Sliding between chromatic notes can also be heard in early-recorded singing, an example of which can be seen in the spectrogram image of Albani’s recording of Chaminade earlier in this Chapter in Fig. 4.29.
Portamento use in orchestral playing
General written advice in the early-mid 19th century was not to use portamento in orchestral playing unless specified (as seen in Spohr, Gassner and Meyerbeer).107 While this was condemned throughout the century, clear portamenti can be heard in the recordings of Elgar conducting Nimrod from his Enigma variations in 1926 with the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra and in the orchestral introduction of Heermann’s recording of Ernst’s Nocturne in C (namely, destination after bow change, guide under slur and guide before bow shifts).
Discussion and Conclusions
From my examinations of 21 early recordings of singers and violinists, I have been able to illustrate patterns of 19th-century performance style and draw connections between the use of portamenti in early recordings and those documented in written sources of the early-mid-19th century. I used Sonic Visualiser to help identify and categorise the different types of portamento found in both vocal and violin recordings, including several hitherto academically undescribed types. I found that many portamento types were common to both vocal and violin use and concurred well with 19th-century written sources of portamento use. The desired legato singing and playing style of the 19th century was heard and seen throughout the vocal and violin recordings, and the common portamento types from 19th-cenutry treatises, such as sliding under a slur/syllable, sliding before a bow/syllable change, anticipation slides, and scooping back up to/changing fingers on a repeated note, were also used throughout all recordings in ways consistent with 19th-century writings. While there was some variation in portamento use between vocal and violin recordings, due to obvious differences between singing and violin techniques, the general musical intention of different types of portamento were similar in both vocal and violin uses of the device. I found that, consistent with 19th-century writings, there were more ascending than descending portamenti, and often singers and violinists would crescendo when ascending and decrescendo when descending, but not always, as it was dependent on the expressive context of the phrase.
Generally, in both vocal and violin recordings, I found that portamento slide types were either linear (usually faster portamenti) or were ascending portamenti with positive exponential growth, i.e. the rate of change of pitch increased during the approach of the destination pitch. Bériot indicated portamento slide shapes in his treatise (as discussed in Chapter 3, see Fig. 3.23 for example). Linear portamento shapes corresponded to Bériot’s “lively” portamento, which could be used on notes “thrown with grace or hurled with energy,” and this can be heard in various recordings examined in both character types. The ascending positive exponential growth portamento shape matched the shapes of “soft” and “drawn-out” portamento types as indicated by Bériot, which were indicated for moments of “tender” or “plaintive or sorrowful expression,” respectively.108 While this type of portamento shape is fitting for tender, plaintive and sorrowful characters, I would also argue that it is relevant for any character if executed in a thoughtful way. The ascending positive exponential growth shape seems to be the most common and tasteful type of portamento slide heard in the early vocal and violin recordings examined (as illustrated in Fig. 4.4, 4.10, 4.15, 4.16, 4.21, 4.37 and 4.39). I have found this portamento type to be the least obtrusive way to execute expressive portamenti, as it is more natural to hold the initial (lower) note longer, starting the ascending slide slowly then quickening into the destination pitch, than to draw out the final part of the slide up into the destination pitch. It is also interesting to note that the majority of guide-finger shifts in the violin recordings were either linear or ascending exponential growth slide shapes, as it is natural to start an ascending guide-finger shift slowly and then quicken into the destination pitch as you put down the destination finger. In contrast, it is easier to slow down into the destination note when using a destination-finger shift; the slowing of rate of change of pitch ascent helps the violinist find the correct pitch with the sliding destination finger. This association gives us insight into the reasons behind the preference for guide-finger shifting by early-19th-century violin pedagogues, such as Spohr and David, as, in most settings, the slide shape of guide-finger shifting sounds and feels more natural, both aurally and mathematically, than destination-finger slide shapes. The equivalent descending type of portamento slide, which is descending exponential decay, also works well as a relatively unobtrusive type of portamento, as illustrated in Fig. 4.27 and 4.29, where both Marchesi and Albani respectively use this type to enhance the sensual French character of Chaminade’s L’été. Similarly, Patti uses this type in Fig. 4.34 to emphasise the phrase, “tear my hair,” in Mozart’s Batii, batii and Heermann uses it in Fig. 4.40 after a held note in a cadenza-like passage. Phrases that have no particular or overly dramatic intention are often musically enhanced by these subtle and natural portamento types, thus these types of portamento are especially useful when aiming to create a musical phrase with unobtrusive portamenti.