Pier Francesco Tosi (approximately 1653-1732) was a male soprano, singing teacher, composer, and author. He has been called the “Grandfather of Bel Canto.” A trailblazer of his time, Tosi was the first to write a documented treatise on the art of teaching singing: Opinoni de’ cantori antichi e moderni (translated in 1742 or 1743 to Observations on the Florid Song).
There is some question about Pier Francesco’s family and upbringing, but many believe that he was the son of composer Giuseppe Felice Tosi, and that Giuseppe was his voice teacher growing up. However, not all sources believe that to be the case. What is certain is that Pier Francesco Tosi was a castrato, which is a male singer who was castrated before puberty to preserve his high voice. In the early 1700s, castration was almost a “trend” throughout Europe and these (often) poor, talented boys were seen as the only hope for their families to make money and gain notoriety. In the 1720s and 30s, approximately 4,000 boys were castrated per year with the goal of becoming professional, touring singers. Many ended up singing in the Catholic church, as was the case for Tosi for a time.
Though there are gaps in his history, we know that Tosi lived a life full of musical adventure and travel. There is record of Tosi singing in churches in Rome and Milan, but he was dismissed for “misconduct” in 1685. Shortly after, in 1687, he made his only appearance in an opera, Varischino’s Odacre. He began teaching in London in 1693. In 1701, Tosi joined the service and traveled extensively as a musical and diplomatic agent. His book was published in 1723, and after settling back in London in 1724, he became one of the founding members of the Academy of Ancient Music. In addition to his career as a singer and teacher, he also composed several arias and cantatas.
Some of the high points in Tosi’s book include his discussion of solfege and intonation, blending registers, forte and piano, and his very strong opinions about vocal ornamentations and fermatas. Tosi was in London during the peak of Handel’s career. Therefore, his perspective on singing was from someone who was surrounded by some of the finest voices in history.
Tosi images from operasingers.it and markalburgermusichistory.blogspot.com