No, I'm not giving advice as to how to apply some special technique! I wish more people would be discouraged from singing this repertory of roughly 700 years spanning different languages, different dialects, different aims, purposes and functions. Today it is done with one way of singing more or less suits the noncommittal ideas of musicology.
Very fine singers of each period spent all time - in their own time - applying their love and know-how to the great art of singing. They knew the composers; they composed perhaps themselves; the audience knew the language, felt the time and reason for the "concert"... and we, the Early-Music- Guild of our time, over-charged with knowledge, pretend that singing early music means singing in tune, with the right pronunciation, and find it altogether pleasing.
To please an early music expert-audience is not very hard if you belong to the guild. To please an average audience, accompanied with all the funny instruments in the hands of competent players, is also possible. The bustle with recordings and films seems to flourish... What is wrong... or is there anything wrong at all?
What is wrong for me, is the lack of personality, magic and risk! I am utterly bored most of the time listening to early music. There are the first five minutes: outfit, tuning, start and the first few bars... then I could leave, because nothing more will happen, no interesting moments, no new approaches, of course no wrong notes, no risks, no personal improvisation, no flops, no highpoints: perfection, the slick tempting ideal of our time, the musician of today. Perhaps also, the requirements of recordings applied to early music repertory are wrong. Singers, the messengers of poetry, word expression and the center of repertory, are deeply culpable. Some instrumentalists try to escape boredom by playing very fast or extremely slow, with an astounding technical verve. Still, most of these gimmicks can be produced on synthetizer! But if the early music singer could never be sing with very little diction, very little meaning of the text, and very little of what I call "magic of the word" the synthetized early music singer will be the first to achieve the prize as a synthetized singing voice. A famous early music singer's recording will create hundred of singers with exactly the same voice, the same ways, the same vices, - imitation always being less.
Each time has it's ideals; our time's ideal is perfection! Perfection is no issue for the interpretation of Glenn Gould. Whether you like him or not he was himself with no consideration of right or wrong, often changing his ideas! It is certainly easier to follow the ideal of Fischer Diskau that Glenn Gould! And it is not a matter of comparing of giving quality degrees.
If only singers would have the guts to sing early music their own way, not the one of the instrumentalist director's, and to let their singing be led by the moment as well, and not by musicological insight. They should learn about the magical power of words and not lean on the translated meaning. If they would dare to try out their own distinct way, preferably changing it from time to time, and not use everybody's dreamed darling way... maybe even daring the dislike of a critic... and that may be the hardest.
Anachronism destroys any live performance. 700 years of poetry, various "ars novae" "novemusiche", new ways, should have the flavour of newness and freshness; modulations from one tonality to another should be done and not just discussed.
The early music singer has to find out how words have a power of their own, a magic of their own. Meaning is rarely magic! Being totally involved with text, making music through one's own personal distinguished voice not necessarily formed by a famous singing teacher, performing like some in pop and rock scene, even though a toll and a risk is involved, I think would be worthwhile.
L'Unicorno a.3 n. 1, gen-mar 1992