expressive interpretations, carry
conviction to their hearers, and thus make their
artistic position secure.
   There are two great impediments connected with
the acquisition of the power to impart expression

to music, which prevent hosts of otherwise good
musicians from advancing further than the fringe
of the subject.  The first drawback is its subtle
elusiveness, and the second is the length of time
required by even artistic temperaments to inhale
so fully its principles that they can exhale its
fragrant essence. 
   As I have remarked, expression is one of the
most elusive things with which a conductor has to
grapple.  Its difficulty lies in its indefiniteness.  I
do not mean that it is a difficult task to realise
and get the observance of the different marks of
expression piano, forte, &c. -- although many con-
ductors do not get even these -- but to acquire 
that subtle perception, a kind of "sixth sense,"
which dictates what is suited to every note and
phrase, how to develop the aesthetic and dramatic
idea of the composition, is by no means easy.  But
when one has become infected with the "microbe
of expression" and means business, this instinctive
feeling for expression will develop rapidly.
   That a conductor or performer may lose sight of
the expression of a piece and be unconscious that
he is so doing, is a commonplace.  This may arise
not so much from lack of artistic perception as 
from his giving undue attention to some
particular aspect or aspects of the work in
hand -- correctness of music, rigid regard to
tempo, literal performance of the p's and f's
of the copy -- so that it or they crowd out the
poetic element of expression, and instead of his
being an emotional artist he is merely a human
   The relation of a personal experience may
illustrate this point.  Some thirty years ago, when

the Sheffield Musical Union was in its infancy,
I, as an enthusiastic amateur, was very keen on
the members becoming good sight-readers of
music, and we got to be so expert that I was very
proud of our attainments in this direction.  In my
pride I invited a critical and musically cultured
friend (Mr. Sam Johnson) to come and hear us, as
I wished to surprise him:  He came; we sang, 
and then I asked for his verdict, expecting
that he would be enthusiastic and say that he had
not heard anything like it.  I was terribly
disappointed.  He said, "Your sight-singing is, in
its way, very clever, but you can't sing.  Where
are the quality of tone, the shading of expression,
the phrasing, the smoothness of delivery, in fact,
all the points that go to make artistic singing?
Though you may get through the music in a 
wonderful manner, you can't sing."
   This cold douche set me thinking, and showed
me that if a conductor lacks ideality, the
potentialities of taste and expression will remain
undeveloped, and dull and heavy singing will
result.  It altered my whole course.  While not
neglecting sight-singing, I determined to wipe out
the reproach and make the choir "sing."  Here it
will be well to repeat a story, which, in my then
disturbed and receptive state of mind, greatly
influenced me.  A poor French artist invited a
number of his friends to a fish supper, which
proved to be so enjoyable that they were all in
raptures.  Not one, however, of the guests could
tell what kind of fish they had eaten.  After great
pressure the artist told them that the fish was
merely herring, at which his guests marvelled, and
inquired how it was possible for herring to be so

extremely enjoyable.  He replied, "It was the
sauce that did it."
   Here was my cue.  It was the way pieces were
served up which made them palatable or otherwise.
It should be my quest to find out the underlying
principles of expression, so that music served up by
myself should, in future, have the advantage of
enriching, appetizing musical sauce.
   In this search I became conscious that mere
pianos and fortes were not the sum total of
expression, even when given with bandmaster-like
fidelity, but that something more was required
to differentiate between the common expression
in a piece and an artistic rendering.  The
question arose, "What is this subtle essence,
this ether-like quality which must be present,
but which, like the overtones of a Stradivarius
violin or nasal resonance, must not be in
evidence except as it enriches and glorifies the
sounds produced?"  Two or three remarks by
Ruskin a propos the sister art of painting put me
on the right track, and from these arose that
scheme of expression which I now follow, and which
for the guidance of others I have attempted to
   The first point was: The curve is the basis of
beauty in design.  The second was: Beauty in 
design is something almost symmetrical.  The
third was: Every speck of paint should have its
climax, or should tend to, and be part of, a climax.
   These hints were extremely useful; but I felt
that something was still lacking, and for a long
time I was searching for this  missing link, when I
came across two illuminating statements of the
same thought by two great painters -- Haydon and

Watts -- which made me cry out, like Archimedes
of old, "Eureka! Eureka!  I have found it!"  This
fourth suggestive thought was: The line of beauty
in design is such that no two parts of it contain the
same arc of a circle.  Haydon illustrated this by a
spiral, which showed his contention convincingly.
From the above fundamental principles of art I
deduced the scheme of musical expression which
I have ever since followed, with, I hope, decided
success.  This scheme may be formulated as
follows: --

   (1) Regard the swell as the basis of the beautiful
         in music, and the chief source of all
         effective expression.
   (2) Take care that the patterns of design do not  
         occur with mathematical regularity, or
         the effect will be mechanical.
   (3) Always go from somewhere to somewhere,        
         rising directly or indirectly to some rousing
         climax, or toning down to some equally
         effective point of repose.  Have an Ideal
         to aim at.
   (4) Conform to the demands of the "line of
         beauty" by getting, when needed, variety
         of force and design in each note, phrase,
         or movement.
   (5) Never treat a note, phrase, or movement in
         an isolated manner, but let it be con-
         sidered in relation to the whole movement,
         cantata, or oratorio -- learn to think in
         musical continents, or, as Rodin says, in

   From the above guiding principles comes the
grand deduction that musical expression resolves

itself into the "art of phrasing."  By phrasing is
understood the art of securing proper expression to
every note, bar, and phrase, and so arranging them
that each phrase has some point of variety and
contrast with every other phrase, and so bears a
proper relation to the context, the whole merging
into an artistic unity and producing a sense of
harmonious design in expression.
   Expression will be dealt with separately, but the
dominant fact of the relationship and subserviency
of all its separate limbs to artistic phrasing will
ever by present, although the word "phrasing" 
may not be often mentioned.
   Let us now consider the subject in detail.
   Musical expression may conveniently be said to
consist of three main divisions: -- 
   (1) The regulation of rhythm.
   (2) The application, variation, and control of
         dynamic (tonal) and emotional force.
   (3) The portrayal of various mental states,
         extreme moods, and fancies, such as
         laughter, hatred, derision, ribaldry, anger,
         despair, &c.
   To the above must be added, in vocal music: --
   (4) Management of words, diction, verbal
         shadings by emphasis, tone-colour, &c.

   Rhythm.  What is rhythm?   We all know 
that music moves in beats or pulses, and at 
regular intervals -- say, at every two, three, or
four beats -- some of these beats are stressed
or accented.  It is these accents which produce
rhythm; therefore rhythm may be defined as
a pattern of accents, or a phrase of pulses made
characteristic by the effect of its contrasted strong

and weak accents.  Rhythms may be observed
even in statuary and architecture.  Rhythms may
be regular, as when they follow the time-signatures;
and irregular, as when may syncopations are
   Of all the branches of music, I think that the
study of rhythm is the most neglected, and its
possibilities least understood.  We learn as a 
matter of course the tune, time, and perhaps
expression of a piece, but the rhythm often escapes us.
And yet the grasping of this somewhat elusive
element is of the utmost importance.
  It is the absence of well-defined rhythm which
makes so many pianoforte recitals become weari-
some, and causes so many otherwise fine players
to be concert failures.  I say advisedly that of our
leading pianists Paderewski owes his pre-eminence
more to his mastery of rhythm -- his delicious
control of accents -- than to any other single factor.
I personally know and have heard other pianists
who have as great or greater technique, but the
peculiar charm of the Polish master pianist is
absent from their playing, consequently they are
comparative failures -- the cause, according to my
analysis, being their defective rhythm.  It is this
same element, a delightful sense of rhythm, that
makes M. Pachmann's renderings of Chopin 
   In the organ world, Mr. Edwin H. Lemare
has a more wonderful faculty of imparting the
sense of rhythm than any other organist I know,
and this rhythmic swing, coupled to his brilliant
technique, produces that exhilarating effect
which draws crowded audiences to all his organ

