Beggar at the Door: the rise and fall of portamento in singing

J.F. Potter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


With the exception of some opera singers, portamento is avoided as far as possible by today’s performers. It is an aspect of singing that even today’s early music specialists have chosen not to recover from the past despite overwhelming evidence for its use. This paper examines the historical literature on portamento, first in the pregramophone era then in the context of recordings in the twentieth century (when the literature can be matched with actual performances). There is a short case study of portamento in twentieth-century performances of Schubert’s ‘Ständchen’ from Schwanengesang. Finally, current performance practice is examined and explanations offered as to why something considered for several hundred years to be essential to good singing is now rarely taught or practised.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)523-550
Number of pages27
JournalMusic & Letters
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2006

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