The Voice | Early Vocal Music | Renaissance | Classical
Although researchers continue to make discoveries about the way music was performed in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, little is known about one of its most crucial aspects: how did singers actually sound? Many medieval theorists and writers mention performers with voices ‘like those of angels’, and words such as ‘sweetness’ occur again and again; equally, the same authors criticize others for ‘braying like asses’. But although such remarks tell us how people felt about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ singing, it does not help modern performers to recreate the sort of sounds singers made. It is difficult to know how far modern vocal techniques can be applied to early music. Peter Phillips, the director of the Tallis Scholars, has observed that if we were to hear a choir from the fourteenth century, we might be horrified! In recent years, a number of groups, like the French Ensemble Organum, have deliberately adopted a style of singing that challenges received notions of ‘beauty’.
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