October 20, 2019


Vocal Undulations and the Vox Humana Organ Stop

October 20, 2019


Vocal Undulations and the Vox Humana Organ Stop

Various short resonator reeds in Michael Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum 2 (Wolfenbüttel: 1619).

Various short resonator reeds in Michael Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum 2 (Wolfenbüttel: 1619).

From the Editor

This article, written from the perspective of a singer, is about vibrato in the human voice during the Renaissance through late Baroque periods based on historical organ stops that are designed to either naturally cause undulations in pitch or be used with some sort of tremulant. There are extensive footnotes throughout — to view them, simply click/tap the number of the note (in red), and you will be redirected to the bottom of the page; at the end of each note, then click/tap "Return to text," and you will be redirected to where you left off.


It is often a surprise, even for historically informed performers, to discover that undulating organ stops were created as early as the beginning of sixteenth century. Their oscillations are linked to the human voice almost since the first known experiments of this kind. Many organists and singers are aware of this strong connection, but few studies inquire into the origin of these registers, which are still in use today.1

References to vocal oscillations2 are present in sources as early as Pomponius Festus (third century), Isidore of Seville (sixth through seventh centuries), Aurelian’s Musica Disciplina, Notker’s expressive letters and Hucbald’s De harmonica institutione. An important distinction must be made between the trembling voice as a symptom of illness, as described by Aristotle and Galen, and the trembling ornaments or the regular undulations of a healthy voice. Guido d’Arezzo in his Micrologus, several commentators to his work including Aribo, his contemporary Adhémar de Chabannes, later authors like Magister Lambertus, Walter Odington, Engelbert, and in particular Jerome of Moravia, all describe refined trembling sounds: neumes such as plica, quilisma, gutturalis, pes quassus, inflections called tremula, morula, vinnula, unissonus, reverberatio, notas procellares, etc. In Spain, around 1500, the Toledan manuscript Arte de Melodía shows even graphically how undulations affect each sound, in an informative enumeration of onda, onda doble, tremolacio, and other embellishments for plainchant.3

One could easily be misled into interpreting these special "harmonic flowers" as exceptional ornaments in the context of a "default" straight tone. But sources describe a rich and more complex musical landscape, suggesting that these undulating inflections were not exclusively the privilege of soloists in plainchant, but also affected polyphony. Their excess is certainly criticised: Franchino Gaffurio, in 1496, warns good singers against a thunderous and excessively shaking emission (voces tremebundas atque perstrepentes)4 that would destabilise the tuning. This remark is often interpreted today as a condemnation of all forms of vocal oscillation in music of that period. But the innovations taking place in those decades strongly contradict this restriction, as we will see.

Another important remark needs to be made: an undulating vocal sound can be perceived by the human ear as a perfectly stable pitch. Experiments in the twentieth century, by Carl Seashore, Milton Metfessel and others, show that the complex array of phenomena now known as vibrato might not be experienced in the same way by different listeners.

In another publication, Gaffurio reports: "they say that some Italians, such as the Genoese and those who reside on that coast, bleat like goats."5 These remarks are reproduced in similar formulations by numerous authors such as Andreas Ornithoparchus in his Micrologus (1517)6, later translated by John Dowland.7 However, not all reprints of the passage are uncritical: in 1545, Pietro Aron reacts vehemently against this calumny, defending Italy in a rant: "[it is said that] the French sing, the English jubilate, the Spanish weep, Germans howl, and Italians bleat, which is something that can only stem from envy and malignity, not only by leaving Italy as the last on the list, but by insulting her with offensive and blameworthy names."8

However, it is plausible that a certain undulation was an intrinsic part of the vocal sound, perhaps quite inconspicuous, but sometimes clearly audible, or even excessive to the point of being perceived as bleating. In 1512, Václav Philomathes recommends to sing like a nightingale, from the depth of the throat, but warns against a lingua vibrante.9 And in 1556, Hermann Finck deplores "mouths twisted and wide open, heads thrown back and shaking, and wild vociferation."10

In this environment of great diversity, organs begin to imitate the sound of other instruments.11 The early sixteenth century is marked by a rapid development of imitative stops. Groundbreaking research by Robert Bates on French Renaissance organs shows strikingly early mentions of jeux or stop combinations (often two flue stops) whose names show an intent to imitate human voices, such as chantres (1510 Saint-Michel, Bordeaux; 1514 Saint-Seurin, Bordeaux; 1530 Toulouse Cathedral).12 In 1551, the term appears again (Saint-Etienne, Troyes), describing a jeu de voix humaine which imitates "four singers with trembling voices" ("contrefaictes comme quattre chanttres a voix tramblant"), next to an undefined combination "resembling the voice of a falsetto," ("resemblant a la voix dun faulcet"), and a jeux de brodes (a quite obscure term) "singing like pilgrims on their way to Saint James, with trembling voices" ("chantans comme pelerins quy vont in a sainct Jaques auec vne voix tramblant"). But already in 1526, a combination called voix de brodes and a "trembling voice" (voix tranblant) were mentioned (Saint-Loup, Cezy). Several jeux combining two flue stops are called voix humaines (1537 Notre-Dame, Alençon; 1548 Sainte-Eulalie, Bordeaux; 1560 Saint-Sépulcre, Paris; 1560 Parish Church, Vaugirard; 1571 Hôtel-Dieu, Paris; 1579 Jacobins, Chartres; 1584 Cordeliers, Pontoise). An early reed stop called jeu d’enfant probably existed since 1555 at the Sainte-Chapelle, Paris. Other names reveal the interest in imitating particular types of voices (criard, nazard, canard, papegai).

