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Italian Songs and Arias: A Tale of Two Editions

The NLS Music Section has some exciting news for students of classical singing: we have just added to our braille music collection a transcription of Alfred’s 26 Italian Songs and Arias: An Authoritative Edition Based on Authentic Sources, edited by John Glenn Paton (BRM37663). Why, you may ask, is this news particularly exciting? After all, our braille music collection already offers Schirmer’s Twenty-four Italian Songs and Arias of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, and this was the very first title added to our large-print music collection, residing at LPM00001. This compilation of pieces, first assembled in the late 19th century by composer Alessandro Parisotti, includes beloved arias such as “Caro mio ben,” “O del mio dolce ardor,” and “Già il sole dal Gange.” The collection has been a mainstay for decades among voice teachers worldwide, who use it to this day to cultivate classical vocal technique in their students, typically during high school and college. And these pieces have been recorded by countless artists over the years, including mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli, soprano Sumi Jo, and contralto Nathalie Stutzmann.

I grew up using both the Schirmer and Alfred editions of these Italian songs and arias with my voice teachers. However, it’s only recently that I learned more about the history behind them. It turns out to be a fascinating topic! I’d like to share that history with you today and explain why the Alfred edition is such a welcome addition to our braille music collection.

Schirmer’s best-selling 24 Italian Songs and Arias was published in 1948, and it was mostly based on Schirmer’s Anthology of Italian Song from 1894 (BRM20341), which was in turn based on Arie antiche, compiled and edited by composer Alessandro Parisotti and published by Ricordi in 1885.

Alessandro Parisotti (1853-1913) was born in Rome and in 1880 became secretary of that city’s Accademia di Santa Cecilia, an important hub of music research and education. Aside from writing sacred choral music and a treatise about acoustics, psychology, and aesthetics of music, Parisotti’s claim to fame is compiling, editing and publishing Arie antiche, a collection of Italian arias, most of which were originally composed in the 17th and 18th centuries. In most cases, Parisotti’s source material was the vocal melody and the figured bass notation that would have been realized and elaborated by the basso continuo accompaniment (cello and harpsichord or lute) typical of Baroque opera.

Although Parisotti claimed to present completely accurate scores faithful to archival sources, he liberally edited the manuscripts he found to suit his own taste and style and that of his era. Musicology was in its early days in Italy at that time, and the concepts of scholarly objectivity and early-music performance practice did not exist in the way they do today. As a result, Parisotti’s edition of the arias very much reflects his style and the musical Romanticism of his time, especially the piano accompaniments he created. His edition was also rife with errors as to the sources and attributions of the arias. However, despite these faults, Parisotti did create musically compelling arrangements that became beloved among vocal pedagogues in their own right, even though they perpetuated historical inaccuracies for decades.

Then, in 1991 Alfred published 26 Italian Songs and Arias: An Authoritative Edition Based on Authentic Sources (BRM37663). As its subtitle implies, this compilation was editor John Glenn Paton’s effort to present these arias in a historically accurate way and correct the inaccuracies that had accreted upon the arias due to the continued, unexamined use of Parisotti’s edition. Paton included substantial prefatory material with guidance for singing and accompanying in a manner sensitive to Baroque and Classical period styles, as compared to the Romantic style of Parisotti’s era. For each aria, Paton provides the poetic idea with English translation and IPA pronunciation, background about the composer and composition, and information about the original manuscript sources and how Parisotti had made significant departures. Basically, Paton created an edition that is an excellent teaching resource reflecting the latest musical scholarship and concern for performance practice authentic to the Baroque and Classical periods. For students learning the arias, the most salient difference is probably the piano accompaniments. Paton completely re-worked the piano parts, setting aside Parisotti’s 19thcentury style in favor of figured bass realizations authentic to Baroque style and based on original manuscripts, historical first editions, and recent musicological research.

So, why should we continue using the Schirmer edition of Parisotti arrangements if they are “wrong?” In my humble opinion, the 1948 Schirmer edition and the 1991 Alfred edition complement each other and can be used harmoniously in conjunction. Although Parisotti’s edition is not historically accurate, as voice professor Dr. Judith Carman has written, “This collection remains satisfying to singers and pianists to this day, if not to Baroque purists.” The fact is that many singers and teachers have come to enjoy Parisotti’s take on the originals, and they stand as their own musical contribution that remains a useful tool for teaching vocal technique, if not historically-informed performance practice.

