Legatos in the vocal music

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OCTO
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Legatos in the vocal music

Post by OCTO » 05 Sep 2018, 19:15

I know that legato symbolises melismas, and all legato-ed notes are actually sung under one syllable.
I wonder however what is the rule if I really want to have extremely legato on notes that are separated by each syllable?
True, it is not "legato" if there is a new syllable that breaks vowel, but sometimes I would need to have extremely sung legato, despite differentiation in syllabication. That would also force singer not to take breath.

Any thoughts of using legato (slur) for that purpose? Or dashed slur?
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Schonbergian
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Re: Legatos in the vocal music

Post by Schonbergian » 05 Sep 2018, 20:02

"molto legato" would fit the bill.

Do consider, though, if your consonant structure is really suited to a legato line. One of the major failings of modern composers for voice, in my opinion, is excessive "wordiness" coupled to a jumpy vocal line, which is simply impossible to make legato. One or the other might need to be sacrificed.

Drop me a PM if you want further opinions of mine.

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David Ward
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Re: Legatos in the vocal music

Post by David Ward » 05 Sep 2018, 21:38

Schonbergian wrote:
05 Sep 2018, 20:02
"molto legato" would fit the bill.…
As Schonbergian says “molto legato” or a similar direction should fit the bill. In earlier times long legato phrase marks were often placed over multiple syllables (cf Verdi), but that is rarely done in modern notation. It's not quite forbidden, but it's usually best to find some other way.
Schonbergian wrote:.… … …One of the major failings of modern composers for voice, in my opinion, is excessive "wordiness" coupled to a jumpy vocal line, which is simply impossible to make legato. One or the other might need to be sacrificed.… … …
Several Strauss operas are very wordy, but they are usually considered eminently singable. His ‘word count’ (the number of words per minute of opera) is typically about three times that of Bellini. (FWIW my own count works out about half way between these two, although it varies considerably from piece to piece.)

I was once told by a very able, but now retired singer with both perfect pitch and a wonderfully secure technique that she found angular vocal lines with wide intervals more relaxing to sing that lines which had consistently small intervals, which for her tired the voice.

I recently heard a well known singer being interviewed on BBC Radio 3 say that he best liked roles which had one word for one note almost throughout. (I don't write like that!)

The point I'm making is that if you have two or three different singers, you may sometimes have two or three different opinions.

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Re: Legatos in the vocal music

Post by Schonbergian » 05 Sep 2018, 22:14

David, obviously it depends on the composer in question. I find Bach's "angular" vocal lines with many syllables to be nonetheless very idiomatic because he expects each one to be separately articulated.

It's the combination of the "Romantic legato" that's never interrupted and is always perfect, wordy "speech-level" lines, and large jumps/changes of register that really cause a problem.

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Re: Legatos in the vocal music

Post by David Ward » 06 Sep 2018, 06:51

OCTO I'm guessing that you want to show exactly where the the individual legato phrases begin and end?

On further thought I don't see any compelling reason why in this instance you should not add legato slurs to groups of syllables. It should be obvious what they are intended to mean, as they were common throughout the 19th century, even though they are rarely written like this today with modern beaming. Adding the direction molto legato when they first appear should help to clarify the intention.

With modern notation's beaming to beats as opposed to 19th century beaming to syllables there could theoretically be confusion as to the meaning of these slurs, but is that really likely?

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OCTO
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Re: Legatos in the vocal music

Post by OCTO » 06 Sep 2018, 07:55

The problem for me, in music I write now, is that without slurs you cannot really see the phrase. It is not a complex music at all, but long time signatures and long note-values tend to split the meaning of music.
"molto legato" is an option where everything is legato as such; I am thinking more like having phrases notated down, so the only these phrases are molto legato, in between the singer can or not take breath.

I believe I will stick with dashed slurs, it seems to be the most effective solution right now, and using the regular slur for one-syllable phrase (as common).

EDIT:
David Ward wrote:
06 Sep 2018, 06:51
On further thought I don't see any compelling reason why in this instance you should not add legato slurs to groups of syllables.
Interestingly, here in Boulez, he indeed uses slurs as the phrasing tool. It looks similar to what I would need.
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Re: Legatos in the vocal music

Post by David Ward » 06 Sep 2018, 08:30

Interestingly, I'm sometimes faced with the opposite problem - a sequence of notes on one vowel which would by modern convention be covered by a slur, but which I do not want sung legato.

The 19th century vocal beaming is less than ideal for reading rhythms, but does allow slurs to have only their legato meaning. Verdi, in particular, made a distinction between legato and non-legato singing and notated his wishes clearly. In this respect it is worth comparing the different ways Domingo and Kaufmann sing Otello. Domingo's default is usually legato: Kaufmann keeps closer to what Verdi has indicated. A question might be: did Verdi exaggerate his indications in the hope that singers might actually pay at least some attention? Perhaps the answer might be that there is a degree of over-statement of dynamics &c in early and middle period Verdi, but one should probably try to take him literally in Otello.

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Re: Legatos in the vocal music

Post by Schonbergian » 06 Sep 2018, 12:22

I'm opposed to using slurs to show phrasing in general. I think it dilutes the meaning of a slur as "pure" legato.

I maintain that the best tool for this situation is "molto legato" and breath marks to indicate the end of a phrase.

David, could you give me an example of what you're talking about with the single syllable?

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Re: Legatos in the vocal music

Post by David Ward » 06 Sep 2018, 13:45

Schonbergian wrote:
06 Sep 2018, 12:22
… … …David, could you give me an example of what you're talking about with the single syllable?
I'll see if I can find a suitable example if it doesn't involve awkward scanning.

The semiquavers - interrupted into two groups - on the first syllable of ‘murdered’ in the Song of the Head about 9'30 into the excerpt linked below might be an example of what I was referring to. I certainly didn't employ a slur, but back then I was using old-fashioned notation (for the last time). I wonder how I would notate it now?

The people with whom I've mostly worked probably make 85% of their incomes from repertoire written between the late 18th and early 20th century. Notation which is now out of fashion, or even frowned upon is sometimes what they respond to most naturally and immediately. The earliest of my smaller operas, written in 1962 and 1968 (I lost confidence for a while in my 20s, hence the break) uses beaming to syllables and Verdi-style phrase marks. A 22 min excerpt is here http://www.composers-uk.com/davidward/fullmoon2.mp3. When that recording was made in 1981(?) the singers asked no questions about the notation and read it fluently from the start.

I haven't beamed to syllables since the 1960s, except for free recitative.

Much of the above is heavily edited from how first posted.

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Re: Legatos in the vocal music

Post by David Ward » 08 Sep 2018, 08:21

OCTO wrote:
06 Sep 2018, 07:55
… … …
David Ward wrote:
06 Sep 2018, 06:51
On further thought I don't see any compelling reason why in this instance you should not add legato slurs to groups of syllables.
Interestingly, here in Boulez, he indeed uses slurs as the phrasing tool. It looks similar to what I would need.
Boulez, Pli Selon Pli 3
This use of two levels of slur seems entirely sensible and clear in meaning to me. However, I'm not sure everyone agrees.

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