These documents prove that, at a remarkably early stage of these creative experiments, organ makers introduced a striking innovation. The famously stable and straight tone of the organ could now undulate. Two systems evolved simultaneously: the mechanical device (tremulants) and the acoustic beating of two slightly detuned pipes. Both systems coexisted during the sixteenth century. It is sometimes hard to deduce, merely from the preserved specifications of instruments that are no longer extant, which of the systems was in use in each case. Some organs could indeed afford both devices. Tremulants are mentioned in instruments built at the end of the fifteenth century, and are documented with certainty as early as 1510.13 The acoustic phenomenon of beating is well known to organ builders, and to all musicians who deal with issues of tuning and temperaments. Already in 1511, Arnolt Schlick calls this beating Schwebung, a long-lived word in the history of vocal and instrumental undulations. When this Schwebung occurs between two unison pipes a few Hz apart, the perceived effect is that of a unique pulsating sound.14

Martin Agricola conveys his great enthusiasm for instrumental and vocal tremblings from 1529 on15, expressing his hope to hear more undulating organs in his native Germany, and providing one of the earliest mentions of "trembling breath" as a basic element in the performance of wind instruments.16 This distinctive, not exclusively ornamental quality of Swiss fifes or transverse flutes explains why the earliest detuned stops in Italy are called fiffari, probably invented by Vincenzo Colombi, first mentioned in Padua, 1544, and Udine, 1547. These stops consist of a row of pipes tuned slightly sharper than the principal, always to be played in combination to produce beating effects, and will later be alternatively called fiffari or voci umane.17

Meanwhile in Venice, Sylvestro Ganassi encourages recorder players to imitate the prontezza and galanteria of the human voice in his Fontegara (1535)18, and goes into great technical detail to explain how to perform flutterings from less than a semitone (tremolo suave) to a minor third (tremolo vivace). In his viol method19, Ganassi instructs on the combined power of the trembling bow and fingers for sad and afflicted music. The bow tremolo will later be adopted in the context of a highly expressive style of composition, often explicitly in imitation of the organ tremulant.20

These decades see many printed occurrences of vocal and instrumental undulations in the works of Lodovico Zacconi, Giovanni Battista Bovicelli, Francesco Rognoni, and others. Zacconi considers the tremolo as an essential feature for singers who wish to introduce gorgie or diminutions. According to him, the voice that is already in motion is easier to move, and a light tremolo, "once used, should always be used, so that its use will become a habit."21 Luigi Zenobi22 also mentions tremolo, trillo, ondeggiar, and ondeggiamento among the requirements for the professional singer. Interestingly, Zenobi had intended to marry the famous singer Virginia Vagnoli, praised in one of Francesco Sansovino’s Cento Novelle (1562) for "the sweetness of the voice and the tremolo which she gracefully employs in her singing."23 The blind poet Luigi Grotto mourns another remarkable singer, Alessandra Lardi, upon her death in 1568, remembering the "minute and undulating accents of her sweetly trembling voice."24 Also in 1568, the composer and singer Maddalena Casulana appears able to drive away all sadness with her trembling throat (gorza tremulande) in one of Antonio Molino’s greghesche in Venetian dialect.25

A very valuable set of documents is preserved concerning renovations in the Giovanni Battista Facchetti organ in the Duomo of Cremona.26 In 1582, the cantore Marco Antonio Ingegneri and the prefects of the cathedral consulted their former organist Giambatista Morsolino about the need to lower the pitch of the entire organ for the convenience of the vocal ensemble, and also to install a tremulant. Morsolino was against the change of pitch, but very enthusiastic about the tremolo. He also proposed to include a set of pipes imitating human voices, helped by the tremolo, or a set of fiffari (or transverse flutes, actually a second row of detuned pipes played together with the principale), such as those in the churches of Santo Pietro and Santa Agata in Cremona. The organbuilder Graziadio Antegnati was also consulted in 1582; he took an active part in this exchange, confirming that adding a good tremolo would not represent any risk to the instrument and its quality. Valuable hints emerge from these letters: for Ingegneri, it is important to know "if the tremulant is naturally imitating the fiffaro" which confirms the trembling effect as an imitation of a well-known phenomenon.27

