A tenor is a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range is one of the highest of the male voice types. The tenor's vocal range (in choral music) lies between C3, the C one octave below middle C, and A4, the A above middle C. In solo work, this range extends up to C5, or "tenor high C". The low extreme for tenors is roughly A♭2 (two A♭s below middle C). At the highest extreme, some tenors can sing up to two Fs above middle C (F5).
Within opera, the lowest note in the standard tenor repertoire is probably A♭2 in Rossini's rarely performed La donna del lago in the role of Rodrigo di Dhu, written for Andrea Nozzari. Within more frequently performed repertoire, Mime and Herod both call for an A2. The high extreme: a few tenor roles in the standard repertoire call for a "tenor C" (C5, one octave above middle C). Some (if not all) of the few top Cs in the standard operatic repertoire are either optional (such as in "Che gelida manina" in Puccini's La bohème) or interpolated (added) by tradition (such as in "Di quella pira" from Verdi's Il trovatore). However, the highest demanded note in the standard tenor operatic repertoire is D5 (found in "Mes amis, écoutez l'histoire" from Adolph Adams' Le postillon de Lonjumeau and "Loin de son amie" from Fromental Halévy's La Juive). Some operatic roles for tenors require a darker timbre and fewer high notes. In the leggero repertoire, the highest note is F5 (Arturo in "Credeasi, misera" from Bellini's I puritani), therefore, very few tenors can, given the raising of concert pitch since its composition, have this role in their repertoire without transposition.
Origin of the term
The name "tenor" derives from the Latin word tenere, which means "to hold". In medieval and Renaissance polyphony between about 1250 and 1500, the tenor was the structurally fundamental (or 'holding') voice, vocal or instrumental. All other voices were normally calculated in relation to the tenor, which often proceeded in longer note values and carried a borrowed Cantus firmus melody. Until the late 16th century introduction of the contratenor singers, the tenor was usually the highest voice, assuming the role of providing a foundation. It was also in the 18th century that "tenor" came to signify the male voice that sang such parts. Thus, for earlier repertoire, a line marked 'tenor' indicated the part's role, and not the required voice type. Indeed, even as late as the eighteenth century, partbooks labelled 'tenor' might contain parts for a range of voice types.
Tenor in choral music
In four-part mixed chorus, the tenor is the second lowest voice, above the bass and below the soprano and alto. Men's chorus usually denotes an ensemble of TTBB in which the first tenor is the highest voice. While certain choral music does require the first tenors to ascend the full tenor range, the majority of choral music places the tenors in the range from approximately B2 up to A4. The requirements of the tenor voice in choral music are also tied to the style of music most often performed by a given choir. Orchestra choruses require tenors with fully resonant voices, but chamber or a cappella choral music (sung with no instrumental accompaniment) can sometimes rely on light baritones singing in falsetto.
Even so, one nearly ubiquitous facet of choral singing is the shortage of tenor voices. Most men tend to have baritone voices and for this reason the majority of men tend to prefer singing in the bass section of a choir (however, true basses are even rarer than tenors). Some men are asked to sing tenor even if they lack the full range, and sometimes low altos are asked to sing the tenor part. The late 19th century saw the emergence of male choirs or TTBB (Tenor1, Tenor2, Bass1, Bass2). In the US these are sometimes called Glee Clubs. The Welsh choirs are examples of this type of choir. Male choirs sing specially written music for male choirs, music adapted from mixed sex choirs and in most genres including classical, sacred, popular and show. Male choirs differ from Barbershop choirs in that they are usually accompanied, often by but not restricted to a piano. Male choirs are often larger than the Barbershop style partly because the foundation of the Barbershop style is the solo quartet sound. In male choirs, tenors will often sing both in chest tone and falsetto. As a result, a male choir has a wider pitch range than one consisting only of females, sometimes stretching from the countertenor or male soprano voice type in the high extreme to basso profondo in the low extreme.
There are four parts in Barbershop harmony: bass, baritone, lead, and tenor (lowest to highest), with "tenor" referring to the highest part. The tenor generally sings in falsetto voice, corresponding roughly to the countertenor in classical music, and harmonizes above the lead, who sings the melody. The barbershop tenor range is B♭-below-middle C (B♭3) to D-above-high C (D5), though it is written an octave lower. The "lead" in barbershop music is equivalent to the normal tenor range.