   The lesson of these pregnant facts has been
burnt into my mind, and fully utilised by me in
the training of my choirs.
   In view of the importance of this observance of
accent, two questions arise: -- (1) Why is so much
choral singing lacking in rhythm, and consequently
in interest? and 92) Why is rhythmless music
favoured in some circles? 
   The first result is due in many cases to the fact
that so many choral conductors are organists.
They have grown so accustomed to the lack of
spring in the music they most frequently hear,
that the absence of rhythmic pulsation does not
strike them as it does the general public, who,
though critical and conscious of a lack of some-
thing, are not analytical enough to hit upon the
true explanation.
   The result, in the second case, arises from the
hyper-sensitive taste of a limited class of musicians
who prefer the nebulous, dreamy, and inconclusive,
rather than the clear and well-defined.  Whether
this is an indication of superior judgment or merely
depraved taste is a debatable point which need not
now be discussed. 
   My own view is that whether it denotes growth
or decay, a conductor's outlook should be wide
enough to embrace and treat sympathetically even
rhythmless music.
   But as this class does not appeal to the ordinary
cultured ideal, and as rhythm is the vitalizing 
element in music, conductors should cultivate
rhythm -- not the bald, rigid thing, but poetical
pulsations, i.e., with the corners rounded off,
accents with an atmosphere; and if this is done
successfully the works performed will come upon

the critic with the freshness of a stream of water
in a thirsty land.
   Quite recently I heard a mild-mannered lady
asked how it was that she got her very determined
husband to do just what she wanted.  She said that
it was simply that she "managed" him without
letting him know that she did it.  This is precisely
what conductors and performers generally must
do with regard to obtaining rhythm.  They
must "manage" it without making the means
employed or the accents themselves too obvious --
in fact, the successful achievement of artistic
rhythm may be set down as a good example of
"art concealing art." 
   I will now explain the principles by which this
management may be accomplished: --

   1.  Always preserve the sense of the rhythm of
         the time signature.

   2.  Add the element of variety by making on all
         possible occasions two-, three-, four-,
         six-bar, &c., rhythms.
   3.  Secure modifications of the accents by means
         of delicate pressures and swells, and
         thus obtain contrasts between dynamic
         (masculine) and emotional (feminine)

   4.  Remember that it is possible to maintain
         the idea of signature rhythm without
         the crest of the accent being on the first

   5.  Emphasise the accents -- sometimes every
         note -- in working up to a fortissimo

   6.  Strike firmly all syncopated notes and other
         salient parts of irregular rhythms.

   7.  In cross-rhythms let each individual rhythm
         be well-defined, while preserving the swing
         of the whole.

   8.  Sustained notes and reiterated notes should
         be sung with crescendo when they ter-
         minate at a strong accent, or are followed
         by a higher note on a strong beat.

   9.  Frequently a note, by reason of its being a
         discord -- prepared or unprepared -- or a
         resisting harmony note, requires special

   10. The first notes of triplets should be well

   It may be thought a very easy matter to secure 
the sense of the rhythm of the time-signature.  But
sometimes the swing of the rhythm is obscured
by the form or shape of the melody, by the 
introduction of syncopation, or by the grouping of
the notes.  Take, for instance, the well-known
phrase: -- 

    And all flesh

This is usually sung incorrectly, the high notes
being sung too loudly, thus perverting the rhythm.
   Take again the subject: --

    And with His stripes

the usual loud singing of the high notes destroys

not only the rhythm, but the poetry and the effect.
By taking care to get it sung as follows: -- 

    And with His stripes 2nd

the passionate grief and artistic beauty of it are
preserved.  Scores of similar examples might be 
given, but these must suffice, with the remark 
that constant watchfulness is required to keep the
rhythm well defined.
   Fule 2 is an effective corrective to the popular
notion that rhythm is merely the giving of a strong
accent at the beginning of every bar.  This is
perfectly true in theory; but if the accents are
struck remorselessly with metronomic regularity
they become an irritation, and produce an effect
similar to that caused by the recurring jolt of a
tram, or the whirr of machinery.
   Of course there are certain pieces and declamatory
choruses, such as "He gave them hailstone" 
(Israel) and "O! never, never, bow we down"
(Judas) in which this persistent accentuation
is necessary.  But even these strenuous choruses must
be regarded as merely passing contrasts to other
movements, to which they act as agreeable foils.
   Generally the rule of securing variety in accent
must be followed, and care must be taken not to 
get a monotonous rhythm: --  

    Coward example 7

Here we have quite a variety of forms of accent in
the eight bars, which may be said to consist of two
one-bar rhythms, a single two-bar rhythm, and a
final four-bar rhythm. 
   The next two examples are taken from Elijah: --

    Baal, we cry to thee


    Hear us, Baal,

The markings will show how varied are the
rhythmic phrases.
   It is surprising how long the regular current of
accents can be interrupted -- say, at a prolonged
crescendo, -- if only a well-defined accent restores
the rhythmic swing.
   Innumerable other examples could be quoted of
the fine artistic effect of this element of variety,
but I will only mention the opening phrase of
Blest Pair of Sirens (where we have two two-bar
rhythms followed by a four-bar rhythm), the

opening of Elgar's "Lullaby," and "The
Marksman" (Bavarian Highlands), where the same
thing occurs.  In the last-named stirring piece,
delightful changes of variation, from one-bar to
eight-bar rhythms, occur all through.
   With the above suggestions the alert conductor
will not have much difficulty in devising a scheme
of varied rhythms for each composition.  In addition
to the variety secured by Rule 2, a great deal of
monotony can be avoided by the application of
Rule 3.
   Except in a few choruses like "He gave them
hailstones," and "Have lightnings and thunders in
clouds disappeared" (Bach), the dynamic accent
can be modified by the swell, which converts the
hard pulsation to an emotional throb.  Further, so
long as the feeling of signature rhythm is preserved,
the crest of the accent need not come on the first
part of the first beat.   As an illustration of Rules 3
and 4, take the well-known air "Kathleen
Mavourneen," as sung by a well-known great
artist: --

    Kathleen Mavourneen

Here, instead of a mere accent on the first beat
there is a gentle pressure on the first quaver
and a swell to the second, then a shading off.
In bar 2 variety is secured and the emotion
heightened by the swell being continued to the
end of the third quaver.  In bar 3 the climax is
reached by continuing the swell for four quavers
before shading to a soft finish. 

