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Interview with Andrew Ford
The Music Show, 2003

Andrew Ford: Let's talk a bit about this piece that we've heard the start of, one of the pieces that you're performing with the Brandenburg Orchestra on the tour for Musica Viva; do we know what voice Vivaldi had in mind when he composed the piece?

Andreas Scholl: We know even what voice he used. It was a lady called Gertrude, and at that time he was Head Priest you could say, in the seminar for girls, and he had to recruit the singers for his music from the young women and girls that were available there. So we have even some nice little description about how the voice of this young lady sounded, and they said it was extremely beautiful, but it didn't have a big range, the voice. So that's the nice and easy thing about the Stabat Mater, is that technically it's not really very difficult. Of course on the interpretation level, or the meditation with music aspect of it, is of course something very challenging.

Andrew Ford:: So does that mean that Vivaldi himself would not have known the counter-tenor voice?

Andreas Scholl: Of course he knew certainly about the counter voice, probably not - I think in Italy back then it was more the castrati that sang the opera roles, and we have Vivaldi operas in which he uses castrati. He must have known about the falsettists of his time. Men that were not castrated still managed to sing that high which would be the equivalent of the counter-tenor voice nowadays, but I think he used in his operas and his dramatic cantatas, mainly castrati.

Andrew Ford: I think a lot of our listeners would know that in England at least, the counter-tenor voice was preserved in cathedral choirs, and it was in Canterbury Cathedral choir that Alfred Deller was discovered, who really was I suppose the first counter-tenor soloist of modern times. What about in Germany? Was there a similar sort of - were they stashed away in choirs in Germany as well, waiting for their second coming?

Andreas Scholl: In Germany we had this strange tradition that in the boys' choir when the mutation would start, the boys would have to stop singing and they would rejoin the choir a year later as tenor or baritone, bass, and that kind of - of course Germany is not the country with a big tradition for counter-tenor singing, so we didn't have counter-tenor voices for a long time. I was lucky that when I sang in my boys' choir, the conductor, the head of the choir said No, you don't need to stop, as long as you are accompanied by our singing teacher once a week and we know that you don't stress your voice, you can sing through this time, and that's probably what kept my voice.

Andrew Ford: And so in your case presumably, it just felt natural to keep singing high.

Andreas Scholl: Exactly, there was never any interruption, I never 'discovered' my counter-tenor voice, because for me I was always singing with the same head voice, which changed, but it changes of course not dramatically overnight, it just evolves and develops and gets new possibilities, gets richer, or the range extends or it gets lower, so there's lots of things that change, but it was never that 'one day I discovered oh, I'm a counter-tenor'. So many young men tell me through sending me letters, cassettes and CDs saying, 'Mr Scholl, yesterday I discovered I am a counter-tenor' and I think that's not necessarily the way to get there.

Andrew Ford: Well there are different types of counter-tenors, aren't there? One listens to somebody like Ren?Jacobs for instance, and he doesn't sound a bit like James Bowman; would you say these are different traditions of counter-tenor singing?

Andreas Scholl: Certainly there's something we could consider to call an English School of counter-tenor singing, which comes as you say, from the choir tradition. So it's a kind of special sound that evolved from ensemble singing, which is probably, I mean I don't want to generalise, but for most counter-tenors, has a quality that cannot modulate so much in colours.

Andrew Ford: So it's a bit straighter, the sound, it blends well.

Andreas Scholl: Yes, but of course then the real top counter-tenors from England were completely different. I mean someone like Paul Esswood, James Bowman, Michael Chance; those are counter-tenors that can sing opera, that sing dramatic music, and they moved away from the ensemble type counter-tenor voice to a more soloistic approach, and so the ensemble counter-tenor is meant to blend into the sound of a choir. So probably there's not so much individuality desired from the choirmaster, he wants the voices to sound more uniform. And then of course the step away from the choir as a soloist might be difficult, but of course probably the best counter-tenors we had in the past and have nowadays come from England.

Andrew Ford: Is it that there are different voices for different sorts of repertoire? I mean if you think of the tenor, I mean the Wagner tenor and the Verdi tenor are completely different, and the sort of tenor that sings Benjamin Britten is different again.

Andreas Scholl: Exactly. I think that's something we will discover in the near future, the counter-tenor itself, because the voice itself was so exotic in the beginning, so you were a counter-tenor, but if you apply for a position in an opera house, they say I am a soprano. It's not enough for them to know, you need to say I'm a lyric, dramatic, soprano, I mean we have all those classifications which basically indicate what the voice can do best, not what the voice is limited to, and of course we have operatic counter-tenors, and then we have counter-tenors who are extremely good in lute songs, and song repertoire. I also think we will have this kind of classification, which doesn't mean that someone who does opera should only do opera, but of course we have people like David Daniels who certainly is probably the most experienced operatic counter-tenor, because he's done so many roles. He's got the voice to do it and we've got Brian Ozawa, who also does lots of opera; I've done very little opera so far, I'm trying to move more into that field. And so we will have those classifications.

