Lost for words

Mi manca

Besides the Pearl and Dean theme tune, and the potentially cruel There was a young man from Calcutta, another song that might make a suitable anthem for the Stammering Association is Rossini’s Mi manca la voce, or “My voice fails me”, from his 1818 opera Mosè in Egitto:

Apart from the sheer beauty of the music, it reminds me of group therapy sessions I’ve taken part in. Despite their protestations, all three stammerers seem to have overcome their imp-p-pediment; but again, singing does often offer a temporary reprieve.

The specious connection with stammering didn’t occur to me when I first relished the quartet from the pit at the Pesaro Rossini Festival in the early 1980s. Of course, joking aside, this is an excuse to play an exquisite composition, a departure from our usual diet of Bach, Daoist ritual, and Billie Holiday.

That’s the best version I can find online. I’m sure scholars of Italian opera can discuss at length the authenticity of such a style—one might assemble a less, um, operatic vocal ensemble, but that’s just me and my knit-your-own yogurt purism for you.

Might the aria have been an inspiration for Harpo‘s mute persona?!

* * *

My distinguished friend Hugh in Verona (where long ago I did my time in the pit at the Arena) draws my attention to this sextet (see also here), which might also be part of a group therapy session for stammerers:

Apart from simple consonants, diphthongs can also pose a challenge. But syllabic, rhythmic speech is an outmoded technique that offers only temporary relief…

As Hugh observes, such operatic set-pieces are known as concertato dello stupore—perhaps “ensemble of the nonplussed” rather than the charming “stupefaction ensemble”.

Here’s another wacky and exhilarating Rossini tongue-twister (with dindin for bells, tac-tà for hammer, bumbum for cannon, and so on):

For more stammering songs, click here; and for another tongue-twister, here.

12 thoughts on “Lost for words

  1. The impediment addressed in the quartet is lack of force, not lack of diction. Rossini has picked up on this detail with great subtlety, revealed by his handling of the phrase endings.


    • Um, thanks, but a post like this doesn’t always deserve the solemn academic treatment that you award it! Rather that I love the piece, and that it has an added irony for stammerers… Oh well.


      • Surely one can do both. (Or more.) I am of two minds about that. Surely you know about Brahms’s notebook collection of famous examples of parallel fifths, each accompanied by the comment, “But so nice”? (Surely not surly.)


  2. Good name you chose there! You should know better than to assume that I know anything about WAM! My post is on a par with my comments on TV theme-tunes. But yes, a worthy goal might be education and entertainment together (Chairman Mao’s old puji and tigao issue)


  3. Pingback: Bonking in Chinese | Stephen Jones: a blog

  4. Pingback: Papa papa papa papa papapa, papa papa papa papaaaaa PA! | Stephen Jones: a blog

  5. Pingback: Gepopo: pa-pa-pa-panic | Stephen Jones: a blog

  6. Pingback: More stammering songs | Stephen Jones: a blog

  7. Pingback: A recognition sextet, and more stammering | Stephen Jones: a blog

  8. Pingback: Backing vocals | Stephen Jones: a blog

  9. Pingback: Bhutan: a tongue-twister, archery festivals, and teasing cheerleaders | Stephen Jones: a blog

  10. Pingback: Towers and wells—and a ferocious quadruped | Stephen Jones: a blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s