Russian school of singing in the 19th century


The Russian school of singing is based on the singing techniques and examples of the well-known and popular composers and professors Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka, Alexander Varlamov and Henriette Nissen-Saloman. The idea of summarizing the experiences of many years of the Russian singing culture comes from Glinka. Varlamov for the first time tried to generalize theoretically practical experience of training in singing art. Nissen-Saloman was the most known and most celebrated singing pedagog in Russia, who tried to combine the experiences of European schools such as Italian and French with the Russian culture and spirit.


During the 19th century lot of outstanding singers came out from the huge Russian Music Academies such as Moscow or Saint-Petersburg Conservatory. These two vocal schools remain still the most significant vocal schools in Russia. The vocal pedagogics mainly, relied on the best achievements of the Italian and French schools. The Maestros liked to combined the Russian classical music with the technique and nuances of Western techniques, such as bel canto and so on.

Results and Discussion, Glinka

Glinka was a founder of the Russian Vocal School, who put a “concentric” method of development of a voice into practice. He thought, that meanwhile practical working on the technique of the singers it is important to improve how to draw up vocal and technical exercises. Glinka also wrote a longwork about this, “Exercises for improvement of a voice, explanations and vocaleses solfeggio, methodical to them (for an average voice)”. This work includes 18 exercises (etudes); 10 etudes on mordenta, gruppetto and trills. Further 7 vocaleses - solfeggio with accompaniment follow. Before every exercise, Glinka gives a short methodical explanation. Glinka wants from the singer to learn how to operate the voice. He says, that by nature every voice is imperfect, so the work is compulsory. For the beginners he suggested to work at first on the vocal range and after this you can start to improve the different colours. As exercises he recommends to pull scales on the letter “and” (slightly covering a sound). Executing this exercise it is necessary to pay attention to the next moments:

  1. to get directly to a note;
  2. to pay attention to fidelity, and then to ease of a voice;
  3. to sing not loudly and not quietly, but “is free”;
  4. not to do crescendo as teach it the master of old school, but opposite, having sung a note, to keep it “in equal force” (that as M.I. Glinka much more difficult and more useful considers);
  5. to try to sing sounds in all registers equally on sounding force

He is focusing to help for the singer to learn all the intervals. According to him the third is the easiest one, therefore, its coordination with the movement of a voice has to form the basis of training in vocal art. Glinka used the method in his solfeggio collection to start with easier intervalls and melody lines and always grow to the hardest one (17). All of the exercises are based on natural sounding voices without tension. Glinka noted that “the tones of the average register, the more imperceptibly are more strong and more loudly executed, more closely with them tones of adjacent registers will merge and will begin to sound more freely and light”. All of his exercises are meant to level the register, light the tembre and give strength to the voice. Glinka did not like falsetto singing at all, he said, that it is a sound without tension, which demands no strength on the breast, by all means throat tension. However Glinka noted need at execution of high notes of some activation of the voice device in particular of muscles of epiglottal cavities (throat).


Alexander E. Varlamov was one of the most popular pedagogs in the 19th century Russia. He was a methodical leader , who published a book Full School of Singing in Moscow in 1840. This book was a collection of exercises, when basically a composer tried to generalize basics of vocal pedagogy. In the first part of his book he writes about expressiveness and naturallness of singing. In chapter 1 the author is telling about the historical development of the voice, about singing in general, ways of teaching, and express the teachers duties. He is also writing about phonation, ranges of the voices and registers. Varlamov is telling about the importance of the teachers, he says that they must have all the theoretical and practical experiences and knowledge as well to help for the singers to improve. He writes, that a master should be a good example for imitation. According to Varlamov, the teacher has to know physiology, a structure of the voice, respiratory device, etc. He is highlighting the importance of reading aloud the vocal work, work on diction and a musical phrase. He is suggesting, that every child should learn music to help to increase their musical and general thinking. In the second part of his book he is placing forty exercises for a voice. These are exercises on various intervals, scales, a staccato, legato, of a syncope, etc. In the third chapter he put ten vocaleses, which are useful to learn the expressiveness. These vocaleses are beautiful well-composed musical lines by Varlamov without text, to concentrate on the colours and musical frazes. The book Full School of Singing is well-known and still used around the world.


Henriette Nissen-Saloman was the most celebrated vocal teacher in Russia. She was a Swedish singer, pupil of the famous European vocal school and student of Maestro Manuel Garcia. She was teaching in St. Petersburg and meanwhile he was working on a vocal technique book with Rubinstein. Their book was published after her death, and it is based on combining the theory of Glinka, Varlamov and Garcia. This book is called The school of singing. It is about about basic principles, development of the voice and repertoire. We can find here exercises as well, placed in a systematic order for usability by singing teachers. The book includes examples from popoual arias from Bellini, Rossini or Donizetti. Nissen-Saloman considers that in Russia, generally there is an abundance of deep voices, as among men and women. She warns that to sing romances or opera arias without preparation is unaccaptable. Also Nissen-Saloman advises to be engaged in hardening, that is not to accustom an organism to excessive overheating, to have a shower bath daily cold water in the morning and in the evening, to keep up with healthy nutrition - to exclude from a diet the sour, fat, hot dishes, oil, cheese in a large number drying products, such as almonds, nuts, etc. Advises daily to make walks, but does not recommend walk in cold and dampness, during walk does not advise to conduct excessive conversations. Also writes about advantage of an early dream and rise. She does not advise to sing and tire pupils during cold or a disease.


Journal of History Culture and Art Research, Karabuk University