Andrew Ford: I'm speaking to Andreas Scholl on The Music Show. Andreas, you've been singing Julius Caesar; how has that changed your approach to, well to singing Handel's operatic music, because you've recorded arias before.

Andreas Scholl: Yes I recorded the arias before. In one aria when I listen to it now, I don't want to listen to it any more, because it's, after the opera experience my whole ideas about that particular piece changed a lot. So it's probably safer to have done it on stage before recording it. All the other arias, although I've never performed them on stage, I think they're OK and I see and I hear them, still the same ideas that I think they should have.

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Andrew Ford:: Well what changed?

Andreas Scholl: Of course already after my first opera experience in Glyndebourne, singing Bertrarido in Rodelinda, the whole voice changes, the whole approach to music, not only to operatic music, I sing songs differently after an opera experience. It's about communicating the drama in music, finding a sense for acting a song. It needs acting as well but not the kind of method acting. I don't have to start crying and shouting when I sing, really get into it, but I need to have tools to bring out the messages that are in a song, in an aria, and of course opera is acting and singing, so it's all experience you gather within the opera field which can be immediately applied to song cycles and other repertoire cantatas.

Andrew Ford: Well you mentioned song cycles; I was going to ask you about the extent of your repertoire, whether you feel that you are restricted by what counter-tenors did historically, or whether you can take your voice into lieder, I mean what's stopping you from singing lieder?

Scholl: Counter-tenors that have recorded lieder and have recorded later repertoire…well, so far I haven't done that, but I teach in Basle, a small class there, I have four students, and one of them is a baritone, and I do lots of Schubert songs with him, Winterreise. I think that's great music, and probably one day I will sing it. It's not the repertoire that people would expect to be sung by a counter-tenor but so far we don't have the style police that will fine me for saying that in concert; it's up to the audience to come or not come if I should ever decide to do that in a concert.

Andrew Ford: So you don't draw the line anywhere?

Scholl: In principle I'm a singer, I don't define myself as a counter-tenor, I'm a musician and then I'm a singer, and if I believed that I have something new to add, something personal to add to the 175,000 recordings of Schubert lieder, then I will do that. If I just do it because I'm a counter-tenor and think, Oh well that's good counter-tenors in Schubert, that alone is not enough. If I should believe that I have such love for this music and I want to record it, I will eventually record it.

Andrew Ford: And what? It's to do with love, or is it to do with the way the music fits your voice, or perhaps to put it the wrong way round, the way your voice fits the music? As you're saying this, I'm sort of fantasising about the serious songs of Brahms for instance.

Scholl: I think the approach to all kinds of songs is almost the same. Of course the style changes from century to century, but I have a role. When I stand up in front of an audience, I sing a song. If it's the Erlkonig for example, I just did that a couple of weeks ago with my baritone students, so I'm playing four roles: I'm the storyteller, I tell what's going on, then it's the father who talks, it's the son who talks and it's the Erlkonig himself. So it's four different characters that I have to change my voice- it's like storytelling, I have words of importance, I have words that have their meaning and colour already like dark, or bliss, or greed, in English songs. So the approach is, I read the words and I try to speak them and then I try to put my spoken ideas into music, so it doesn't matter much if it's a John Dowland song or if it's Schubert.

Andrew Ford: Folk songs we should finish with, because we're going to listen to one. This actually takes us in a way back to Alfred Deller, doesn't it, because he was the person who thought that it was a good idea to record English folks songs that you've been doing this for quite a long time.

Scholl: Yes I performed folk songs for probably ten years now in concert. I discovered these folk songs through the recordings of Alfred Deller, and they're incredibly beautiful. I incorporated some folk songs in a former recording that I did seven, eight years ago, but there were also John Dowland songs, and Thomas Campion songs on that CD. I knew one day I wanted to do a pure folk song recording, and when I thought how I would do this, (because there's no authentic accompaniment), these songs have never been meant to be printed on a piece of paper, so it's completely open to the singer to accompany them with whatever instruments that are there. They have been performed with lute, with guitar, piano, and whatever was available. So I thought probably since it's the 21st century, why not do them in a modern way, with modern string arrangements, and that was a bit inspired by Charlie Haden singing "The Wayfaring Stranger" on one of his recordings, and I thought yes, that's the approach I want to take