Martha Feldman

Martha Feldman
Ferdinand Schevill Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Music and the College; Director of Professional Development
Goodspeed 318
PhD, University of Pennsylvania, 1987

Throughout my career I’ve been working on vocal practices, genres, and performances, often Italian, from the sixteenth through the twenty-first centuries, including those of madrigalists, courtesans, castrati and other early modern singers, and jazz singers. My first monograph, City Culture and the Madrigal at Venice (University of California Press, 1995, awarded the Bainton Book Prize of the Sixteenth-Century Studies Conference and the Center for Reformation Research), did fine-grained historical, textual, and music-analytic work to reconstruct the musical-literary salons of Renaissance Venice in the 1540s and offer new models for thinking about aesthetic practices in urban spaces. A subsequent monograph, Opera and Sovereignty: Transforming Myths in Eighteenth-Century Italy (University of Chicago Press, 2007, winner of the Gordon J. Laing Award of the University of Chicago Press), rethought the institution of opera seria as a total social phenomenon, adapting classic concepts of ritual, festivity, kingship, sacrifice, and myth from anthropology to materialist approaches from microhistory. My Ernest Bloch Lectures at the University of California at Berkeley (2007) culminated in The Castrato: Reflections on Natures and Kinds (University of California Press, 2015; winner of the Otto Kinkeldey Award of the American Musicological Society). The book took up the aberrant European phenomenon whereby a caste of castrated men was not only created for singing but ended up becoming a class of quasi-independent professionals, embedded blood, money, and sacrifice and paradoxically both charismatic and abject. 

Recently I’ve been thinking about how voices are entangled with race, bodies, and memory. The result has been essays on fugitive voice, a collection called The Voice as Something More: Essays toward Materiality, coedited with Judith T. Zeitlin with afterword by Mladen Dolar (University of Chicago Press, 2019), and a book nearing completion under the title The Castrato Phantom: Moreschi, Fellini, and the Sacred Vernacular in Rome, which maps the castrato end stage and aftermath nonlinearly through family memory, cinema, and new media. In 2021, I also coedited an issue of Representations on “Music and Sound at the Edges of History” with Nicholas Mathew.

Scholarly exchange has been integral to my work, not least in the classroom. The Courtesan’s Arts: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, coedited with Bonnie Gordon (Oxford University Press, 2006, winner of the Solie Award of AMS), included essays on early modern courtesans’ music by students in my graduate seminar. “The Voice Project,” an interdisciplinary faculty initiative including graduate interns and sponsored by UChicago’s Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, for which I was co-principal investigator with David Levin and Judith Zeitlin, led to The Voice as Something More. And the JAMS colloquy “Why Voice Now?” (2015), emerged from a joint AMS/SMT session. Currently I’m co-organizer with Bonnie Gordon and Kara Keeling on a project called “Errant Voices: Performances beyond Measure” that explores insurgent and resilient voices comparatively across trans, raced, and castrato cases. These various interests have recently extended to seminars that center such matters as voice, performance, technicity, race, memory, body, errancy, and spectrality. 

I am indebted for support of my work to the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Philosophical Society, the Getty Research Institute, the Guggenheim Foundation, the University of Chicago’s Franke Institute for the Humanities, the University of Southern California, the American Association of University Women, among others. 


Special honors include:

2001, Dent Medal, awarded by the Royal Musical Association in collaboration with the Directorium of the International Musicological Society
2009, Graduate Teaching Award, University of Chicago
2012, elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
2017-18, President, American Musicological Society
2020, Honorary Membership, American Musicological Society


Sample articles:

“Music Histories from the Edge,” co-authored with Nicholas Mathew, Representations, special issue on “Music and Sound at the Edges of History,” vol. 154, issue 1 (Spring 2021): 1-9, coedited with Nicholas Mathew

“Fugitive Voice,” Representations 154, no. 1 (Spring 2021): 10-22

 “Love, Race, and Resistance: The Fugitive Voice of Nina Simone,” in The Female Voice in the Twentieth Century: Material, Symbolic, and Aesthetic Dimensions, edited by Serena Facci and Michela Garda (New York and London: Routledge, 2021), Chap. 6, pp. 83-101

 “Voice Gap Crack Break,” in The Voice as Something More: Essays toward Materiality, coedited by Martha Feldman and Judith T. Zeitlin (University of Chicago Press, 2019), 188-208 

“The Castrato as a Rhetorical Figure,” in Rhetoric and Drama, edited by D.S. Mayfield (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017), pp. 71-96  

“Castrato Acts,” The Oxford Handbook of Opera, ed. Helen M. Greenwald (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 395-418 

“Denaturing the Castrato,” Opera Quarterly 24/3-4 (fall 2008): 178-199

“The Courtesan’s Voice: Petrarchan Lovers, Pop Philosophy, and Oral Traditions,” in The Courtesan’s Arts: Cross-cultural Perspectives, co-ed. with Bonnie Gordon (Oxford University Press, 2006), 103-23, 354-56

"Authors and Anonyms: Recovering the Anonymous Subject in Cinquecento Vernacular Objects," in Music and the Cultures of Print, ed. Kate van Orden (Garland Publishing Inc., 2000), 166-99

"Magic Mirrors and the Seria Stage: Thoughts toward a Ritual View," Journal of the American Musicological Society 48 (1995): 423-84

Selected Publications