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The Castrato as Creator

The Castrato as Creator

Velluti’s Voice in the London Sheet-Music Market

(p.71) Chapter 4 The Castrato as Creator
London Voices, 1820-1840
Sarah Fuchs
University of Chicago Press

Following Giovanni Battista Velluti’s London debut in 1825, British sheet-music publishers issued nearly thirty piano-vocal arrangements that claimed to bear traces of the castrato’s performance practice. Several arrangements advertised themselves as souvenirs of Velluti’s performances, drawing on a variety of textual and musical means to suggest that the printed page reflected what had occurred in real time. The bulk of the publications associated with Velluti did not purport to capture an actual performance, however, but instead featured extensive passages of alternative embellishments printed on separate ossia lines. As might be imagined, critics and consumers responded to such publications in distinct ways. The claims made by souvenir scores troubled critics, so much so that some went to great lengths to outline how the castrato’s performance departed from the composer’s original melody—or, indeed, from the souvenir score itself. For their part, amateur and aspiring professional singers envisioned souvenir scores and emended scores less as records of performance than as means of acquiring the castrato’s performance practice. Examining British critics’ and consumers’ reactions to these piano-vocal scores sheds new light on Velluti’s reception in late 1820s London and, more broadly, on the significance of singers’ creativity in the early to mid-nineteenth century.

Keywords:   Giovanni Battista Velluti, castrato, sheet music, arrangements, performance practice, embellishments, amateur

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