Martha Feldman is a cultural historian of European vernacular musics, ca. 1500-1950, with a concentration on Italy. Her projects have explored the senses and sensibilities of listeners, the interplay of myth, festivity, and kingship in opera, issues of cinema, media, and voice, and various incarnations of the musical artist. Running throughout her work are questions about mediations between social, political, and artistic phenomena. Her first monograph, City Culture and the Madrigal at Venice (University of California Press, 1995; winner of the Bainton Prize of the Sixteenth-Century Society and Conference in conjunction with the Centre for Reformation Studies), dealt with madrigals within the civic culture of Renaissance Venice. Her Renaissance interests have extended to the music of courtesans, with results published in conjunction with an international team of scholars together with her graduate students in The Courtesan’s Arts: Cross-Cultural Perspectives(co-edited, Oxford, 2006; winner of the 2007 Ruth A. Solie Award of the American Musicological Society). In 2007, she published a book on 18th-century opera seria as a manifestation and refraction of changing notions of sovereignty and festivity during the later eighteenth century. That work, Opera and Sovereignty: Transforming Myths in Eighteenth-Century Italy, won the Gordon J. Laing Award of the University of Chicago Press (2010) for the faculty book "published in the previous three years that brings the Press the greatest distinction."
Feldman’s most recent book on castrati is based on her Bloch Lectures at Berkeley, given in fall 2007 while teaching as Ernest Bloch Visiting Professor of Music. Entitled 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 investigates different relationships of castrati over time to the natural and to innate kinds. Her current book project The Castrato Phantom: Moreschi, Fellini, and the Sacred Vernacular in Twentieth-Century Rome deals with the life and afterlife of the castrato phenomenon in Rome, in cinema, literature, and psychoanalysis. She is also preparing a co-edited volume on voice studies under the rubric A Voice as Something More for the University of Chicago Press, which emerges from The Voice Project, sponsored by the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, an interdisciplinary collaborative faculty research venture on which she was a principal investigator in 2013-2016.
Feldman’s work has been funded by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation for Research in Venice, the American Association of University Women, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Getty Research Institute, the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Philosophical Society, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the American Musicological Society, The University of Chicago, and The Franke Humanities Institute. In 1998-99 she held an invited year-long position as a Getty Scholar at the Getty Research Institute. In 2010 she was a visiting professor at the Università degli Studi di Pavia at Cremona, Dipartimento di scienze musicologiche e paleografico-filologiche. She has served on the boards of the Cambridge Opera Journal, the Opera Quarterly, Echo, the American Musicological Society, Opera Cabal, the Franke Institute for the Humanities, the Logan Arts Center, and the Journal of the American Musicological Society, and has assumed leadership positions in programming major meetings of the American Musicological Society, the International Musicological Society, and the Renaissance Society of America.
Feldman was awarded the Dent Medal from the Royal Musical Association for outstanding work in musicology in 2001 and the Graduate Teaching Award of the University of Chicago in 2009. She is a Resource Faculty member in the Committee on Cinema and Media Studies (1995-), and Affiliated Faculty with the Center for Gender Studies (1995-). In 2012, she was inducted as a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Since November 2016 she has been President of the American Musicological Society.
In addition to Music, Feldman is on the faculty of Romance Languages and Literatures and is a member of the Faculty Committee of Theater and Performance Studies.