According to Costanzo Antegnati, Graziadio’s son, the fiffaro is appropriately called by many "registro de voci humane" by virtue of its dolce armonia ("sweet harmony"). He specifies that it should be played slowly, and as legato as possible.28 We can only guess about the sounds produced by the portable organ with wooden pipes that Domenico da Feltre, ingegnosissimo Organaro, used to carry around the cities of Italy. According to Adriano Banchieri, it could imitate several instruments as well as the sounds of a "donna cantatrice, la Sirena, & altre galanterie."29

This is the period in which vocal tremolo appears in German choral-school books. Georg Quitschreiber famously writes in 1598: "one sings best with a trembling voice."30 This idea is reprinted in Germany during the entire seventeenth century. The initial and most notable mentions in German are those by Michael Praetorius and Daniel Friderici, followed by a series of singing tutors who quote them with small modifications, such as Johann Andreas Herbst, Johann Crüger, and Wolfgang Michael Mylius, a pupil of Christoph Bernhard.31 These authors share one basic criterion about choir boys willing to learn music: they need to have a "particularly lovely, trembling, wavering or undulating voice" ("sonderbahren lieblichen zitterten und schwebenden oder bebenden Stimme").32 It is not surprising to find that Praetorius again uses the old term “Schwebung" to describe the beating of the tempered intervals, exactly as Schlick had done a century before him. But this undulation should only be allowed "with particular moderation," according to Praetorius, unlike what is heard in certain schools.33 Bernhard and Mylius also warn against excessive continuous trembling, whereas in Italy, Francesco Rognoni34 and Giovanni Battista Doni35 criticise those who abuse of the ornamental tremolo.

In addition to these considerations, Praetorius also details the most relevant German organs (27 out of 34 instruments have tremulants) which by now show another innovation: two types of tremulants, a soft and a strong one. Three tremulants are listed in the organ at the Ulm cathedral.36 A few years later, Scheidt praises the device "which, as all organists will assert, is a major and distinguished register in the instrument."37

Organ historians frequently distinguish the German or Dutch Vox humana, a reed stop used with the tremulant, from the Italian detuned choir of voci umane. But in some cases, the names are not consistent. In 1558, Vincenzo Colombi adds a fiffaro to his organ in Valvasone. Surprisingly, this early fiffaro is not a beating set of detuned pipes, but a tremolante nel canale. This exceptional organ is the only surviving instrument from this period in the Veneto. Another possible source of confusion is the less frequent Italian reed stop called voci humane, probably made for the first time by Giovanni Cipri in Bologna, 1551. It appears again in 1582, in Perugia, Orvieto (1592), Pisa (1599), Assisi (1611), Perugia (1635), and Rome (1660).38 This early form of the reed vox humana is used with the tremulant as Morsolino describes in 1582, and should not be confused with the beating fiffaro o registro delle voci umane.39

In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi still enjoyed the coexistence of the tremolo, or tremolare, and the voci umane: the Bassus generalis part of his Vespro asks for both devices in particular places of both Magnificats.40 By that time, well-established in Mantua, Monteverdi was fully aware of the expressive capacity of both systems. His refined sense for orchestration and timbre, made explicit in his Orfeo (1607), shows a powerful world of new possibilities in the luxuriant scoring of the Vespro: the fully scored Magnificat for seven voices and six instruments, calls for two real fiffare, the "trembling" traversos, in the Quia respexit. In the Fecit potentiam, the strings are accompanied by the Principale & registro delle zifare ò, voci umane. Those decisions are mirrored in the smaller Magnificat for six voices and continuo; here, in the Quia respexit, Principale & tremulare add a fragile colour to the words "humilitatem ancillae suae", sung by a tenor, whereas the trio of high voices in Fecit potentiam sings to the trembling Principale & Fifara.

A third system of vocal imitation is based on an idea described by the alchemist Giambattista Della Porta in his influential Magia Naturalis (1589).41 This device is quoted a few years later by Fabio Colonna, who calls it the Hydraulis. It is the project of an organ where water plays an essential role in sound modification. In his Sambuca Lincea (1618), Colonna extensively describes the Hydraulis as his own idea, and calls its voice allegra, & continua, ma gargante, because its ingenious system of bubbles interacting with the air can imitate the joyful quick tremblings of a singing voice. The joyful "continuous" effect is a great innovation in Colonna’s view, since the slow and somewhat heavy beating of the tremulant interrupts the voice and conveys a feeling of melancholy.42 This is confirmed by Girolamo Diruta in 1609 (Seconda Parte del Transilvano): the tremolo is perfect to express l’armonia malenconica… lamentevole… mesta… dogliosa.43

In France, in 1636, Mersenne praises the tremulant, which should be kept at a rate of four beats per second in order to be pleasing.44 "A perfect Tremblant shall be obtained if it does not modify the pipes too much... and if it beats in such a way that will allow the organ stops to imitate the trembling of voices."45 The French Classical organ invariably associates the voix humaine with the tremulant in the printed repertoire.46 It is clear that a regular undulation was not incompatible with a steady sound, as we can read in a document signed in Paris by Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers in 1675 about the improvements intended for the organ in Saint-Sulpice, where the organ builder is engaged to "make a voix humaine of tin that will have a masculine and steady sound with the soft tremulant."47

