I have a question. I'm currently studying bel canto with a very good teacher. However we are in disagreement about one factor. In "Caro Mio Ben", the words "languisce il cor" appear. In all of the sung versions I have heard by famous artists, they seem to elide the final "e" of "languisce" with the "i" of "il" to create the sound "el". My teacher claims this is not correct. Please clarify, so I will know how to sing these words. Thank you!

  • 2
    What does your teacher say is right?
    – phoog
    Jul 22 at 5:28
  • @phoog who is saying that the teacher was right? Or, more interestingly: who's saying that the teacher's right? ;-) Jul 22 at 5:51
  • @musicamante the teacher says that it is not correct to elide the e. Presumably the teacher says that it is correct to do something other than elide the e. What, according to the teacher, is the correct way to sing that phrase without eliding the e?
    – phoog
    Jul 22 at 11:05
  • @phoog that was just a joke, but, then again, the point is not only what the teacher says, but how that opinion is reliable: can they provide a valid motivation for that? Because most of times they just tell you what was told them, when talking about a language they barely know. Jul 22 at 11:35
  • @musicamante it doesn't matter whether the teacher's opinion is reliable, because the question is whether the teacher's opinion is correct. I therefore asked for clarification of the teacher's opinion so it would be possible to say whether the teacher's opinion is correct. One thing is clear, however, the question is not actually about eliding the "e," as the product of the supposed elision is "el."
    – phoog
    Jul 22 at 15:01

Premise: I'm italian, and I am really fanatic about our language pronunciation and writing, including their meaning, context and history, especially when related to music.

Now, the keyword here is elision, even if this often happens as a similar aspect, apocope.

The elision is when an unstressed vowel (or syllable) is omitted at the end of a word when the following has a "compatible" sound (usually, another vowel). The apocope is very similar, but doesn't strictly require another similar sound for the next word, and it has always been used (even nowadays) mostly for poetic expression or due to broad usage. This is, coincidentally, the case of "cor", which is the apocope of "core", another writing of cuore ("heart") which is also sometimes written or pronounced as "cuor" even in current language, when some stress is required for "poetry" purposes.
Actually, it's common for everyday words and sentences, like "mangiar bene" (instead of "mangiare bene"): eating healthy/good food (yeah, we do enjoy our food, and we've good reasons ;-) ).

Another and related typical italian case is the word "Amore" (love), which is often reduced to "Amor" even if followed by a consonant (e.g.: "Amor mio", Manon Lescaut, et al.). Poetic emphasis is obviously more stressed when using words related to feelings. Interestingly enough, the apocope is avoided when current language normally uses it, as not omitting the vowel explicitly emphasizes the meaning, not unlike using "you ARE" instead "you're".

Now, the case of "languisce-il" is a bit different, as both elision and apocope are rarely used in Italian when some specific sounds are important part of the sillable or might create confusion: it's often avoided with sounds based on s and z, but that's not a rule. The "general" (and, therefore, not absolute) concept is that the meaning and elegance of sound is a primary purpose, but, most importantly, the elision/apocope must not create confusion in the context. Since "languisc-" (with "sc" pronounced as "sh" when followed by i or e) can be conjugated in two very different ways in italian, that could lead to confusion:

  • languisce: he/she/it languishes [something]
  • languisci: you [make] languish [something]

Also, you probably need to be italian (or really know what living in Italy is) to really and truly understand both the conjugation and the sound.

In this specific case, it would be a clear case of elision: it is followed by a vowel ("il") and the subject of the sentence is (almost) clear.

It's not "caro mio ben" ("my dear beloved"), but the heart: "languisce il cor" is "my heart struggles".
So, the "e" could be elided in Italian. Doing it is not grammatically wrong.

To a non-italian speaker (or italian/belcanto fanatic), that wouldn't be much of a difference. But, actually, this creates a doubt, as explained before:

  • "languisc(e) il cor": my heart struggles
  • "languisc(i) il cor": you make my heart struggle

Then there's the question of "il". In italian poetry and, therefore, librettos, the article is sometimes elided when following another vowel (so, almost always, since there are very few words that end with a consonant):

Voi che per li occhi mi passaste 'l core
Guido Cavalcanti, ca. XIII

As you can see, the "i" is elided even in the written form, and even if it does not follow the same vowel.

Considering the above points, pronouncing it "languisce'l cor" wouldn't be an error: it doesn't create confusion (the subject of the verb is clear) and there exist many examples of elision with a different vowel.

There's one last question here: attribution of the "song" is still undecided, which also means that there's no clear source about the actual "libretto", and so, the possible apocope.

We don't know for sure what was the original meaning, but, grammatically speaking, eliding the "e" is not strictly wrong: it could just change the meaning, but that's open to debate.
Current performance practice uses the full version, which means that the most accepted version (as the most famous singer performed) is by pronouncing both the "e" at the end of "languisce" and the "i" of "il".

If you do want to do the elision, you could elide the "i", but since in the second verse "sce" and "il" are on different notes, that wouldn't be very consistent.

Note: the verb "languire" is technically an intransitive verb, so you could not say "languire il cuore di qualcun altro" (as in "struggle somebody else's heart"), as it would be grammatically wrong. But, that's poetry: forms can be bent, as long as the meaning is strong enough and it's clear enough for the language.

  • 1
    How do we not know the original meaning? The song comes to us in written form, not solely through oral tradition.
    – phoog
    Jul 22 at 11:20
  • 2
    @phoog the fact that that attribution is undecided means that the available written versions are not 100% authoritative: there's no autographed version, no printed reference. We got lots of "inherited" versions, but their reliability is not that different than oral tradition from this point of view. Jul 22 at 11:31
  • But they all show the text "languisce il cor."
    – phoog
    Jul 22 at 14:25
  • 2
    I think you are mistaken (also Italian native speaker here, albeit no singer): the phenomenon in question is synalepha and it is extremely common in Italian Jul 22 at 18:39
  • 1
    @phoog: Yes, but if all but one copy was lost to the sands of time, and all copies today are based upon that, the fact that they all agree would indicate nothing about the accuracy of the copy upon which they were based.
    – supercat
    Jul 23 at 17:56

The 'e' at the end of 'languisce' and the 'i' of 'il' should both be pronounced, with a legato connection.

Cecilia Bartoli and Luciano Pavarotti both sing it that way, both are Italian, and both are the pinnacle of singers.

NOTE: where one needs to be careful is in switching between the 'e' and 'i' vowel sounds that the purity of each is preserved. You don't want to produce "in between" vowels as you move from one to the other.

  • 2
    I might be wrong, but, are you saying that both Bartoli and Pavarotti actually did the elision? Because if that's the case, they did not. It might be difficult to listen, but both the E and the I are there in both cases. Jul 22 at 11:22
  • 1
    @musicamante The problem was that I had the wrong definition of "elision". I've corrected my post.
    – Aaron
    Jul 22 at 13:06
  • 1
    @musicamante but the question also misunderstands "elision," as shown by the description "to create the sound 'el.'"
    – phoog
    Jul 22 at 14:24

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