In bluegrass music, the melody line is called the lead. Tenor is sung an interval of a third above the lead. Baritone is the fifth of the scale that has the lead as a tonic, and may be sung below the lead, or even above the lead (and the tenor), in which case it is called "high baritone."
Though strictly not musical, the Muslim call to prayer (azan) is always chanted by tenors, possibly due to the highly placed resonance of the tenor voice which allows it to be heard from a longer distance than baritones or basses during pre-amplification times. Some such chanters (termed bilals) may modulate up to E3 in certain passages, while incorporating a distinctive Middle-Eastern coloratura run.
Tenor voice classification
Within choral and pop music, singers are classified into voice parts based almost solely on vocal range with little consideration for other qualities in the voice. Within classical solo singing, however, a person is classified as a tenor through the identification of several vocal traits, including range, vocal timbre, vocal weight, vocal tessitura, vocal resonance, and vocal transition points (lifts or "passaggio") within the singer's voice. These different traits are used to identify different sub-types within the tenor voice sometimes referred to as fächer (sg. fach, from German Fach or Stimmfach, "vocal category"). Within opera, particular roles are written with specific kinds of tenor voices in mind, causing certain roles to be associated with certain kinds of voices.
Here follow the operatic tenor fächer, with examples of the roles from the standard repertory that they commonly sing. It should be noted that there is considerable overlap between the various categories of role and of voice-type; and that some singers have begun with lyric voices but have transformed with time into spinto or even dramatic tenors.
Also known as the "tenore di grazia", the leggero tenor is essentially the male equivalent of a lyric coloratura. This voice is light, agile, and capable of executing difficult passages of fioritura. The typical leggero tenor possesses a range spanning from approximately C3 to E♭5, with a few being able to sing up to F5 or higher in full voice. In some cases, the chest register of the leggero tenor may extend below C3. Voices of this type are utilized frequently in the operas of Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini and in music dating from the Baroque period.
Leggero tenor roles in operas:
- Arnold, William Tell (Rossini)
- Arturo, I puritani (Bellini)
- Count Almaviva, The Barber of Seville (Rossini)
- Count Ory, Le comte Ory (Rossini)
- Ernesto, Don Pasquale (Donizetti)
- Elvino, La sonnambula (Bellini)
- Fenton, Falstaff (Verdi)
- Henry Morosus, Die schweigsame Frau (Strauss)
- Lindoro, L'italiana in Algeri (Rossini)
- Don Ramiro, La Cenerentola (Rossini)
- Tonio, La fille du régiment (Donizetti)
A warm graceful voice with a bright, full timbre that is strong but not heavy and can be heard over an orchestra. Lyric tenors have a range from approximately the C one octave below middle C (C3) to the D one octave above middle C (D5). Similarly, their lower range may extend a few notes below the C3. There are many vocal shades to the lyric tenor group, repertoire should be selected according to the weight, colors, and abilities of the voice.
Lyric tenor roles in operas:
- Alfredo, La traviata (Verdi)
- Chevalier, Dialogues of the Carmelites (Poulenc)
- David, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Wagner)
- Il Duca di Mantova, Rigoletto (Verdi)
- Edgardo, Lucia di Lammermoor (Donizetti)
- Faust, Faust (Gounod)
- Hoffmann, The Tales of Hoffmann (Offenbach)
- Lensky, Eugene Onegin (Tchaikovsky)
- Martin, The Tender Land (Copland)
- Oronte, I Lombardi alla prima crociata (Verdi)
- Paris, La belle Hélène (Offenbach)
- Pinkerton, Madama Butterfly (Puccini)
- Rinuccio, Gianni Schicchi (Puccini)
- Rodolfo, La bohème (Puccini)
- Roméo, Roméo et Juliette (Gounod)
- Werther, Werther (Massenet)
- Wilhelm Meister, Mignon (Thomas)
This voice has the brightness and height of a lyric tenor, but with a heavier vocal weight enabling the voice to be "pushed" to dramatic climaxes with less strain than the lighter-voice counterparts. Spinto tenors have a darker timbre than a lyric tenor, without having a vocal color as dark as many (not all) dramatic tenors. The German equivalent of the Spinto fach is the Jugendlicher Heldentenor and encompasses many of the Dramatic tenor roles as well as some Wagner roles such as Lohengrin and Stolzing. The difference is often the depth and metal in the voice where some lyric tenors age or push their way into singing as a Spinto giving them a lighter tone and a Jugendlicher Heldentenor tends to be either a young heldentenor or true lyric spinto. Spinto tenors have a range from approximately the C one octave below middle C (C3) to the C one octave above middle C (C5).