England is a particular case. Organ makers did not have the habit of detailing specifications, and virtually all church organs were destroyed for various reasons from 1534 to 1666. But we know that Thomas Dallam had built a "shaking stoppe" at King’s College, Cambridge, in 1605, and one such stop was also included in the organ he built for the sultan Mehmet III as a gift from Queen Elizabeth, which Dallam personally brought to Turkey in 1599.48 In 1692, Bernhard "Father" Smith made a Vox Humane and a Trimeloe for St. Mary-at-Hill in London. Christopher Simpson compares the bow tremolo to the organ tremulant: "Some also affect a Shake or Tremble with the Bow, like the Shaking-Stop of an Organ, but the frequent use thereof is not (in my opinion) much commendable."49

The trembling style of singing is also documented in England. In 1602, Philip Julius, Duke of Stettin-Pomerania, visited London during his grand tour, and his former tutor Frederic Gerschow kept a detailed diary of the trip. At Blackfriars, they attended a play at the Children’s Theatre, which was preceded by an hour of music, where "a boy cum voce tremula sang so charmingly to the accompaniment of a bass-viol, that unless possibly the nuns at Milan may have excelled him, we had not heard his equal on our journey."50

Roger North's descriptions of undulations.

Purcell’s ‘Cold Genius’ scene from King Arthur is perhaps the most famous example of ornamental vibrato, written-down and yet continuous, as a special effect for the voice and the orchestra. A less conspicuous form of undulation, which cannot be written down, is described around 1695 by Roger North. For him, the vocal waved sound is totally compatible with steadiness of pitch. Singers should learn "to superinduce a gentle and slow wavering, not into a trill, upon the swelling the note. Such as trumpetts use, as if the instrument were a little shaken with the wind of its owne sound, but not so as to vary the tone, which must be religiously held to its place, like a pillar on its base, without the least loss of the accord. This waving of the note is not to be described, but by example. But as wee often use odd similes to express our meaning and help the imagination, take these images of sound by lines, which represent the humour of sound judiciously managed."51

Roger North's descriptions of undulations.

An indirect but fascinating indication of the situation in England is found in Dublin in 1699, when John Baptist Cuvillie describes his own improvement of the vox humana at the Christ Church Cathedral: "I removed the Voxhumane which was on the Chairorgan before, Now to the Great Organ, and for to adorne that Stop and to make itt appeare like a humane voice, I added a Tramblan Stop to itt—and to make itt ye more naturall. which no organ in England can show the like, for they have not found out to make a Tramblan Stop—And for want of that Stop all their Voxhumanes are deficient, whereas I have made this stop ye naturall imitation of a voxhumane as perfect as any organ beyond Sea."52

Indeed, tremulants were often criticised for their deficient quality. This might be the reason for their gradual loss of popularity. Some authors in the nineteenth century and, later, several members of the Orgelbewegung went as far as doubting, or even radically denying, that vox humanas had ever been intended as an imitation of the voice. Interestingly, strong French detractors of the tremulant from Dom Bédos to Vierne and Tournemire continued to use it, as the only inevitable exception, in combination with the voix humaine.

Of course, not all "human voice" stops were perfect achievements. Charles Burney avidly looks for these stops across Europe, sceptically testing their accuracy in the imitation of the voice. He is disappointed by the very famous vox humana of the great organ in Haarlem, but he praises the one at the New Church, Amsterdam.54 Another English traveller, Richard Eastcott, confirms and expands Burney’s praise: "it gives the effect of a soprano voice singing a solo anthem."55

Johann Friedrich Agricola finds the tone of these stops often far inferior to a singing voice, but he speaks highly of the vox humana in the Trost organ at Altenburg Castle56, and it was precisely that organ which had been examined and enthusiastically praised by Johann Sebastian Bach in 1739.57 Interestingly, this particular vox humana was connected to the soft tremulant (sanfte Schwebung) without having to draw an extra stop.58

By the eighteenth century, both German and French organs had established the tradition of having two tremulants, the softest one being associated with the vox humana or voix humaine. These were usually reed stops, of a rather "nasal" quality, often used for "solo" parts. They were frequently coupled with less penetrating stops, as indicated by Jakob Adlung and J. F. Agricola. A well documented case is the organ at the Garnisonkirche in Berlin, built by Joachim Wagner in 1724–26. The brochure about the instrument, printed by Johann Friderich Walther, mentions "one tremulant and separately a mild Schwebung for the Voce Humana" because "a strong tremulant would force such a subtle voice and make it unpleasant."59

