Office: TC 114
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Robert Toft arrived at Western in 1989 and over the years has pursued a variety of musicological projects within the notion of “research informing practice.” His scholarly interests focus on the performance practices of singing from the 16th to the 19th centuries, and he has given master classes on historical principles of interpretation at leading conservatories and music schools in Australia, Austria, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, UK, and the USA. He first became interested in coaching singers as a young accompanist (lute) who realized that early-music specialists could bring scores to life in exciting ways by rooting their performances in period treatises. Beyond historical performance, Robert works in the field of recording practices, and he has published a monograph on 1960s popular music, Hits and Misses: Crafting Top 40 Singles, 1963 – 1971.
He has written five books on the history of singing, and his text Recording Classical Music is published by Focal Press, a division of Routledge. Two of his more recent books, practical guides to singing based on his many years of research and vocal coaching, have been widely praised by performers and scholars. Bel Canto: A Performer’s Guide has been described as “revolutionary” and “a must-read for singers, teachers of singing, vocal coaches, and conductors,” while With Passionate Voice: Re-Creative Singing in Sixteenth-Century England and Italy has been noted for its “unique blend of profound, searching scholarship [and] inspired application for teaching and guiding young performers.” In addition, two of his articles have been anthologized in collections of “the most important and influential published articles” that have “shaped” their respective fields (historical performance and popular music).
His scholarly and practical work has received international awards, including a Distinguished International Visitors Fellowship funded by the Australian Research Council for work at the Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions in Sydney and Melbourne. In Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council recognized Robert’s unique combination of scholarship and performance with a research-creation grant for the project “From Research to Public Performance: Historically-Informed Re-Creative Singing.”
His production company, Talbot Records, issued its first recording in 2017. Inspired by the intensely dramatic performing styles of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, its main series, Radically Hip, connects modern audiences to the impassioned eloquence of the past. Radically hip artists liberate themselves from the written page to re-create the score, audaciously embracing a powerful form of expression rooted in historical principles.
Reviewers have described the first release of the series, Secret Fires of Love, as “overwhelmingly satisfying” and “of the utmost importance ... this disc ... deserves the attention of every performer ... it could change the way vocal music is performed quite drastically.” The album features Australian tenor, Daniel Thomson, Canadian lutenist/guitarist, Terry McKenna, and German harpsichordist, Thomas Leininger, under Robert’s musical direction in a program ranging from an anonymous sixteenth-century villanella to cantatas by Albinoni and Conti.
The second release is devoted to piano works by Mozart (K 331, 332, 397) and Beethoven (Op. 2, No. 1) performed by Thomas Leininger on the Faculty’s fortepiano (R. J. Regier, after Anton Walter), with improvised preludes to the three sonatas. Reviewers have said the album is “daring and exciting,” “intelligently and beautifully played,” and “Leininger ... achieves a narrative suggestive power that appears entirely natural and obvious ... if you want to experience this music in in a completely new way, then this exciting CD is definitely something for you.”