Music Study – The Accompaniment

Every singer who is anxious to bring into prominence the qualities of his style should attach enormous importance to the matter of being accompanied well, either by the piano or orchestra. If he is troubled in the slightest degree by the accompaniment, he loses all his faculties, being hampered in his proceedings. He becomes stiff and awkward, and is no longer him-self ; it is necessary that he should be able to sing in public as he does at home, without any more constraint.

No artist nor amateur should expose himself to a misadventure of this nature.

If it is a question of singing with the orchestra, the conductor will be the first to require at least one rehearsal, and thus all will be well. But if it is a question of singing either at a concert or an evening party, even among friends, accompanied by the piano, two things should always be inquired into. The first is whether the piano is strictly in tune, and whether it has been recently tuned in the diapason to which the singer is accustomed (in France, the normal diapason) ; for if the piano has several false notes, it is the singer who will be suspected of singing false, and nobody will think of incriminating the instrument; and if the piano, although true, is tuned in too high or too low a diapason, it will no longer agree with the tessitura of the voice, which will find itself displaced and will no longer be able to produce the studied effects with precision. The second thing is to make sure of a very good accompanist. For this, it is an incontestable fact that, when the situation permits of it, the best thing is to have a professional accompanist, always the same one, whom you take with you, who is acquainted with all your ways, and with whom you feel entirely at ease. When this is impossible, it is highly necessary to rehearse with the artist who is to be at the piano; unless, at least, you know him from having been accompanied by him before, you must not be satisfied with a simple sketch, or with a few scattered indications, or the general movement, a rallentando here, a pianissimo there ; that is not enough, a veritable complete rehearsal is necessary, and it is not complete until the moment when the singer feels tranquil and sure of being well seconded. There are virtuoso-pianists who do not know how to accompany, either because they have not the instinct, or because they are not used to it ; we have attended to them in another part of this book. It is necessary to beware of them, for they are very annoying, and to prefer to them an artist who possesses the special qualities required, which are docility, abnegation of personal effect and a peculiar characteristic style.

The principal qualities that a singer should seek in an accompanist are the following: 1.-To be a very able piano-player and an excellent sight-reader. 2.-To know how to efface himself and follow with elasticity the shading and the slight infractions of the rhythm. 3.-To have sufficient initiative to cover an error on the part of the singer and guide him if the need arises. The last two qualities that appear to contradict one another are both equally indispensable, and it is the difficulty of finding them united in the same person that is the cause of the extreme rarity of perfect accompanists.

In sum, it should be thoroughly recognized that the most brilliant singer loses all his power if he is awkwardly accompanied ; and that, inversely, the most mediocre singer can acquire a certain prestige in the hands of an accompanist who knows how to manage him and to bring out his few good qualities.

Every experienced artist knows this, and will not allow himself to be accompanied by the first comer; beginners are not sufficiently careful about this ; it is nevertheless quite as dangerous for them, for if the old-stagers are very properly careful not to appear except under advantageous conditions, in order to keep intact the reputation they have acquired, the young ones, on their part, have yet to establish theirs, and ought not to neglect anything that may help to make them appreciated ; and the constraint resulting from the fact of being ill supported and finding in-sufficient assistance in the accompaniment may go so far as completely to paralyze their efforts. On many occasions, I have personally witnessed the distress to which they are put by a defective accompaniment, so that in affirming that an excellent accompanist doubles the powers of the singer, I have only one fear, and that is of understating the truth.

In a restricted space, short pieces, melodies and lieder, as not requiring great development of voice, acquire an exquisite charm and an intimate flavour by being accompanied by the singer himself, if he is sufficient of a pianist for it; nothing is more delightful: absolutely master of his effects, since he has no-body to count with but himself, the artist can give himself free rein and abandon himself to all the caprices of his inspiration, and his interpretation is thus clothed with a character of sincerity, unity and penetration that is difficult to realize under other conditions.