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Reconstructing the tenor ‘pharyngeal voice’: 

a historical and practical investigation

Querns Langley, K. E. (2021) Reconstructing the tenor ‘pharyngeal voice’: a historical and practical investigation. Doctoral thesis, Royal College of Music.


The PhD can be downloaded from the RCM Research pages here.


One of the defining moments of operatic history occurred in April 1837 when upon returning to Paris from study in Italy, Gilbert Duprez (1806–1896) performed the first ‘do di petto’, or high c′′ ‘from the chest’, in Rossini’s Guillaume Tell. However, according to the great pedagogue Manuel Garcia (jr.) (1805–1906) tenors like Giovanni Battista Rubini (1794–1854) and Garcia’s own father, tenor Manuel Garcia (sr.) (1775–1832), had been singing the ‘do di petto’ for some time. A great deal of research has already been done to quantify this great ‘moment’, but I wanted to see if it is possible to define the vocal qualities of the tenor voices other than Duprez’, and to see if perhaps there is a general misunderstanding of their vocal qualities. That investigation led me to the ‘pharyngeal voice’ concept, what the Italians call falsettone. I then wondered if I could not only discover the techniques which allowed them to have such wide ranges, fioritura, pianissimi, superb legato, and what seemed like a ‘do di petto’, but also to reconstruct what amounts to a ‘lost technique’. To accomplish this, I bring my lifelong training as a bel canto tenor and eighteen years of experience as a classical singing teacher to bear in a partially autoethnographic study in which I analyse the most important vocal treatises from Pier Francesco Tosi’s (c. 1653–1732) treatise ‘Opinioni de' cantori antichi e moderni‘ (1723) to ‘Garcia’s Treatise on the Art of Singing’ (1924). I analysed the treatises for concepts of registration, timbre, breathing and resonance tuning. Subsequently, I researched contemporary accounts of several tenors to develop a ‘picture’ of their individual voices and to distinguish voice types, and then analysed multiple extracts from operas to determine range, tessitura, dynamic ability, and melodic contour markers for each singer. Using performance practice methodologies in the teaching studio, I was able combine all these elements to produce a valid and effective historically informed reconstruction of the historical tenor ‘pharyngeal voice’ and pedagogy.



Further info:


Dr. Querns-Langley's research in Bel Canto Historical Performance Practice to demonstrates across theory and practice a succinct and functional understanding of the nature of the head-voice based high tenor voices of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Voice types such as the haute-contre, tenor contraltino and Rossini baritenor, used not just by Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti and others up to mid nineteenth century, and each had a high tessitura with upper vocal extensions sometimes well beyond top c" in voce piena in testa (full head voice). 

The technique used to achieve this is usually referred to as falsettone or voce faringea (Pharyngeal Voice). Using ethnographic research, extant treatises of the Bel Canto masters and his own living technical tradition, Ken has reconstructed this enigmatic and oft overlooked vocal phenomenon. He trained for 15 years with multiple vocal professors each in the direct technical tradition of Manuel Garcia, with only four historical professors through Mathilde Marchesi back to Garcia. He uses this living tradition, handed down from Porpora to Ansani, Manuel Garcia I & II through to the present day as a special filter to offer a distinctive understanding of the diverse treaties, and reconstructs the work of the authentic Bel Canto tenors including approaches to registration, fioratura, legato, messa di voce, head-voice and much more.   

Along side the performance practice and historical methodologies, scientific methods such as laryngoscopy and acoustic analysis are being used to create new working definitions of some of the more vaguely understood aspects these voice types, id est anterior phonation and pharyngeal voice (voce faringea) acoustics. It is hoped that through this research we will not only have a more well-rounded understanding of these vocal fächer, but that we will be able to restore some lost repertoire and perform it in a more historically sensitive way, creating modern-day premieres of works that have either been disregarded or transposed as to be sung by subsequent tenor types.  

Ken maintains a companion research interest in the importance of Britain in the history of bel canto and rare bel canto repertoire.  

Bel Canto Research

Ken completed his doctorate of music in London at the Royal College of Music focusing on reconstructing historically informed singing practice of the bel canto tenors 1770-1850.


His PhD can be found here.

PEVOC Conference 2015

Poster Presentation .pdf

Mitridate - Mozart

Vado in contro .pdf

Anna Bolena - Donizetti

Ah cosi (excerpt)

Original key Eb .pdf

If you are interested in the research on bel canto Historically Informed Performance Practice, please get in touch.

+44 7881045726

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