Legato: (mus) Un gruppo di note eseguite senza interrompere il suono tra l’una e l’altra (A group of notes executed without interrupting the sound from one [note] to the other).
This is the musical definition from the online dictionary of Italy’s premiere newspaper, Il Corriere della Sera. It is a fair definition. The discussion continues however when we ask ourselves:
“how can there be interruption between one note and another?”
1. The obvious is that there is an actual silence between notes (staccato–detached).
However, interruption can be also perceived:
2. When an unvoiced consonant appears between vocalic sounds and vocal fold vibration is perceivably stopped, or
3. When a voiced consonant is experienced as remarkably less vibrant than surrounding vocalic sounds, or
4. When resonance is lost or reduced from one vocalic note to another.
When we analyse a vocal line in that way, it becomes immediately clear that legato is not only a musical concept (e.g. think of the direction of the phrase) but rather a technically global concept that will be effected by breath management, phonation and resonance issues.
In other words, “interruption” can be perceived as not merely an interruption of sound, but also as a change in the quality of the emission (e.g. intensity, resonance balance or even vocalic integrity when one vowel is sung over several notes).
This should serve to explain that the Italian Bel Canto Tradition has left us a number of words that symbolise vocal technique in a global and organic manner. Taking words like legato, appoggio, morbidezza, squillo, etc, in literal and one dimensional terms is tantamount to a misapplication of the greater philosophy of Bel Canto. All the pieces are interrelated!
© September 27 2017