   It will be observed that the phrase consists of a
four-bar rhythm made up of two incidental one-bar
rhythms and a two-bar rhythm.  The next quotation 
is a fine illustration of varied accent pattern:--

    How lovely are Thy

It may be regarded as a compound nine-bar
rhythm phrase -- as no two accents are alike.
   In working to a climax of a phrase or of a
movement (Rule 5), life, power, and vigour are
imparted by seeming to exaggerate the accents at
the very end.  As examples take the runs in "For
unto us" and "Why do the nations," and an
excerpt from The Veil (Cowen): --
    For unto us 


    Why do the nations

    O Spirit Divine

   Many soloists fail in bravura passages like the 
above by not attending to these final stimulating, 
action-quickening accents.
   Many conductors of choirs also neglect this 
important point, and the choruses fall flat, whereas
if the runs be ended with marked accent a thrill
invariably follows.  Another example is the 
following passage from "For unto us": -- 

    and the government

   It should be borne in mind that when at the fff
end of a massive chorus you seem to have
reached the limit of force, and still more power is
wanted, the emphatic accent, by its nerve-rousing
stimulus, produces the desired effect. 
   With respect to Rule 6, it should be said that
all departures from the regular and conventional,
whether in accent, tempo, voice, or treatment,
should be carried out boldly whenever musical or
dramatic reasons call for such special treatment.
Hence syncopated passages like the following: --  

    Et vitam venturi

    And cast away their yokes

following marked examples will illustrate this point

    Saul hath slain

require incisive attack.
   In carrying out Rule 7, to make every part clear
it will be necessary to emphasise each important 
accent, whether regular or syncopated, and
to soften the voice immediately, so as to allow
the accent of the next voice to be heard.  To
get my choirs to realise and accomplish this
difficult feat, I compare it with expert football,
where, as soon as a player has had his short
passing-kick, he gets out of the way to allow
his colleague to make his kick effective.  The

following marked examples will illustrate this point
clearly: --

    And the ransom'd

    Amen and Come from the mountain

   The stimulating effect of a crescendo on a 
sustained note or reiterated notes is ample apology
for the temporary disturbance of the regular flow
of accents -- strong, weak, medium, &c. -- while the
crescendo is often wonderfully effective, as is shown
by the following examples:-- 

    Let their celestial

    Blessing and honour,

    Come from the mountain side

    endless morn of light,

   This fine composition contains a great many 
effective examples of this point.  

   Rule 10 calls for special attention on account 
of the frequent -- nay, excessive -- introduction of
tripletted notes in the scores of modern composers.
   Generally when they are introduced against 
duplets they should be given supremacy, because
when they lack this distinction obscurity often
results.  This is why the vocal cadenza near the 
end of the Choral Symphony (Beethoven) is so
unsatisfactory even when sung by singers of the
first rank.
   The two examples which follow illustrate how
similar passages should be sung:--

    Though he fall,


    My hope is in thee


   Having dealt with this important adjunct of
musical expression -- rhythm -- we can now consider
what is generally associated with and regarded as
the chief factor in musical expression, namely, the
artistic application, regulation, and modification of
the amount of tonal and emotional force required 
to secure a desired interpretation of a musical 

composition.  The colour palette from which the
conductor may draw his varied shadings may be
said to comprise the swell; the crescendo; the
dimenuendo; stress pressures; sforzandos -- in fact
all degrees of force from pianissimo to fortissimo;
marked entries; imitative passages; antiphonal
effects; the dovetailing of parts and phrases;
attack and release; variation of tempo, such as
accelerando, rallentando, tempo rubato, and the
pause; shortening and lengthening individual notes
as in staccato and tenuto; management of sustained
notes; working to a climax whether of fortissimo or
pianissimo; characterization by means of variation
of tone-quality and facial expression, as in the 
laugh, the sob, the jeer, the shriek; onomatopoetic
effects, such as the howling of the storm, the
soughing of the wind, bringing out the meaning of
special words, the booming or tinkling of bells;
diction and rhetorical accents of words; sudden
contrasts of force and mood; and the strengthening
or weakening of parts, so as to secure due
prominence to the principal theme, or to avoid
undue obtrusion of subordinate parts.  As most of
the above attributes of expression are governed by
the line of beauty, and as this is referable to the
curve of the sound, it will be seen that the swell
is the basis of most of the dynamic and emotional 
aspects of light and shade embodied in the above
catalogue of possible constituents of the tonal

                      THE SWELL.

   From an emotional aspect the swell is paramount.
The unbroken swell may be short, as when confined
to a single note or phrase, or may extend for
quite a long period.  It may begin and stop
at any point.  The crescendo may be regarded
as the first part of a swell, the decrescendo as the
latter part.  The connection of most points of 
expression with the swell will be shown as the
subject unfolds.  It may therefore be laid down 
that the management of the swell is the basis of
musical expression.  With this axiom in mind, let
me say that the emotional effect is nearly always in
proportion to the breadth of the design.  The span
of a large railway viaduct is more impressive than
the arch of a small bridge.  The span of St. Pancras
Station excels in effect the curve of the top of a 
railway carriage, while the rainbow transcends both.
In like manner the long, majestic swell, crescendo,
which leads up to a grand climax is more over-
powering than the short crescendo, and the prolonged
swell on a sustained sound is more thrilling than 
the gentle increase of power which should be used
to give interest to every note.  With these 
preliminary remarks, we will now consider 
expression in detail, and show the application of the
theory as the subject unfolds.  Although the swell
is the basis of expression, it cannot be used 
indiscriminately.  Great care must be exercised to
use it aright.  At the final chord of a piece a
perfect curve of sound may be used with good 
tast, as in Brahms's Requiem (pp. 55, 93 
and 96, Novello), because there the swell 
is not subject to comparison; but in other

  THE SWELL - 113 -
cases the curve of sound must be usually
slightly irregular to meet the artistic dictum that
beauty of form is something nearly summetrical
-- except it be as a point of comparison with an
adjacent curve.  I recently heard a conductor
rehearsing an amorous part-song, and the following
is an exact reproduction of the expression used: --

    Regular exaggerated swell

every phrase an exaggerated swell, each exactly like
the other. 
   Well might Sir Arthur Sullivan stop the choir
at a Leeds Festival rehearsal when a specimen of
this kind of expression cropped up, and say:
"Please, let us have no more of that accordion
expression."  I know some singers who ever since
that time have contemptuously referred to a swell
as "accordion expression," thereby showing their
limited outlook.  It was not that Sir Arthur
condemned the swell; it was the recurrence of the
same pattern over and over again to which he
objected.  In his own compositions some of the
finest effects possible are due to the well-regulated
swell, as I shall show later.
   As examples of perfect curves of sounds
contrasted with other perfect curves, thereby
realising diversity in unity, we may take: --
   Gerontius, last bar, page 116.
   The Kingdom, "Let his habitation be deso-
         late," &c.
   Atalanta in Calydon, page 30.
   Brahms's Requiem.


    should flesh and blood repine

    Let his habitation be desolate

    He weaves and is cloth'd

  THE SWELL - 115 -

    He weaves, cont.
   Though short swells may be symmetrical curves
of sound, long swells are usually parabolic.  Two
fine illustrations of this are afforded in "Since by
man," and "As in Adam"  (Messiah) (see
page 126), and "Open the heavens," and "Then
hear from heaven" (Elijah) (see pages 126, 127),
which emphasise the dual points of securing 
something nearly symmetrical and the avoidance
of repetition of mathematical regularity. 


   The fourth and fifth rules laid down in the
preceding pages say that we must always go from
somewhere to somewhere else.  That is, we must
have as an objective a climax of some sort, and we
must proceed to this by the "line of beauty."

   One of the mistakes of some conductors and
composers it to be always itching for a grand
climax every two or three bars.  They ignore the
fact that the larger the design the nobler the effect.
Restraint is what is often needed.  The conductor
should fix his mind on what is to be the grand
climax, and work steadily up to that, though not
in a hurried manner.  But the question arises,
How is the interest in a piece to be sustained until
the climax is reached?  The answer is, Follow the
"line of beauty."  This may be defined as giving 
an ebb and flow of sound to each note or series of
notes, and, while passing through a series of
cumulative crises, so varying the curve of sound
as never to repeat the same design, and always
keeping in view the consummation of the whole in
the final bars. 
   This working for and achieving well-planned
crises is of immense importance to a conductor.
It is part of that "thinking in continents" spoken
of in a previous chapter.  Handel owes a great
part of his popularity to this feature.  e proceeds
from the simple to the complex in regular sequence
in most of his choruses.  The crises follow each
other in ascending ratio until the final effort carries
the conviction that the end has really been reached.
Sir Charles Santley, of all the singers I know, is
the one who owes most to this great gift of 
arranging crises.  If the thousands who have heard
him will look back and analyse the impression of
his singing, they will find that he seemed all the time
to be rising to something, -- that figuratively he was
always coming towards you with increasing power,
and that his arrangement of the crises of his song
or aria was always artistically correct. 