The tremulant is again compared to vocal undulations by Johann Mattheson (1713, 1739), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1768), and in particular by Denis Dodart (1706) in his essay on the nature of the vocal undulation which, according to him, is the distinctive element of a pleasing singer's voice.60 This intrinsic quality of the singing voice is equally mentioned by Johann Kirnberger61 (another disciple of J. S. Bach, as J. F. Agricola) and by Wolfgang A. Mozart.62

How accurate these imitations were, we can only guess by stories like this one: in 1750, Joseph Gabler finished his masterpiece, the famous organ at the Basilika St. Martin, in Weingarten. His vox humana is a unique achievement in its imitation of singing voices; it gave birth to all sorts of legends about Gabler having made an agreement with the Devil, perhaps partly based on the numbers (66 stops, 6666 pipes). According to one of the stories, the monks were posessed by a frenzy of music and dance, forgetting their chores and their prayers, and Gabler had to melt the pipes of that perfect first vox humana, and make it all over again, in a not quite so perfect version.63

The early origins of the Italian voce umana have misguided some authors to view this stop as an isolated, obsolete device of the sixteenth century, linked perhaps to a distant and forgotten way of singing. But Giordano Riccati in 176764 and Carlo Gervasoni in 180065 clearly show a prevailing link between detuned beatings and vocal undulations in their own time.

Many of these organs still stand as museums of sound. Their testimony is crucial to the study of performance practices in the last five centuries. Time, decay, careless restorations, wars, fire, and other numerous dangers affected these invaluable instruments. Fortunately, enough organs can still boast their tremulous sounds, either with their original pipes and tremulants, or through the descriptions of those who built, played or heard them.


This article is part of a longer study on vibrato in voices and instruments, based to a great extent on the evidence of beating organ stops and tremulants. For further information, see the following video from Early Music Sources:



1. Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini, “Il Fiffaro o Registro delle Voci umane. Origine ed evoluzione dei registri “battenti”,” L'Organo 23 (2001), 109–248. Return to text.

2. A survey of medieval sources on singing can be consulted in Franz Müller-Heuser, Vox humana: ein Beitrag zur Untersuchung der Stimmästhetik des Mittelalters (Regensburg: 1963). Timothy J. McGee, The Sound of Medieval Song: Ornamentation and Vocal Style according to the Treatises (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998). Return to text.

3. Karl-Werner Gümpel, “El canto melódico de Toledo: algunas reflexiones sobre su origen y estilo,” Recerca Musicológica 8 (1988), 25–45. Return to text.

4. Franchinus Gaffurius, Practica musicae (Milan, 1496), fol. eeiiijv. Return to text.

5. Franchinus Gaffurius, Theorica musicae (Milan, 1492), fol. k5: "Italorum nonnullos ut genuenses et qui ad eorum littora resident caprizare ferunt." Excessive tremulousness inspires negative comparisons that usually fall into three main categories: animals (mostly the bleating of goats, as is the case here and in Rognoni, 1620), old age (Christoph Bernhard ca. 1650; Denis Dodart, 1706), and illness (fever, chattering teeth, in later centuries paralysis, palsy). A fourth, less frequent objection is to call it effeminate (i.e. G.B. Doni, ca. 1633). Return to text.

6. Andreas Ornithoparchus, Musice active micrologus (Leipzig, 1517), fol. M2. Return to text.

7. John Dowland, Andreas Ornithoparcus His Micrologus (London, 1609), 88. Return to text.

8. Pietro Aron, Lucidario in Musica, Book 4 (Venice, 1545), f. HHiij r: "à Franciosi il cantare, alli Inglesi il giubilare, alli Hispagnuoli il piagnere, a Tedeschi l'urlare, Et all'Italiani il caprezzare, la qual cosa non mi si puo far a credere, che da altro proceda, che da invidia, & malignità essendo da questi tali stato non solamente dato il luogo da sezzo alla Italia, ma anche quella di uituperoso, et biasimeuole nome chiamata..." Return to text.

9. Václav Philomates, Musicorum Libri Quattuor (Vienna, 1512). Return to text.

10. Hermann Finck, Practica Musica, Book 5 (Wittenberg, 1556): "ore distorto & hiante, capite resupino & fibrato, barbarica vociferatione..." Translated in F. E. Kirby, "Hermann Finck on Methods of Performance," Music & Letters 42, No. 3 (July, 1961), 212–220. Return to text.

11. In Italy, the earliest flauto is documented in Naples in 1474. Cf. Pier Paolo Donati, “Corpus documentario sulla manifattura degli organi in Italia dal XIV al XVII secolo, II. Documenti dal 1451 al 1480,” Informazione Organistica 34 (Pistoia, 2013), 298. Return to text.

12. Robert Bates, “On the Jeux: Unraveling the Mysteries of Sixteenth-Century French Organ Terminology,” Keyboard Perspectives 10 (2017), 59-89. I am greatly indebted to Christopher Holman for having led me to this essential article, and to Robert Bates himself for his generous and detailed personal communications. See also: Pierre Hardouin, "Jeux d'orgues au XVIe siècle," Revue de Musicologie 52, No. 2 (1966), 163–184. Return to text.