Spinto tenor roles in operas:
- Andrea Chénier, Andrea Chénier (Giordano)
- Calaf, Turandot (Puccini)
- Canio, Pagliacci (Leoncavallo)
- Des Grieux, Manon Lescaut (Puccini)
- Don Carlo, Don Carlos (Verdi)
- Don José, Carmen (Bizet)
- Erik, Der Fliegende Holländer (Wagner)
- Ernani, Ernani (Verdi)
- Hermann, Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky)
- Macduff, Macbeth (opera) (Verdi)
- Manrico, Il trovatore (Verdi)
- Mario Cavaradossi, Tosca (Puccini)
- Max, Der Freischütz (Weber)
- Pollione Norma (Bellini)
- Radames Aida (Verdi)
- Stiffelio Stiffelio (Verdi)
- Gustavo, Un ballo in maschera (Verdi)
- Turiddu, Cavalleria rusticana (Mascagni)
Also "tenore di forza" or "robusto" – an emotive, ringing and very powerful, clarion, heroic tenor sound. The dramatic tenor has an approximate range from the B one octave below middle C (B2) to the B one octave above middle C (B4) with some able to sing up to the C one octave above middle C (C5). Many successful dramatic tenors though have historically avoided the coveted high C in performance. Their lower range tends to extend into the baritone tessitura or, a few notes below the C3, even down to A♭2. Some dramatic tenors have a rich and dark tonal colour to their voice (such as the mature Enrico Caruso) while others (like Francesco Tamagno) possess a bright, steely timbre.
Dramatic tenor roles in operas:
A rich, dark, powerful and dramatic voice. As its name implies, the Heldentenor (English: heroic tenor) vocal fach features in the German romantic operatic repertoire. The Heldentenor is the German equivalent of the tenore drammatico, however with a more baritonal quality: the typical Wagnerian protagonist. The keystone of the heldentenor's repertoire is arguably Wagner's Siegfried, an extremely demanding role requiring a wide vocal range and great power, plus tremendous stamina and acting ability. Often the heldentenor is a baritone who has transitioned to this fach or tenors who have been misidentified as baritones. Therefore the heldentenor voice might or might not have facility up to high B or C. The repertoire, however, rarely calls for such high notes.
Heldentenor roles in operas:
- Florestan, Fidelio (Beethoven)
- Tannhäuser, Tannhäuser (Wagner)
- Lohengrin, Lohengrin (Wagner)
- Loge, Das Rheingold (Wagner)
- Siegmund, Die Walküre (Wagner)
- Siegfried, Siegfried (Wagner)
- Siegfried, Götterdämmerung (Wagner)
- Walther von Stolzing, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Wagner)
- Tristan, Tristan und Isolde (Wagner)
- Parsifal, Parsifal (Wagner)
- Herod, Salome (Strauss)
- Aegisth, Elektra (Strauss)
- Bacchus, Ariadne auf Naxos (Strauss)
- The Emperor, Die Frau ohne Schatten (Strauss)
- Menelaus, Die ägyptische Helena (Strauss)
- Apollo, Daphne (Strauss)
- Drum Major, Wozzeck (Berg)
- Paul, Die tote Stadt (Korngold)
- The Stranger, Das Wunder der Heliane (Korngold)
In Mozart singing, the most important element is the instrumental approach of the vocal sound which implies: flawless and slender emission of sound, perfect intonation, legato, diction and phrasing, capability to cope with the dynamic requirements of the score, beauty of timbre, secure line of singing through perfect support and absolute breath control, musical intelligence, body discipline, elegance, nobility, agility and, most importantly, ability for dramatic expressiveness within the narrow borders imposed by the strict Mozartian style.
The German Mozart tenor tradition goes back to end of the 1920s when Mozart tenors started making use of Caruso's technique (a tenor who rarely sang Mozart) to achieve and improve the required dynamics and dramatic expressiveness.