  THE SWELL - 117 -

   This arranging of crises must be carefully
planned by the conductor, and he might, for
private use, do this graphically by means of
curves, to see that he gets variety as well as
interest in each phrase.  For instance, he may
wish to arrive at a climax at the end of, say,
one hundred bars.  He will have to study the
words and the form of the music, discover which
points can be emphasised in the unfolding of the
scheme of expression, and then sketch it out as
follows: --

    Swell curves

The conductor must bear in mind that there
are many right ways of performing a piece, and
though, as a rule, the place of the climax is
usually clearly defined, the sectional crises are not
obvious; therefore great latitude is allowed in
fixing these, always provided the "line of beauty"
is followed.  

   For instance, in a given piece each of the 
following plans would be correct: -- 

     Swell curves 2

It will be seen that they both reach the same
point, but with variation between the start and the
finish.  This explains why Joachim seldom played
a solo twice in the same manner.  There was
always the same ebb and flow of sound, always the
same sense of appropriate variety of treatment, but
never a cast-iron interpretation.  Similarly, Madame
Clara Butt says she never professes to sing a song
twice exactly alike.  She is swayed by the feeling of
the moment; but if she sings rather more loudly
here, and softer there, than she did at a previous
rendering, the audience are quite satisfied, because
the charm of the artistic variety and good taste
are evident.  Most singers, as well as the general
public, who knew Sims Reeves, place him as the 
most consummate artist in phrasing ever before
the public; and yet he varied his renderings 
according to his mood.  This opens another 
question, namely, the correctness of one artist
singing a phrase loudly, and another artist singing
the same phrase softly.  Both the artists may be
correct, because many phrases are open to two 
interpretations.  For example, take the words: --

  (a) "Why are thou cast down, O my soul."

  (b) "Yea! Though I walk through the valley of
        the shadow of death" 

  THE SWELL - 119 -

The first example may be treated in a reflective 
manner, in which case it would be sung piano; or
it may be sung in a confident, defiant way, when it
would be declaimed fortissimo; and (b) could be
sung as full of awe, or as an expression of joyful
assurance.  "O! horror!" might be whispered as
embodying chilling terror, or shrieked as the out-
come of ungoverned frenzy.  A striking example of
this contrasted treatment of the same words and
music was afforded at two performances of
Gerontius, both conducted by the composer, at
which I was present.  The phrase --

     Thee, in Thine own agony

was sung by an eminent artist fortissimo, as marked,
while at the second performance a still greater 
artist sang it pianissimo.
   With this fact in mind it will be seen that there
is little need to have two phrases sung alike.  A
phrase which might have been sung softly may,
through being preceded by a soft phrase, be sung
loudly without injuring the sense.  This apparent
contradiction is explained by the fact that it is 
viewed from a different standpoint by different
artists.  Again, in many phrases it does not matter
whether they begin softly and end loudly, or
vice versa, as long as they dovetail artistically.
   This power of varying the form of expression,
while keeping strictly within the line of artistic
propriety, is in my judgment one of the attributes
of an artist.  Therefore conductors should not be
afraid of following what they consider to be the 

true interpretation of a piece, although it may not
always follow conventional lines; but let each
change be well thought out, not adopted from mere
caprice.  If the interpretation is prompted by brain,
and carried through with mastery, whatever else the
conductor may make he will not make a failure.
   Nevertheless, with all the latitude of choice
which a conductor has, it must not be taken for
granted that it is hardly possible to go wrong.  If
he thinks that, he is sure to make a mistake.  And
it is conductors endowed with temperament, and
those who have a feeling for expression, who
are most likely to go wrong unless their natural
impulse is trained and kept under control by a
course of severe discipline.
   These temperamental people feel that monotony
is unendurable, and they try to introduce variety
without knowing the true principles of artistry.
Hence they often put an accent or crescendo or
staccato i the wrong place; and when this happens
we get an effect like that of a dab of red on an
actor's nose instead of on his cheeks.
   Of many instances of this kind I will mention 
only two.  When adjudicating at a National
Eisteddfod in Wales, a choir came forward to render
Mendelssohn's "Come, let us sing."  The occasion 
being an important one, the conductor thought the
choir must do something out of the ordinary.  And
it did.  The chorus commences with the rhythm: --

     6 8 rhythm

The choir sang: -- 
     Altered 6 8 rhythm

  THE SWELL - 121 -
This had such a disturbing effect that all the judges
looked up in amazement, and for a moment could
not understand what was being done.   Then we 
realised that to give emphasis to the word "us,"
they had changed the rhythm entirely, making it
duple time, as though written -- 
     Rewritten 6 8 rhythm

which, it will be seen, produces quite a lopsided
   The next example was at a concert which I
attended, to oblige a friend, on purpose to hear a
singer full of musical feeling.  He sang "Maid of
Athens, ere we part" in rhapsodic fashion, as
became the sentiment of the song, but unfortunately,
in his fervour, he made a travesty of the expression
by putting swells, staccatos, &c., in wrong places,
something like this: --
     Maid of Athens

A newspaper reporter seeing me present came and
inquired whether it was a comic song.  I said that
originally it was not, but I would ascertain the
singer's idea.  When a friend remarked that he had
never heard such a rendering before, the singer,
taking it as a compliment, said, with conscious
pride, that he tried to put his soul into it; and he
still recalls that effort as a triumph, quoting his
friend's words as testimony.  The moral of all this
is, Study well the principles of expression before
attempting any new departures. 

                   THE CLIMAX.

   Stress has been laid upon reaching the climax
by well-ordered and consistent steps; but as 
the climax itself is the great thing, we must
give adequate importance to it when it is
   As a rule it should be treated with breadth,
dignity, and power.  Care must be taken to
approach its culmination soon enough to enable it
to be held sufficiently long to be impressive, and
when it has been reached it must not degenerate into
an anti-climax by weakness of voice, insufficiency
of breath, or failure to bear the strain.
   Here comes in the value of (a) arranging the
breathing places so as to have plenty of breath for
the last bar, (b) breath pressure sufficient to enable
the choir to put on extra power for the supreme
effort, and (c) emphasising the words as a final
stimulus to the feelings of the audience.  Remember 
that a fine peroration will cover a multitude of
weak places in the preceding parts. 
   It should be noted that the effects of climax
depend very largely upon their surroundings.  If,
by the antecedent phrases being too loudly played
or sung, the sense of cumulative effort has been
destroyed, the climax fortissimo distresses the rather
jaded nerves instead of rousing them. 
   Table Mountain is not very high, but on account
of its surroundings it is very impressive.  Thus
conductors must be mindful of the context, and
take care not to fire off all their ammunition 
too soon.  In preparing for a climax I always
remember Wolfe's direction at Quebec -- "Don't
fire until you see the whites of your enemies' eyes."

  THE CLIMAX - 123 -
The wisdom of reserving your force till you can
strike with effect is seen in: -- 

      "O we cannot" (Golden Legend, page 3) --

     O we cannot

Here a rapid spasmodic crescendo on the fifth and
sixth beats is required to depict despairing rage.

      "God sent His messenger" (Golden Legend, 
          page 136) -- 

     God send His messenger

Here a pronounced crescendo with breath pressure
is needed on the third beat to lead to the real
fortissimo on the first beat of the second bar.  It is
this which gives the thrill.

A further illustration may be found in: --

      "His yoke is easy" (Messiah, page 154).