The Alfred edition can help singers make judicious and educated use of the 1948 Schirmer edition, understanding that they are technically not singing Baroque or Classical music but rather a Romantic interpretation of these genres. The real strength of the Alfred edition is all of the historical background information that it provides singers, as well as excellent translations of the aria texts and pronunciation guidance. When my voice teacher would assign an aria from the 1948 Schirmer for me to work on, I would always consult the Alfred edition so that I knew what I was singing about, which opera the piece originally came from, and other vital information. These are highly valuable assets for singers, and it is wonderful that these resources are now available in braille for our patrons who are studying these beloved and popular works.

Please note that all materials listed below are available to borrow by mail, and some are also available for instant download on BARD. Please contact the Music Section to borrow talking books on digital cartridge or hard copies of braille music and large-print music. Call us at 1-800-424-8567, ext. 2, or e-mail us at [email protected]. If you are new to BARD, you may find the following links helpful: Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) and BARD Access.

Braille

Alfred Edition (1991)

26 Italian Songs and Arias: An Authoritative Edition Based on Authentic Sources. John Glenn Paton, editor. (BRM37663) This edition of songs and arias draws on original manuscripts, historical first editions, and research by prominent musicologists. Includes background information about the arias and their composers, as well as a singable rhymed translation, a readable prose translation, and a literal translation for each aria. For medium-high voice and piano. Line by line and bar over bar formats.

Schirmer Edition (1948)

Twenty-four Italian Songs and Arias of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. For medium high voice and piano. Line by line and bar over bar formats. 2 volumes. (BRM36006)

Twenty-four Italian Songs and Arias of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. For medium low voice and piano. Line by line and bar over bar formats. 2 volumes. (BRM35988)

Twenty-four Italian Songs and Arias of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. For medium high voice and piano. Line by line and bar over bar formats. 4 volumes. (BRM22077)

Schirmer Edition (1894)

Anthology of Italian Song of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: Book 1. Selected and edited with biographical notices by Alessandro Parisotti ; English translations by Theodore Baker. For medium voice and piano. Line by line and bar over bar formats. 3 volumes. (BRM20341)

Large Print

24 Italian Songs and Arias of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. For medium high voice. Vocal part only. English and Italian words. (LPM00001)

Audio

Nico Castel’s series of voice lessons features several pieces from Parisotti’s Italian Songs and Arias. Each lesson includes a performance of the song, a reading of the lyrics for diction guidance, an English translation of the lyrics, and a recording of the piano accompaniment by itself so that you can practice singing with it. Opera singer and educator Nico Castel, who passed away in 2015, provides instruction for all lessons in the series.

Alma del core
Castel, Nico
Download DBM 01833
For Tenor voice.
Caldara, Antonio

Amarilli, mia bella
Castel, Nico
Download DBM 01829
For Mezzo voice.
Caccini, Giulio

Amarilli, mia bella
Castel, Nico
Download DBM 01830
For Soprano voice.
Caccini, Giulio

Amarilli, mia bella
Castel, Nico
Download DBM 01959
For Tenor voice.
Caccini, Giulio

Caro mio ben
Castel, Nico
Download DBM 01885
For Baritone voice.
Giordani, Giuseppe

Caro mio ben
Castel, Nico
Download DBM 01886
For Soprano voice.
Giordani, Giuseppe

Caro mio ben
Castel, Nico
Download DBM 01888
For Tenor voice.
Giordani, Giuseppe

Come raggio di sol
Castel, Nico
Download DBM 01835
For Mezzo voice.
Caldara, Antonio

Come raggio di sol
Castel, Nico
Download DBM 01836
For Soprano voice.
Caldara, Antonio

Come raggio di sol
Castel, Nico
Download DBM 01930
For Tenor voice.
Caldara, Antonio

Giá Il sole dal gange
Castel, Nico
Download DBM 01926
For Soprano voice.
Scarlatti, Alessandro

Giá Il sole dal gange
Castel, Nico
Download DBM 01942
For Tenor voice.
Scarlatti, Alessandro

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