Mozart tenor roles in Mozart Operas:
- Spirit of Christianity, Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots
- Oebalus, Apollo et Hyacinthus
- Bastien, Bastien und Bastienne
- Fracasso, La finta semplice
- Mitridate, Mitridate, re di Ponto
- Aceste, Ascanio in Alba
- Scipione, Il sogno di Scipione
- Lucio Silla, Lucio Silla
- Don Anchise, La finta giardiniera
- Alessandro, Il re pastore
- Idomeneo, Idamante, Idomeneo
- Belmonte, Die Entführung aus dem Serail
- Don Ottavio, Don Giovanni
- Ferrando, Così fan tutte
- Tito, La clemenza di Tito
- Tamino, The Magic Flute
Tenor buffo or Spieltenor
A tenor with good acting ability, and the ability to create distinct voices for his characters. This voice specializes in smaller comic roles. The range of the tenor buffo is from the C one octave below middle C (C3) to the B above middle C (B4). The tessitura of these parts lies lower than the other tenor roles. These parts are often played by younger tenors who have not yet reached their full vocal potential or older tenors who are beyond their prime singing years. Only rarely will a singer specialize in these roles for an entire career. In French opéra comique, supporting roles requiring a thin voice but good acting are sometimes described as 'trial', after the singer Antoine Trial (1737–1795), examples being in the operas of Ravel and in The Tales of Hoffmann.
Tenor buffo or Spieltenor roles in operas:
- Count Danilo Danilovitsch, The Merry Widow (Lehár)
- Don Basilio, The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart)
- Mime, Der Ring des Nibelungen (Wagner)
- Don Anchise/ Il Podestà, La finta giardiniera (Mozart)
- Monostatos, The Magic Flute (Mozart)
- Pedrillo, Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Mozart)
- Slender, The Merry Wives of Windsor (opera) (Nicolai)
- John Styx, Orpheus in the Underworld (Offenbach)
- Prince Paul, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (Offenbach)
- Kálmán Zsupán, The Gypsy Baron (Strauss II)
- The Captain, Wozzeck (Berg)
- The Magician, The Consul (Menotti)
- Beppe, Pagliacci (Leoncavallo)
- Frantz, The Tales of Hoffmann (Offenbach)
- Spoletta, Tosca (Puccini)
- Goro, Madama Butterfly (Puccini)
- Pong, Turandot (Puccini)
- Gastone, La traviata (Verdi)
- Roderigo, Otello (Verdi)
- Gherardo, Gianni Schicchi (Puccini)
- King Kaspar, Amahl and the Night Visitors (Menotti)
- Triquet Eugene Onegin (Tchaikovsky)
- The Holy Fool Boris Godunov (Mussorgsky)
- Pasquale Orlando paladino (Haydn)
Gilbert and Sullivan and Operetta
- List of tenors in non-classical music
- Fach, the German system for classifying voices
- Voice classification in non-classical music
- David Fallows, Owen Jander. "Tenor", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy, grovemusic.com (subscription required)
- McKinney, James (1994). The Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults. Genovex Music Group. ISBN 978-1-56593-940-0.
- Eriksson, Erik. Adolphe Adam – Le postillon de lonjumeau at AllMusic. Retrieved 27 July 2014.
- "Loin de son amie", Aria database
- I puritani (vocal score) at IMSLP, p. 256 (254).
- Boldrey, Richard (1994). Guide to Operatic Roles and Arias. Caldwell Publishing Company. ISBN 978-1-877761-64-5.
- Stark, James (2003). Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-8614-3.
- Smith, Brenda (2005). Choral Pedagogy. Plural Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-1-59756-043-6.
- misssable (2009-03-29). "Shortage of tenors acknowledged (but blamed on cultural discouragement)". Thechoirgirl.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2013-05-02.
- "Joseph Callega interview: mentions shortage of tenors". Friendsofjosephcalleja.com. 2004-11-04. Retrieved 2013-05-02.
- The disciplines of vocal pedagogy By Karen Sell: mentions shortage of tenors. Books.google.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-05-02.
- Averill, Gage (2003). Four Parts, No Waiting: A Social History of American Barbershop Harmony. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-511672-4.
- Cantwell, Robert (2002). Bluegrass Breakdown: The Making of the Old Southern Sound. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-07117-1.
- Appelman, D. Ralph (1986). The Science of Vocal Pedagogy: Theory and Application. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-20378-6.
- The role of Loge is often sung by a character tenor rather than a heldentenor.
- The role of Herod is often sung by a character tenor rather than a heldentenor.
- "Tenor Arias". IPA. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
- Cotte RJV. Trial, French family of musicians. In: The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Macmillan, London and New York, 1997.
- Media related to Tenor vocalists at Wikimedia Commons
- The dictionary definition of tenor at Wiktionary