   Having given a general view of the approach to 
and consummation of the climax, we will now study 
in detail the separate elements of the colours on
the conductor's tonal palette. 
   Under the heading of "Voice" we rather
exhaustively considered the question of "How to
obtain soft singing with maintenance of pitch";
but there are several disturbing elements not
touched upon, wich demand serious attention.
   At many final rehearsals for concerts I have been
delighted with the singers' splendid realisation of
soul-moving pianissimos; but at the concerts I have
been bitterly disappointed at their failing to do
what they had done time and again at rehearsals.
   I do not say the audiences were dissatisfied.
They were usually charmed at the measure of 
success attained, on the principle of "What the eye
never sees the heart never grieves about"; but to
me, who had heard them reach the ideal, it was
heart-rending to note the fall from an ethereal
seventh-heaven pianissimo to one of an ordinary type.
   Considering that most of the choir are as
anxious to achieve success as the conductor, the
question arises, How is it that these lapses occur?
   In my opinion the causes are three: --
  (1) The ever-present inertia which has been
         previously mentioned;
  (2) The solicitude to be heard, coupled with the
         nervous fear that unfelt voice-production
         will not carry;
  (3) The law of sympathy.

   With respect to inertia, there are always some
singers who will yield to its influence, and who do not
exercise will-power enough to force themselves to
put forth the necessary effort.  To these lazy
ones constant attention must be given, for, like the
poor, they are ever with us.
   To sing pianissimo the voices must be poised so
forward, with nasal resonance, that the singers are
often unconscious of singing at all.  I ask them to
sing by faith, and be content with a sound which is 
so nebulous as to be almost, if not altogether, 
too contemptible to be called singing.  Under my
personal influence in rehearsals this is done, but at
concerts in a large hall their lack of physical
sensation in the throat gives them the idea that the
sound will not carry a yard; therefore to do their
duty they imagine they must sing louder.  The
lesson of all this to a conductor is to train choristers,
by constant iteration, to differentiate between the
very slight physical sensation they fancy they
ought to feel at a concert.  Urge them to sing
by faith, assuring them that if the sound is only
a kind of hum produced somewhere near the nasal 
cavities it will be heard, although they may feel 
doubtful about its carrying power. 
   Respecting the third drawback, the "law of
sympathy," I would observe that in many cases it
is of immense use in choral singing, because by its
almost unconsious influence choirs move by 
common impulse to a rousing fortissimo, or catch
the inflection of the dramatic spirit, or realise the
subtle atmosphere which pervades a piece.  But 
it is often a serious handicap in pianissimos, and in
cases where a single part has an independent

phrase or swell which requires to be brought out 
very prominently. 
   In a choir no one lives or sings to himself.
Therefore, when a person sings a shade too
loudly, his neighbour -- not hearing himself as
well as he thinks he ought to do, sings rather
louder also, and this singing a shade too loudly
spreads through the choir.  The worst of
this is that the singers having unconsciously
fixed a standard, it is impossible to get them
to the bewitching softness they have often attained
in rehearsal. 
   The remedy for this is to specialize for pianissimo
at the last rehearsal, asking everyone to be 
responsible for himself or herself at the per-
formance, even to cease singing -- as some self-
denying members of my choir do -- when they hear
other people singing too loudly.  


   There are certain phrases in pieces where it is
practically impossible for a full choir to sing so
softly as the ideal demands.  In these cases I
usually ask half the choir to sing, and balance
matters by asking the other half to sing a similar
phrase later. 
   For instance, I have the quartets "Since by
man," and "For as in Adam" (Messiah), sung
as unaccompanied choruses, commencing very
softly, and, after a gradual crescendo to forte, 
finishing equally softly.  To achieve an ideal
rendering I ask the first voices of each part to
commence the first bar alone, the seconds come in
at the second bar, and the whole choir sing till the

first note of the last bar, when the second voices
finish very pianissimo: -- 

     Since by man came death,

    Take another example, "Open the heavens," 
and "Then hear from heaven" (Elijah), which I
usually have sung as follows: -- 

     Open the heavens,

   The delicate close of "On Himalay" (Bantock) 
requires clear tone and true pitch, or its poetic
flavour is destroyed.  I therefore ask those
whose voices are not of the light soprano type
to deny themselves the pleasure of singing for
two bars. 
   This selecting of legitimate means to an end I
call artistic discrimination.   Note that the doing of
this always gives the conductor more trouble than
the usual plan of letting all sing; but the result
justifies the task of finding out the phrases to be
treated exceptionally, and the worry of soothing the
ruffled feelings of singers who are asked not to
sing for a few bars.


   The last point in connection with pianissimo is
also related to artistic discrimination.  To sing
an unadulterated mezzo, piano, or pianissimo would
produce a weak, unsatisfactory effect.   There may
be a few cases where a dull, lifeless sort of 
expression is required, but they are very few.  As
an example: -- 

     Who art thou that comest,

As a rule Weber's dictum that "a piano phrase
should contain a forte," is true.
   It may seem strange to introduce a mezzo-p, or
even louder, into a passage marked piano, but
singing it softly throughout -- if it be of any length
-- would induce that monotony which must be 
avoided at all costs.  Again, by the decrescendo
from the louder tone the hearers have a standard 
of comparison, and as the voices get softer and
softer the sense of real pianissimo is grasped by the
mind of the listeners as the passage reaches it close,
because the effect of the whole is almost entirely 
governed by the impression of the last few bars. 


   There is a general notion which may be expressed
in the phrase "Take care of the pianos and the
poundings will take care of themselves."  There is
an element of truth in this, but, as I have shown
in the chapter on "Breath pressure," due attention 
must be given to the ways of producing fortissimo, or
full sonority cannot be attained.  In addition to what 
has been said, the attention of the choir must be
directed to getting anti-throaty, vibrant tone, which
bears the same relation to a shouting backward tone
as a well-trained athlete does to a lumbering navvy.
   The occasions when a real fortissimo can be used
with the proper artistic effect are comparatively few;
therefore when they do occur urge the singers to 
"knock sixes." 


   From the foregoing it might be inferred that
progress to a climax by the line of beauty is fairly

regular -- just a series of curves and sounds
arranged so as to secure variety.  In the main this
is so, but very frequently an episodical phrase is
interpolated which quite breaks the formal
continuity of the ebb and flow to the climax.
Sudden transitions from ff to pp or vice versa,
abrupt changes of tempi, and unexpected changes 
in sentiment are cases in point.  These erratic
contrasts are welcome changes, as they take us
from the commonplace and introduce the romantic
element.  Music is not always a series of well-ordered
lawns set out with Dutch precision.  Then,
at times, the climax seems to be so far away that
there appears to be no connection between what
you are doing and the end in view.  Another
disturbing element is the obscure, nondescript,
neutral passages which are parenthetically intro-
duced without apparent reason.   These things may
be perplexing and annoying to those who want
things to move on in symmetrical sequence, but
they are the elements which give life and vigour
to expression.  The mind revels in contrasts.  The
mountain peaks and deep gorges of sound tend to
picturesque effects.  If expression were always in
unbroken curves, however varied, we should get
tired of the monotony, however beautiful.  The
obscurity of the other places just satisfies that
speculative bias which many people have, and
which finds expression in their depreciating things
that are understandable.
   These little "affairs of outposts" must be dealt
with sectionally, each being made as interesting as
possible, and treated as a relief to the grand forward
movement to the brilliant finish which will come

   With respect to the execution of the sudden
contrasts a word of caution is necessary.  The
tendency is to keep in the last mood too long
through lack of mental alertness.  As a means to
stimulate this I always ask the singers to mark
these places with large ff and pp in blue pencil,
which they can see long before they reach the
place.  These signs serve as helpful mnemonics,
and usually produce the desired result.  Examples
of these sudden changes are to be found in Brahms's 
Requiem (pages 56, 139, 197, 207), Verdi's Requiem
(pages 22, 27, 35, 87), The Wedding of Shon Maclean
(page 50).  It is worthy of remark that in the 
Requiem the same words are sung both ff and pp.