13. Maarten Vente, Die Brabanter Orgel (Amsterdam, 1958), 37. Return to text.

14. Arnolt Schlick, Spiegel der Orgelmacher und Organisten (Mainz, 1511), especially "Das Acht Capittel". Return to text.

15. Martin Agricola, Musica Instrumentalis Deudsch (Wittenberg, 1529), 12, and expanded edition (1545), 12. Return to text.

16. Bruce Dickey, “Untersuchungen zur historischen Auffasung des Vibratos auf Blasinstrumenten,” Basler Jarhbuch für historische Musikpraxis (1978), 77-142 (especially 102). Return to text.

17. This evolution is thoroughly documented in the aforementioned articles by Tagliavini (2001) and Donati (2013). Return to text.

18. Sylvestro Ganassi, Fontegara (Venice, 1535), especially chapter 24. Return to text.

19. Sylvestro Ganassi, Regola Rubertina (Venice, 1542), 6. Return to text.

20. Greta Moens-Haenen, Das Vibrato in der Musik des Barocks (Graz, 1988), 129-139, 253-270. Constance Frei, L’Arco Sonoro (Lucca, 2010), 195-239. Return to text.

21. Lodovico Zacconi, Prattica di Musica (Venice, 1592), Libro I, f.55, Cap. LXII. Libro I, f. 60, Cap. LXVI. "Questo tremolo deve essere succinto, e vago; perché l’ingordo e forzato tedia, e fastidisce: Ed è di natura tale che usandolo, sempre usar si deve; accioché l’uso si converti in habito; perché quel continuo muover di voce aiuta, e volentieri spinge la mossa delle gorge, e facilita mirabilmente i principij de passaggi." Return to text.

22. Bonnie J. Blackburn, Edward E. Lowinsky, “Luigi Zenobi and His Letter on the Perfect Musician,” Studi Musicali 22 (1993), 61–114. Return to text.

23. Francesco Sansovino, Cento novelle scelte da piu nobili scrittori della lingua volgare (Venice, 1562), 397 "non si truova un'altra sua pari, e per sicurezza, nel canto, e per vaghezza & attillatura nel modo del cantare, & per dolcezza nella voce e nel tremolo ch'ella leggiadramente usa cantando." Incidentally, Virginia never married Zenobi, but Alessandro Striggio. Their son became the librettist of Monteverdi’s Orfeo. Return to text.

24. Luigi Grotto, Le orationi volgari di Luigi Groto cieco di Hadria (Venice, 1602), fol. 42v. ("Oratione funebre nella morte della Signora Alessandra Lardi. Recitata in Hadria nell’Anno 1568. il dì 24. di Aprile... Gli accenti minuti, e ondeggiati dalla voce dolcemente tremante, con quel tremor destavano un ghiaccio dilettoso per l’ossa di chi l’udiva"). More than one century later, Testi praises Leonora Baroni, whose singing is "tremulous and clear" — "tremolo e chiaro": Fulvio Testi, Poesie liriche del conte d. Fulvio Testi (1676), 361. Return to text.

25. Antonio Molino (Manoli Blassi, detto il Burchiella) I dilettevoli madrigali a quattro voci dedicati a Maddalena Casulana, Book One (Venice, 1568). Return to text.

26. Oscar Mischiati, L’organo della Catedrale di Cremona (Bologna, 2007), 209-236. Return to text.

27. ibid., 231: "Bisogna vedere... Se’l tremolante è naturale imitando il fiffaro." Return to text.

28. Constanzo Antegnati, L'Arte Organica (Brescia, 1608) — see especially the chapter “Modo di registrar li organi.” Perhaps one of the earliest printed occurences of the term "legato." The earliest mention of the fiffaro as voci umane is probably documented in 1601 in Casale Monferrato. Return to text.

29. Adriano Banchieri, Conclusioni nel suono dell'organo (Bologna, 1609), 14-15. Return to text.

30. Georg Quitschreiber, De Canendi Elegantia (Jena, 1598). Return to text.

31. Michael Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum 3 (Wolfenbüttel, 1619), 229-231. Daniel Friderici, Musica Figuralis (Rostock, 1624), see Caput VII, Regula 2. Johann Andreas Herbst, Musica Moderna Prattica (Frankfurt am Main, 1632), 3. Johann Crüger, Synopsis Musica (Berlin, 1654), 187. Johann Crüger, Musica practicae praecepta brevia: Der rechte Weg zur Singekunst (Berlin, 1660), 19–20. Wolfgang Michael Mylius, Rudimenta Musices (Mühlhausen, 1686), f. D3. Return to text.

32. ibid., 229–230. Return to text.

33. ibid., 230–231: "doch nicht also / wie etliche in Schulen gewohnet seyn / sondern mit besonderer moderation." Return to text.

34. Francesco Rognoni Taeggio, Selva de varii passaggi (Milan, 1620), “Avvertimenti alli Benigni Lettori.” Return to text.

