Martha Feldman is a cultural historian whose work centers on vernacular musics, especially Italian, from 1500 to the present. 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 and the Centre for Reformation Studies), dealt with madrigals in the civic culture of Renaissance Venice. Her Renaissance interests have extended to the music of courtesans, with results published with international scholars and 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). Her 2007 book on 18th-century opera seria as a manifestation and refraction of changing notions of sovereignty, myth, and festivity 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 book on castrati, based on her Bloch Lectures at Berkeley, The Castrato: Reflections on Natures and Kinds (University of California Press, 2015, winner of the Otto Kinkeldey Award of the American Musicological Society), investigates different relationships of castrati 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 cinema, literature, and psychoanalysis. Her most recent book is the co-edited The Voice as Something More: Essays toward Materiality (University of Chicago Press, 2019), which emerged 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. Currently she is working across theories and practices of castrato, trans*, and raced singers, leading to a spring 2020 seminar and international conference titled “Errant Voices: Performances beyond Measure.”
Besides the Getty Research Institute, 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 American Council of Learned Societies, the American Philosophical Society, the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Musicological Society, University of Chicago, and The Franke Humanities Institute. In 1998-99 she was an invited 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 American Musicological Society, the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, the Franke Institute for the Humanities, the Logan Center for the Arts, the Cambridge Opera Journal, the Opera Quarterly, Echo: A Music-Centered Journal, the Journal of Musicology, Rivista Chigiana, and the Journal of the American Musicological Society. She has also assumed leadership positions in programming annual conferences 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 term faculty in Romance Languages and Literatures (2014-20), on the faculty of Theater and Performance Studies, and serves as Affiliated Faculty with the Center for Studies in Gender and Sexuality. In 2012, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2016-18 served as President of the American Musicological Society.