   The crescendo is used to express rising sentiment,
to uplift the spirit, and give general vitality to the
music.  It may be regarded as the first -- the rising 
-- part of an incomplete swell.  The crescendo may
proceed in every-growing force and intensity in
defiance of the law of strong beats and weak beats,
until at some point the swing of the rhythm of the
piece be restored.  Very frequently in emotional 
pieces the crescendo is made up of a series of smaller
upward flights, as: -- 

     Crescendo example

   The diminuendo may be regarded as the reverse
of the crescendo in respect to expression of feeling,

and as being the latter -- falling -- part of the swell.
It may be a continuous decline, or it may, cascade-
like, be a series of descending phrases, as: -- 

     Diminuendo example

   Here we get the feminine expression well
illustrated.  When singing a diminuendo passage to
moving notes, the accent should be delicately given,
to prevent the feeling of nebulous uncertainty.  It
is by these two elements -- crescendo and diminuendo
-- that ebb and flow of sound is secured, which,
when skillfully managed, is comparable to a well-
planned garden whose mounds and banks seem to 
melt into delightful, undulating lawns.  The highest
compliment which was paid to my Yorkshire
choir when we visited Germany was made at
Frankfort, where a musician of great influence said
that the greatest wonder to him in the choir's
performance was not the rich fortissimos or the
delicate pianissimos, but the way in which the
three hundred voices seemed to swing from piano
to forte and back again on a single hair.  This
treatment of the cres. and dim. is the model I
always try to follow. 


   I have previously spoken of one aspect of attack
in the chapter on "Voice"; but in addition to
striking difficult notes firmly, there is the firm, bold,
reliant singing of whole phrases -- or through an

  ATTACK - 133 -
entire work -- the absence of which gives the 
impression of lack of attack.  A choir may sing
with courage and good attack generally, but
sometimes abnormal places are encountered which
seem to paralyze their efforts.  The difficulties
which, for a time, appal the singers are those 
of pitch, as in Beethoven's Choral Symphony and
Mass in D; abstruse harmonies and difficult
intervals, as in Sea-Drift, Omar Khayyam; catchy,
involved rhythms, as in The Mastersingers; great
speed of performance, where the words cannot
be articulated, as in The Flying Dutchman; and
constant transitions to remote keys, as in most
ultra-modern works. 
   Sometimes the difficulties are so real that there
is justification for lack of confidence and some
excuse for bad attack, but at other times the reasons
for taking fright are quite absurd.  However,
these gusts of unaccountable panicky fear do arise,
and they must be met with coolness and tact, and
with as little loss of time as possible.  When the
uncertainty arises from real difficulties in the music,
the best way is to arrange for sectional rehearsals
for the "nervy" part -- usually soprano -- and to
go over the difficulties for, say, twenty minutes 
until the singers can feel the music.  If the difficulty
be one of pitch, as in Beethoven's works or -- for a 
few bars -- in Go, song of mine (Elgar), I always
rehearse these parts a third lower in pitch until the 
music is grasped, then gradually get up to full
pitch, by which time the dread of the strain will
have disappeared.  But even this is not sufficient
to exorcise the demon of doubt from a part;
therefore other plans are sometimes necessary,
two of which devices I will mention.  In special

pieces where the chromatic element is very
pronounced, and where the leads are very 
difficult to negotiate, I ask for, say, six volunteers
from each part who will undertake to be like
Horatius and his two friends, and defnd the
bridge until the danger is past, or, like the
"thin red line" at Inkermann, hold disaster 
at bay. 
   A notable instance of the need of inspiration in
the singers occurred when the Sheffield Musical 
Festival Chorus first undertook to sing the Choral
Symphony (Beethoven).  At rehearsal after rehearsal
the sopranos sang with an apologetic tone which
lacked vim and power.  When they got to the
very high parts the singers looked at each other,
and the infection of fear seemed to run through 
their ranks.  At last I privately called eight singers
on whom I thought I could depend, and asked
them to learn the whole of the music thoroughly
and be prepared to sing it, when called upon, with 
courage, boldness, and determination as a pattern
to the whole choir.  The next week I invited
these eight ladies to come on to the platform
and sing the soprano part, asking that while the
remaining seventy sopranos were silent, the whole
force of the contraltos, tenors, and basses -- roughly
about two hundred -- would sing with all their 
power, the object being to demonstrate that eight 
confident sopranos could be heard over the whole
two hundred lower parts.
   Right nobly did these eight sopranos uphold my
contention.  They realised that they were on their
mettle, and they sang with decision and enthusiasm.
Their voices pealed above those of their two hundred
opponents, who were singing for dear life.  Everyone

was excited, while the silent sopranos were carried
away with surprise and admiration.  At the close
the ladies received an ovation for the victory
they had won, and there was jubilation all
round.  But they had done more than win an
individual victory; they had broken the thrall
of fear which had held the sopranos in bondage.
Henceforth these sang with courage and
splendid attack, and with such ease that an
enthusiastic lover of music, who had often heard
the work at Festivals, in congratulating me on
the result said that it was the first performance
she had heard in which her throat had not ached
by reason of the apparent strain on the voices of
the singers.
   As a final word on "Attack" get your singers to
"leap out" to meet your beat in all cases of (a)
high notes, (b)staccato notes, (c)marked entries,
(d)fugal entries, (e)difficult and involved com-
binations of words and music. 


   Montesquieu says that the true test of a horse's
quality and training is not in the way he starts,
but the smartness with which he stops.  A similar
remark might be applied to singers, for as a rule
the exact timing of the release of a note is often
defective, and staccato effects are usually blurred by
choralists.  I have more frequently to stop the
choir to correct ragged release than for poor
attack.  Staccato is closely related to release rather
than attack, but the sensation produced causes it 
to be regarded generally under the head of attack.
I find that choirs may sing one or two notes

staccato, but that they fail when they get to the third
note.  This is due in part to the physical effort
required, but chiefly to the singers' fear of being
too jerky.  Conductors should therefore rehearse
the staccato passage frequently to educate the
singers' mental and physical sensations as to the
kind of effort required to produce a good, recurring 
staccato.  Note should be made of the fact that
the law of sympathy operates very largely and
beneficently in "attack".  In "release" some
singers stop too soon through indolence, while
inertia causes another section to prolong the sounds
   Most people do not know or realise that there
are two kinds of staccato; the short, detached,
dramatic, forceful or delicately-crisp, and the 
emotional, which appears under the semi-staccato
signs, but from which it is distinct.  
   Each variety has its own difficulties, and must 
be treated in a different manner. 
   Dealing first with release at the end of phrases,
in all places where there is a disposition, through 
inertia, either to curtail or to prolong the final
note, I always ask the singers to mark the end of
the note with a downward stroke in blue pencil.
Especially should this be done in cases like
the following, where the parts do not finish
simultaneously: --

     King Olaf, page 17.
     Spectre's Bride, page 140.
     Brahms's Requiem, pages 4 and 8 (Novello).

In these ordinary cases of stoppage there is not 
much difficulty, only a little care being necessary. 

But in the clean-cut stoppages of crisp staccatos
and the quick shading off required in emotional 
staccatos, great skill is needed to acomplish them
artistically.  The difficulty of the really short
staccato lies in getting the true shock of the glottis
and cutting of the note smartly.  These may be
managed well on two or even three notes, but when
it comes to a succession of staccato notes, as in
"Haste thee, nymph" (Handel), or alternate staccato
and sustained notes, as "I am the god Thor"
(Elgar), the effect is generally blurred.  This is due
in the first case to the rapid tiring of the muscles 
brought into play in an unusual task.  In the second
case it is through lack of alertness -- tiredness, or
really indolence -- aft4er the thing has been done twice.