35. Giovanni Battista Doni, "Trattato della musica scenica," De’ Trattati di Musica di Gio. Batista Doni Patrizio Fiorentino (Florence, 1763), 24–25, 72, 133. Return to text.

36. Michael Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum 2 (Wolfenbüttel, 1619), 161-203. Return to text.

37. Samuel Scheidt, Tabulatura nova, Volume 3, ed. Harald Vogel (Wiesbaden, 1953), 188–189: "welcher nach aller Organisten Bekentnüß ein vornehmes undt principalstücke im Wergk ist." Return to text.

38. Pier Paolo Donati, “Corpus dei documenti sulla manifattura degli organi in Italia dal XIV al XVII secolo VI: Documenti dal 1551 al 1580,” Informazione Organistica 38 (2015), 223–301. Return to text.

39. A very well preserved fiffaro in the 1581 Antegnati organ in Brescia is nowadays considered an exceptional Italian register of this type. Return to text.

40. Claudio Monteverdi, Sanctissimae Virgini Missa Senis Vocibus, Bassus Generalis (Venice, 1610), 42, 49, 50. Return to text.

41. Patrizio Barbieri, “Giambattista Della Porta’s singing hydraulis,” Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society 22 (2006), 145–166. Patrizio Barbieri. “L’Hydraulis dalla voce ‘gargante’ di Giambattista Della Porta e altri accessori ‘lirici’ per l’organo c. 1560-1860,” Informazione Organistica 18 (2007), 211–237. Return to text.

42. Fabio Colonna, La Sambuca Lincea, ovvero dell'istromento musico perfetto (Naples, 1618), 111–116: "e una voce differente dal Tremolante che sogliono fare gli communi Organi, che è malinconica, & che interrompe, & sbatte la voce, imperoche che questa è allegra, & continua, ma gargante: che radoppia la voce senza interropimento, & par che sia moltiplicato il suono..." (112). Return to text.

43. Girolamo Diruta, Discorso sopra il Concertar li Registri d'Organo (Venice, 1609), 22. Return to text.

44. Marin Mersenne, Harmonie Universelle Book 6 (Paris, 1636), 380 ("or il bat comme il faut, lors qu’il bat huit fois dans le temps d’une mesure qui dure deux secondes d’heure."). An interestingly slower than average rate for vocal vibrato, which is usually between five and seven beats per second. Compenius recommends eight beats per tactus in his Orgelverdingnis, 1619, without specifying the speed of the tactus. Return to text.

45. ibid. ("l’on aura un parfait Tremblant s'il n'altère point trop les tuyaux... et s'il bat de telle sorte qu'il fasse imiter le tremblement des voix aux ieux de l'Orgue."). Return to text.

46. Jonathan Young, “The Tremulant in French Classical Organ Music,” Vox Humana (March 17, 2019), View here. Return to text.

47. Nicolas Dufourcq, “A travers l’inédit,” Recherches sur la Musique Française Classique 1 (1960), 208–209: "faire une voix humaine d’estain d’un son masle et ferme avecq le tremblant doux". The same contract asks for a perfect tuning of all the jeux separately and ‘almost’ all of them together, ‘sans aucun tremblement, alteration, mouvement et changement’, and also to repair both tremulants: ‘restablir les deux tremblants et les rendre bons’, making a clear difference between defective and desirable trembling. Return to text.

48. Stephen Bicknell, The History of the English Organ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 73. Return to text.

49. Christopher Simpson. Chelys. The Division Viol (1665), 10. Return to text.

50. Charles William Wallace, "The Children of the Chapel at Blackfriars 1597–1603," The University Studies of the University of Nebraska 8: No. 2–3 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1908), 103–321: "wie denn damahlen ein Knabe cum voce tremula in einer Basgeigen so lieblich gesungen, dass wo es die Nonnen zu Mailand ihnen nicht vorgethan, wir seines Gleichen auf der Reise nicht gehoret hatten" (106–107/220–221). Return to text.

51. Roger North, “As to Musick,” Notes of Me, edited by Peter Millard (Toronto, 2000), 149–151. Return to text.

52. Barra Boydell, Music at Christ Church Before 1800: Documents and Selected Anthems (Dublin, 1999), 167-169. A fragmentary quote of this passage (omitting all references to the imitation of the human voice) is found in Bicknell, 189. Return to text.

53. Charles Burney, The Present State of Music in Germany, the Netherlands, and United Provinces (London, 1773), 302. Return to text.

54. ibid., 298. Return to text.

55. Richard Eastcott, Sketches of the Origin, Progress and Effects of Music (Bath, 1793), 224. Return to text.

56. Johann Friedrich Agricola, Sammlung einiger Nachrichten von berühmten Orgelwerken in Teutschland (Breslau, 1757), 498–499. Return to text.

