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Quaker by conviction, mother by default, Celticst through love, Christ follower because I once was lost but now am found...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

One~a~tenor, two~a~tenor, countertenor.

"In the human world he'd be known as a Countertenor"
"No", said Pooh. "he can count higher than that"

Music is very odd. Where else would you find people who at one time thought castration was an acceptable method of retaining a high male voice? The church is to blame, you know. I Corinthians14:34 {you know, the bit about women keeping silent in church} meant no women singing in the choirs ~ which is rather limiting if you want to write 4 part harmonies.

The Castrati, created by choosing boys with beautiful treble voices, castrating them before puberty & training them to be adult singers, reached their peak during the Baroque period when many operas were written with that voice part in mind. There's been something of a resurgence recently & more countertenors as a result. Alessandro Moreschi is the last known castrato. The practice was outlawed in the early 19th century & though I'm sure castration is still practised in some parts of the world it is unlikely the practise is for singing purposes. Eunuchs, traditionally, have after all, served another purpose.

A counter tenor has a vocal centre similar to a mezzo~soprano or a contralto, somewhere in the range from G or A3 to E5, or occasionally F5 ~ high enough to almost sound female though they never really quite do. Bad ones sound like men trying to sound like females. Eeeew. Tenor, from the Latin tenere, to hold, because the tenor part holds the melody with the descant pitching higher & the bass lower.

None of which I knew the first time I heard a countertenor. You will not be surprised to find I am weird about my music. The usual things leave me cold. Sopranos have me running for cover. I do not like music to shatter glass with & I actually love the simplicity of plain chant which so beautifully reduces music to it's bare bones & does away with all those nasty sharps & flats. You were warned.

So the first countertenor voice I heard I didn't recognize. I'd never even heard of the term. I sat there, glued to the radio thinking, 'male, no female, no male, women can't get down there, oops, nah, men can't go there...' until I was totally confused. I was hooked from that moment. No voice range is more richly coloured or expressive, combining a woman's range & flexibility with the power & tonal amplitude of a man. Seriously wow! Ditz thinks I'm completely weird but this is such a complex sound, more richly textured than other voices.

So if you are interested Scholl, a countertenor himself, says Handel is the standard for countertenors ~ which is as may be but he certainly wrote plenty of arias for countertenors.


Allison said...

I really should take some kind of music class. I know nothing about music, except that I can't sing.

Isn't it amazing how we'll alter our bodies to reach (or remain at) something?

Oh, I crashed my old blog, but I'm up and running again.


MamaOlive said...

As King Friday says, "You learn something old every day."

seekingmyLord said...

I am going to just not say a thing on this one....nope, not a thing.

Anonymous said...

I love Andreas Scholl. Why does it not surprise me that you love countertenor :)


Ganeida said...

Siano, my love! Where have you been ~ besides offering me cats I should love to accept & can't?! *sigh* And why aren't I surprised you know what I'm waffling on about?

Anonymous said...

Well, if you really want to know, I've been in Canberra - freezing :-) I am up your way at the ende of May for a few days, if you are visitable...

We have some looovely ginger moggies at the moment - sure you don't want some??