     I am the God Thor

   In the most advanced choirs these things have to
be seriously dealt with, and more time has to be
spent over these points than one would imagine.
How to get the true shock of the glottis so as to
get clear attack I have dealt with previously, pages
32-36, so nothing further need be said, except that
in studying how to sing staccato the principles there
enforced must be recapitulated.  With respect to
releasing the notes crisply, this can be done by the
same means whereby "striking the notes in the
middle" is effected, namely, dissociating the sounds
from the throat and locating them close to the lips.

But the singers must have a reminder, or they
will not do it at the critical moment; therefore
all staccato marks should be emphasised with
blue pencil, such re-marking to be used as a 
mnemonic to stimulate the will, which is the
controlling force in all cases of muscular action --
and inaction. 

                EMOTIONAL STACCATO.

   The emotional staccato consists of strking the
note softly but firmly and quitting it quickly; but
instead of leaving it with the same amount of force
or sound with which it was struck -- as in dynamic
staccato -- there is a molto diminuendo on each note,
merging into silence, this silence seeming to
be part of the note, just as in Phil May's
sketches in Punch an incomplete line suggests
its continuance.  By this treatment of the staccato
we get a series of incipient sobs or delicate breath-
pressures which have an immense emotional effect.
   The importance of staccato singing somehow
seems to escape the attention of conductors.  It
may be that the infrequency of staccato phrases
has prevented the amount of labour involved in
performing this particular accomplishment from
becoming crystallized; therefore conductors do not
give the necessary trouble to the technical side of
the attainment, with the result that as a rule
staccato passages are comparative failures.  But
really, it is worth while to develop their possibilities
to the utmost, not only because of their intrinsic
value as a musical effect, but because they are so
seldom done well that when they are accomplished
they stand out as something quite exceptional and

   To attain perfection in these effects, to secure
crispness and delicate shading, the conductor must
explain his wishes and pattern the ideal model
frequently.  In doing this he must demonstrate
that only by forward tone and tongue-tip utterance,
joined to the singers' self-denying discipline, can
these things be accomplished.
   If a conductor wishes to make a sensation let him
perform Handel's "Haste thee, Nymph" or "What
have we to do with Kaikobad" (Omar Khayyam).
Though of different types of staccato they both
present arresting features when ideally performed. 

                 STRESSES AND PRESSURES.

   Though the constituents of expression which we
have considered are each of importance, I question
whether any one is quite as effective as well-executed
pressure-notes, be they heavy, light, or emotional.
Perhaps a great measure of their striking effect is
due to the rarity of their being done tastefully.
There is a distinct tendency to interpret these
marks too clumsily; to give a kind of thud at each
pressure, every one lacking the shading-off necessary
to obtain a good effect. 
   Again, most conductors seem oblivious of the fact
that there is the emotional sforzando and pressure-
note, as well as the forceful, explodent variety; 
further, that there is a wide field of use for the
emotional pressure in cases which are not indicated
in the music, because they cannot be well defined
by mere notation.  These must be felt by the
conductor, and through him reproduced by the 
choir.  The emotional variety consists of the usual

pressure-note preceded by a short crescendo,  
and thereby destroying all impression of abruptness,
and at the same time imparting an atmosphere of
tenderness which has a peculiar charm.
   To illustrate these pressures and stresses, take
the following examples: -- 

     And over flinty stones

     Which softeneth etc


     With weeping and laughter

   Unless the choir be warned they will put pressure
on the soprano notes of Ex. 1, and by not diminishing 
the sound to mezzo they convert the whole phrase
into ff, with the effect of crowding out the moving
contraltos and basses, which are the important
feature.   In Ex. 2, the same thing happens with
the instruments; we get a succession of stodgy 
sounds fff with no point, whereas if a marked
decrescendo is made on each note, a series of
impressive sobs -- which contrasts finely with the 
other instrumental parts -- emphasises the poignant 
effect required by the scene depicted.  In Exx. 3 

and 4 the pressure-notes, if not carefully treated,
convert each phrase into a bold mezzo without any
tenderness, but if each note is shaded off into the
region of silence the effect is quite moving. 
On page 140, Exx. 1 and 2 are good illustrations of
the dynamic pressure-note, Exx. 3 and 4 demonstrate
the emotional pressure, while Ex. 5, page 141, is a 
striking example of contrasted staccato effects.
   The essential fact which should be grasped by
conductors and performers is, that pressure-marks
should not alter the general character, be it forte,
piano, or pianissimo.  They should balance the
pressure at the commencement of the note with a 
proportionate shading-off at the finish, so that
the mean quantity of the tone is not disturbed: -- 

     Line of mean force

The mf with pronounced pressure followed by p 
gives a mean of mf.  The pp with gentle pressure
followed by a whispered ppp secures a true pp. 
Exx. 3 and 4, page 140, should be regarded as p or
pp phrases with the trimmings of a well-defined
emotional pressure followed by a delicate diminuendo;
and they must not degrade these and similar phrases
by neglecting the shading-off, thus converting them
into colourless mezzos without a tinge of emotion. 

   Some emotional pressure-notes are more telling
than others.  When these occur they should be
rehearsed until the right effect is secured.  For
instance, the following examples can be made very 

     Moonlight, Gerontius, Kingdom

   In "Moonlight," while a rather full stress is
required, it is the rapid dim. to ppp which shows
the virtuosity and produces the striking effects. 

Modern works such as Omar Khayyam, Atalanta in 
Calydon, &c., abound in effects of this kind.  Some-
times the emotional pressure seems too assertive
through the short initial crescendo being carried a
shade too far, thus causing it to approximate
to a swell, instead of a pressure-note with 
softened approach, or a sforzando preceded, as
it were, by a buffer. 
   When such cases occur, I remind my singers of
a boy who was trespassing, who, when asked by
the farmer where he was going, replied "Back
again."  If they feel that they are overdoing the
initial swell, and the "get back again" rather
quickly, no harm will be done.
   With respect to the signs > and ^, I use the 
latter when a sudden decrescendo or fp is required.
The pressure-notes which are often needed to call
attention to the entry of a part, and to reveal
obscure parts of imitation, will be dealt with later.


   It is astonishing how telling sustained sounds may
be made, especially if they end on an accented
beat.  Figuratively they illumine with a flood of
light the whole phrase in which they appear, if
there be a steady crescendo to the last accent. 
   As examples it is only necessary to refer to the
sustained notes in Brahms's Requiem, pp. 20,
47, 48, 50, 51, and 76 (Novello's edition), and to the
splendid examples in "Blest Pair of Sirens". 
   These being chiefly in the soprano part, their
proper treatment is fairly obvious, but when the
sustained notes appear in the inner and lowest part,
instead of allowing them to be inert, full advantage

should be taken of their possibilities -- as, for

     NOT YET NOTATED: Bach B Minor Mass

Striking examples are shown in The Messiah
analysis, pages 203-248.
   Very frequently a swell may be made on a
sustained sound even to the extent of drowning for 

a moment the other voices, but this obtrusion is
redeemed by the charming effect produced when the
diminuendo sets in, and the part which had undue
prominence melts into obscurity, by the singers
"getting back again." 
   A series of short vocal swells on a sustained note
may be made wonderfully effective in cases like the
following: --

     NOT YET NOTATED: Moaning

Other characteristic phrases will be shown later.
   The chief caution which needs emphasising is to
take great care that the choristers finish a swell as
softly as they commence.  It is an easy thing 
commence a swell, but an extremely difficult thing
to secure the proper symmetrical treatment of its
latter half.  Usually the singers commence the
dim. too late and finish it too soon, producing an
effect like this, pp ------|-- p instead of pp ---|--- pp.
Therefore always be alert to correct this defect of
technique and taste. 