57. Bach Dokumente 2, edited by W. Neumann and H.-J. Schulze (Kassel-Leipzig, 1969), 368-369. Return to text.

58. Felix Friedrich, Der Orgelbauer Heinrich Gottfried Trost. Leben - Werk - Leistung (Leipzig, 1989), 167. Return to text.

59. Johann Friderich Walther, Die In der Königl. Garnison-Kirche zu Berlin befindliche Neue Orgel (Berlin, 1726), 15: "Befinden sich demnach in dieser Orgel 50. Klingende Stimmen; wozu noch kommen: 1. Tremulant, wie auch a part eine gelinde Schwebung zur Voce Humana." 24: "Auch ist dazu, eine a parte sanffte Schwebung angeleget, weil ein starker Tremulant, eine solche subtile Stimme alzusehr forciret, und selbige unangenehm machet." Viewable here. Return to text.

60. Denis Dodart, "Supplément au Mémoire sur la voix et sur les tons," Histoire de l'Académie Royale des Sciences (Paris, 1706/7), 136-148. This undulation is absent in speech and should not to be confused with the trill. "On voit quelque chose de semblable dans le tremblant de l'Orgue, qui ne change rien au ton de chaque tuyau, & qui ne peut avoir été inventé que pour imiter la voix du Chant par cette circonstance : ce qu'il ne fait pourtant que fort imparfaitement." ["Something similar is observed in the tremulant of the organ, which does not change the tone of each pipe, and which can only have been invented to imitate the singing voice by that circumstance, something that it does only in a quite imperfect way."] Return to text.

61. Johann Philipp Kirnberger, “Bebung” in Johann Georg Sulzer, Allgemeine Theorie der Schönen Künste. Bd. 1. Leipzig, 1771, 136. Return to text.

62. Letter from Wolfgang A. Mozart to Leopold Mozart, Paris, 12 June 1778: "Die Menschenstimme zittert schon selbst, aber so, in einem solchen Grade, daß es schön ist, das ist die Natur der Stimme. Man machts ihr auch nicht allein auf den Blasinstrumenten, sondern auch auf den Geigeninstrumenten nach, ja sogar auf dem Claviere." ["The human voice already trembles by itself, but in a way and to a degree that is beautiful — this is the nature of the voice, and one imitates it not only on wind instruments, but also on strings, and even on the clavichord."] Viewable here. Return to text.

63. Johannes Mayr, Joseph Gabler Orgelmacher (Weingarten, 2000), 86. Return to text.

64. Giordano Riccati, Delle corde ovvero fibre elastiche, Schediasmi fisico-matematici (Bologna, 1767), 152: "rivolgendo la considerazione al registro dell'organo, che si nomina voce umana, perchè di molto l’imita, ogni suono del quale fornito di un'aggradevole pulsazione è formato da due suoni, che discordano a un di presso per un diesis' enarmonico..." ["when one considers the organ stop called voce umana, because it imitates it to a large extent, each of its sounds equipped with a pleasant pulsation is formed by two sonorities that differ only slightly by one enharmonic diesis..."] Return to text.

65. Carlo Gervasoni, La scuola della musica in 3 parti divisa, Volume 2 (Piacenza, 1800), 138: "e finalmente la Voce umana col Principale Soprano: avvertendo però di render questa qualche poco crescente, affinchè unita col Principale medesimo, ottener si possa quel dato tremolo col quale una tal voce imitar si pretende." ("and finally [tune] the voce umana with the treble principal, taking care to make this stop slightly sharp, allowing, when united with the principal, to obtain the tremolo thanks to which it is expected to imitate a human voice"). Return to text.


Lisandro Abadie was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he took his first singing lessons with Sergio Pelacani. Later in Switzerland he obtained his singing diplomas at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (with Evelyn Tubb) and Musikhochschule Luzern (with Peter Brechbühler). He was awarded the Edwin Fischer Gedenkpreis in 2006 and the Finalist Prize at the Handel Singing Competition in 2008.

He has sung under the direction of William Christie (Purcell: The Fairy Queen in Aix-en-Provence, Stefano Landi: Sant’Alessio, several tours with music by Lambert and Charpentier), Facundo Agudin (Mozart: Così fan tutte, Don Giovanni, Die Zauberflöte, Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart and Fauré's Requiems, Puccini’s Mass), Laurence Cummings (Belshazzar, Theodora, Messiah, and Siroe), Christophe Rousset (Pergolesi: San Guglielmo), Hervé Niquet (Marais: Sémélé), Anthony Rooley (William Hayes: The Passions, on CD, Choc de Classica Award), Václav Luks (Bach: Matthäuspassion, Handel: La Resurrezione), Paul Agnew (Songs & Catches by Purcell, Monteverdi: Complete books of Madrigals), Douglas Bostock (Smetana: The Bartered Bride), and many others.

He has collaborated with ensembles such as Les Arts Florissants, Collegium 1704, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Les Talens Lyriques, Le Poème Harmonique, Il Complesso Barocco, La Risonanza and others, and regularly performs with the pianist and composer Paul Suits.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Vox Humana.