If you have ever studied classical singing, it is possible that you are familiar with the Concone books of solfeggi. The most famous of these books is Opus 9: Fifty Lessons.
Giuseppe Concone was born in 1810 in the city of Turin. He had his musical education in his home town, where he continued to live until moving to Paris in 1837. In Paris, he gained notoriety as a teacher of singing, piano and music composition. But he also became well known as a composer in his own right.
Concone’s most famous compositions are five books of vocalises which are legendary.
His Magnum Opus
In his Opus 9: Fifty Lessons, Concone makes use of sweeping operatic melodies, along with gorgeous flowing accompaniments, to train a singer in various elements of singing technique. Concone’s beautiful etudes teach legato line, messa di voce, marcato, staccato, coloratura, melisma, and all the ornamentation that is standard in vocal literature of the Classical and Romantic periods. These lessons are technically challenging from many perspectives, not the least of which are registration, support, balance, freedom, stamina, and strength. The Opus Fifty of Concone educates singers in tasteful, healthy, beautiful and virtuosic singing.
Each lesson isolates a different vocal challenge in order that the student may perfect their abilities. According to Concone, these vocalises should be sung on an open Ah vowel. The first 25 lessons may also be sung on solfege syllables (do, re, mi, etc.).
When studying the vocalises, I prefer students to “solmise” the vocalises (write in the appropriate solfege syllables). Once they are capable of singing an etude on these syllables, we begin singing them on open vowels. Not all students are willing to learn solfege, however. Rather than having these unwilling students miss out on the benefits of Concone, I give them other syllables to help them ready their voice for vocalizing them on Ah.
The Middle Voice
The Concone lessons train the “middle of the voice.” Study these pieces to work the middle range, or passagio, of your voice repeatedly, and in a lovely and musical manner. This practice builds a musicality in your mixed voice from the start. This is why it’s important that you choose the keys that are right for your voice if you study them. If possible, work on them regularly with a coach who is intimately familiar with the literature, in order to get the most from singing these powerful pieces.
Another point that should be made, is that Concone’s dynamic markings are a vital part to the lessons themselves. Especially relevant is that these markings aren’t mere suggestions. Rather, the dynamics should be carefully observed from the onset of the study of these etudes. Use these dynamics from the beginning to build and refine your voice. Study all of his markings carefully to yield the best results.
Memorization is Key
Jussi Bjorling, in describing his training, said that these etudes were always required to be committed to memory. This speaks to an important practice that many singers overlook — Vocalises must be memorized. Get these etudes to be a part of your autonomic nervous system. In essence, make them a living part of your voice. They will become the ultimate refinement of your singing technique. Again, commit these etudes to memory, and sing them repeatedly with your very best technique. This allows these melodies to sink deeply into your mind and to inform the way you sing all your music.
Beautiful Singing Is a Discipline
An intelligent singer will recognize from the very first lesson that Concone understood the human voice intimately. Each lesson progressively builds the voice from soft to loud, while working very thoroughly through each and every challenging area of the voice.
These lessons are not mere scale books. Rather, they are a rich and vital part of the body of literature which comprises a long standing singing tradition. Look no further to find some of the most beautiful and challenging melodies ever written for the voice.
The only way to really train your voice to sing beautifully, is to sing beautiful melodies on a daily basis.
Vocalises are Private
Furthermore, these are studio pieces. Concone never intended them for public performance. This collection contains some of the most challenging music a singer will ever encounter. You may find that your Concone never sounds as good as you would like it to. Yet, at the same time you will find that all the rest of the music you sing sounds much, much better as a result of singing these vocalises daily.
While these etudes are classical in nature, they are extremely powerful tools for singers of all genres who desire to condition themselves to sing dynamically with grace, lyricism, freedom, fluidity, speed, and technical accuracy.
The Singer’s Bible
Maria Callas called this collection the Singer’s Bible (along with the vocalises composed by Panofka). She said they were “THE Bel Canto technique.”
Whether or not a singing technique is capable of preparing a singer for these vocalises, is quite a reliable barometer of whether that technique truly merits being called a “Bel Canto” technique. These etudes live at the very heart of beautiful singing itself.
Do not underestimate the value of Concone’s Fifty Lessons.