   For convenience we have hitherto studied
expression from the point of view of one voice
or the whole choir moving simultaneously, when
one mark of expression applied to the whole.
Though this rule obtains in a large proportion of
cases, modern music and latter-day requirements
demand more individualistic treatment of every
section of the choir.  From the time when the 

  VOICE PARTS - 147 -
ravishing strains of Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini,
Verdi, Gounod, and other "tuney" operatic writers
flourished, up till very recent days, the chief
desideratum in a choral piece was a melodious
soprano part, with nicely flowing but subordinate
lower parts; hence the popularity of the part-song,
which, though often charming, was in fact little
more than an elongated hymn tune.   This "chief
air" influence was so marked that everything was
treated more or less in the same manner -- "the
tune" was everything.  Even in fugues the contralto,
tenor, and bass parts were secondary to the 
sopranos, who were never taught to modify their
voices in the counter-subject -- or even when their
part was mere padding -- so as to afford the other
voices a chance of giving the subject, answer, or
stretto due prominence. 
   This explains in a great measure why madrigals
fell into disfavour and were seldom sung, notwith-
standing the warm commendation given to them 
by all great musicians.  As the interest of modrigals
does not lie so much in their "tune" as in the 
byplay of the parts, the great mass of people saw
no beauty in them.  Hence their sad neglect.
   When, in the 'nineties, I began to treat part-songs,
madrigals, glees, and choruses with more freedom,
by giving occasional prominence to the contraltos,
tenors, and basses, I was bitterly assailed and
charged with presumption, lack of taste, exaggera-
tion, and other dreadful faults; but as I had been
at the trouble of analysing the music, and felt that
the chief feature, whatever it was, should be 
prominent, and that the accompanying parts,
however interesting, were merely packing and must
be subservient to the principal theme in whatever 

voice it appeared, I kept on my own way, and time 
has justified my action.
   A change has now come over the scene.  The
very things which were condemned are now the
things praised, and the eternal preponderance of
the soprano, though at times delightful, is resented
by all critics.  This attitude accounts for the
decline in popularity of many really good part-songs.
For the same reason Spohr's violin quartets have
gone out of fashion.  There is too much first violin
in them, and too little prominence of the other
instruments.  A general sharing of the interest by
every part employed is what is now looked for.
Audiences and singers alike want relief from the
sopranos.  They demand that the contraltos shall
become prominent occasionally in charming 
melodic phrases.  Then interest is evoked by the 
tenors springing into life and shining like bright
particular stars, and the pleasure is enhanced when
the rich voices of the basses loom large on the
musical horizon, the other parts meanwhile making
obeisance to them, although they are the lowest part.


   This exaltation of a part, with its corollary -- the
subordination of the other parts -- is now so firmly
fixed as an artistic principle that its successful
realisation has to be seriously considered by all
conductors.  The question arises: How can it be
best accomplished?  After repeated trials with
madrigals, imitative choruses and other works, I
have found that the part which requires bringing 
out cannot always give sufficient power and
emphasis to be heard as clearly as it should.  This

may arise from the  "lay" of the notes to be sung
or from the power of the opposing voices.
Therefore the best way of overcoming the difficulty
is to have a well-considered plan of borrowing and
lending of voices -- an interchange of parts, which
can be effected at any moment.  In my own choirs
I always regard the second sopranos and first 
contraltos as interchangeable.  They are the 
"handy men" of the choir.  Whenever a contralto
phrase needs to be prominent, I ask the second
sopranos to mark their copies and sing the phrase,
and then go to their own parts.  Similarly the first
contraltos assist the sopranos.  This has the double
effect of strengthening the thematic voice while at
the same time weakening an opposing voice.  One
can see how effective such a plan is.  Thus in a 
choir of a hundred sopranos and ninety contraltos,
I get, at strategical points, one hundred and forty
contraltos to peal forth a theme like the

     NOT YET NOTATED: gladness eternal

   This subject is more fully dealt with in the 
analysis of The Messiah, and the examples given
of the chorus "And the glory of the Lord' (see
pages 205, 207).  In "Worthy is the Lamb" (see pages
240) this is reversed, the contraltos there assisting the
sopranos, the theme thus being given out by the
equivalent of 145 sopranos.  This principle I carry
still further by getting the tenors, when necessary,
to assist the contraltos, and the contraltos to join
the tenors and even the basses.  In fact, whenever

a part needs strengthening I use any available voices 
for that purpose.  On page 239 a detailed account is
given of how this is done in "Worthy is the Lamb." 
   Assistance to a voice part is sometimes confined
to one note; for instance, a few tenors sing the first
low G of the contralto lead in "In going to
my lonely bed," or in "Laudo Deum Verum," 
and "God sent His messenger" (Golden Legend).
In both these cases the tenors and basses, by means
of great breath-pressure, work up to a glorious
climax, but by reinforcing their high notes with the
telling, nasally forward notes of the contraltos a
brilliant effect is produced, which explains in part
the six degrees of fortissimo already mentioned.
Incidentally it may be said that the audiences
are delighted with the wonderful reserve of force
shown in the voices of the men (it is never suspected
that any of the women join in), who are equally
pleased that their efforts win commendation all
round.  Here let me urge once more that doing
this is not in any sense questionable or illegitimate,
but merely artistic discrimination.  As an example
of the application of this principle in an extended
form I would refer to Granville Bantock's
"Cruiskeen Lawn."  It may be added that when
I submitted this scheme to Mr. Bantock, he
thoroughly approved of it, and the great succes of
its performance by the choir on the world tour fully
justified the treatment: -- 
   Bar 17.  Contraltos reinforced by second

     When the year's grown old

Bars 20, 20.  Tenors joined by second contraltos: 

     With a heart too fond

At bars 24 and 25 the second sopranos again join the 
contraltos, and there are several other interchanges
of parts which are set forth in the detailed analysis of
the part-song given in Appendix I.  (see page 291).
   Cases like the following do not need any inter-
change of parts, but great care is required to keep
the accompanying voices a degree softer than
marked, while the solo voices can be a shade louder
than indicated: -- 
     Go, song of mine,

     The night is still


     Eyesight and speech

   Having dealt with the means at disposal for
giving prominence to certain parts when required,
let us consider how to treat fugal and other imitative
passages, meanwhile giving the caution that the
injunction to use special treatment, as in the cases

given above, is exceptional, and only occasionally occurs.
For instance, in the whole of The Messiah I only
adopt this interchange or borrowing of voices in
three choruses -- in "And the Glory" for ten bars, in
"O Thou that tellest" for one bar, and in "Worthy 
is the Lamb" for four bars.  In Elijah there is not
a single case of adding of voices, but twice there are
cases of subtraction of voices for a few bars.  The
two examples quoted from The Golden Legend
are the only cases that occur in that work.  There-
fore people must not think that wholesale choppings
and changings are indulged in or are necessary.
But it is a grand thing to know that upon occasion,
when necessity arises, it is possible to strike like a
thunderbolt, even if it be only for one or two notes.
A case in point is Parry's "Blest Pair of Sirens," 
where I put all available force on the high A of the
tenors to bring out a telling response to the 
sopranos' A in the preceding bar, as well as to
crown the climax with a thrilling effect: -- 

     Singing everlast



              OBVIOUS AND OBSCURE.

   In all fugal-writing the well-known rule is to
commence with marked entry and sing every note
of the subject firmly.  But it is not so well known,
or at least followed, that as soon as the subject has
been enunciated the voice should at once become
much softer and subordinate to the next entry of
the theme, subject, or answer.  A case in which the
answer is often ruined by the non-observance of
this rule is afforded in the Kyrie of the B Minor
Mass (Bach): -- 

     Bach, Kyrie 

Here the basses should sing pianissimo to allow 
the low-placed tenor reply to be heard, and then
the full meaning of the music is revealed. 
Continuation of this chapter [Choral Technique 06a]
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