The Swedish-Italian School of Singing

In order to understand the history of the Swedish-Italian Singing school, we must first go back to Manuel Garcia II ( 1806-1906). The foundation of his work lies in the Bel Canto traditions which were passed on to him through his father ( a noted Spanish Tenor)  who had studied with Ansani who had learned from the great Bel Canto teacher Porpora - a teacher to some of the most famous castrato singers of the 17th Century f.ex Farinelli.


When Manuel Garcia started to teach he became fascinated with the actual physical workings of the voice instrument. In 1854 he invented a laryngoscope (to see the actual workings of the larynx) and the next year he published his observations that he had made studying his own vocal cords.


Although his findings led him to introduce practices widely at variance with those of his predecessor, Garcia did not perceive a conflict. Rather, he believed his efforts would unite the experientially based bel canto principles with a rational, physiological understanding of what caused them to be effective.


"I have collected [my father’s] instructions, fruits of a long and of a most cultivated musical taste. It is his method which I have wanted to reproduce by trying to reduce it to a more theoretical form by attaching the results to their [physiological] causes. . . . This manner of considering the teaching [of singing] can, I believe, make it, as a whole more precise and complete .."(Garcia 1984, xvii-xviii).


The were several famous singing teachers who studied with Garcia. Two of whom were Julius Gunther, who taught in Sweden, and Saint Yves Bax, who taught mainly in France. Gunther would later teach John Forsell*, who later became general director of the Stockholm Opera.


A very famous student of Gunther was Fritz Arlberg  ( 1830-1896). Arlberg later became enthused by the work of an American teacher named Mackenzie, who also lived at the time of Garcia II.


The student of Manuel Garcia who would lay down the foundations of the Swedish-Italian school was a Dr.Gillis Bratt. He learned the Garcia principles from studying with one of his students named Lange. Dr. Gillis Bratt was a throat doctor, voice teacher and operatic baritone at the Stockholm Opera. He opened his voice studio in 1900 and would later become quite famous for teaching the world famous Kirsten Flagstad ( who credits him with opening her voice up to take on the Dramatic Repertoire she sang ) and Joseph Hislop among others.


He worked mainly in Sweden and so the Swedish-Italian school eventually was born out of his background with Manuel Garcia and his work with Swedish singers. The Swedish language brought some advantages to the Bel Canto style of singing in that the mix of vowels that the language holds naturally enhanced the singer’s acoustic combination of roundness and vibrancy also called the chiaroscuro.  Chiaroscuro is a pedagogical goal of the Italian school meaning the dark and bright perfectly balanced and working together.


Next in line to add to the Swedish-Italian school of the technique was Alan Lindquest who studied with one of Dr. Gillis Bratt’s Students, a Mme. Inge Borg Isene who taught Kirsten Flagstad after Dr. Bratt’s death.


Alan Lindquist's venture into the Swedish-Italian school began with coaching in 1917 with Enrico Caruso ( student of Manuel Garcia and a great Tenor)  introducing him to the Bel Canto technique which inspired him to learn the Italian school of singing.

Mr. Lindquest later observed that many world-famous singers were receiving their training in Sweden which led him to go study there with Mme. Inge Borg Isene. It was John Forsell* who arranged Lindquist's study period in Sweden in 1938-1939.


Alan Lindquist became one of the foremost vocal researchers of his time. His contributions to the world of the vocal technique have still not been fully realized, however, his work is more and more recognized as some of the most important in the world of vocal teaching. He single-handedly helped to save a school of training which otherwise might have been lost.


Continuing and upholding Alan Lindquist's legacy is Mr. David Jones who was fortunate enough to have met and studied with him in 1979:


“It was fortunate indeed that I met and studied with Alan Lindquest in 1979. He was a generous and kind man who offered all the vocal treasures of his almost 90 years. At times I could not believe I was in the room with a man who had coached the young Birgit Nilsson in Stockholm in 1938 and had himself studied with the great teachers of the world, not to mention his coaching with Enrico Caruso himself. Alan Lindquest played a major role in saving this school of singing from extinction. Few singers and teachers today know of this technique which adopts the beauty of the color of the Swedish language and the brilliance of the Italian School. “- David Jones


Maestro Jones has spent over 30 years conducting ongoing research, documenting and disseminating the teachings and specific vocal exercises of one of his master teachers, Alan Lindquest. Through these efforts, his students have a direct link with pedagogic traditions that originated in Italy and were disseminated in Sweden in the early 20th Century.

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