Singing in the Past 100 Years

Singing in the classical Western tradition has been changing over the last hundred years or so. People may have different opinions about whether the change is for the better or the worse, but the fact of it is beyond dispute. Anyone can form an opinion of his own by going to YouTube and comparing early recordings from the 1920’s or ’30’s, for example, with more recent ones. Despite the variations in recording technology, it is possible to discern differences in fundamental qualities and attitudes.

Gentleness and Carrying Power

It seems that there has been a gradual trend toward a certain kind of vocal intensity, with a gradual diminishing of other qualities. One could say that in the past there was more lyricism than today. There was a quality of gentleness at the core of the singing. This gentleness was constant through the full dynamic range from pianissimo to fortissimo, and in all musical articulations from legato to staccato. Grace, lightness and agility, even elegance, were paramount qualities, and at the same time, the great singers of the past achieved a degree of carrying power that was astounding because it appeared to be effortless.

Broad Cultural Shift

The shift does not apply only to classical music. The singing of popular singers, musical theater artists, and even children’s choruses has also changed. Even the way people speak has changed dramatically, as is apparent if you listen to old movies and news reels.

Musical Ideals

There are undoubtedly many different reasons for such pervasive changes in the way human beings give voice. We cannot explore the reasons here, but it is important to note the fact of this profound and widespread change. It is important also to make clear that the great singers of the first half of the twentieth century embodied aesthetic, vocal, and musical ideals that Lajos Szamosi aspired to, and that are still the ideals of the Szamosi school.