The Performer's Voice: Timbre and Expression in Twentieth-Century Vocal Music


ACLS Fellowship Program



Named Award

ACLS Susan McClary and Robert Walser Fellow named award


When encountering the human voice, the tone color, or timbre, of that vocal sound fundamentally shapes how one perceives meaning. Timbre is central to all music, but is not commonly discussed in detail given our limited vocabulary. The exploration of timbral possibilities in all forms of vocal music in the twentieth century was far reaching. This study investigates how European and US composers and performers of vocal music wielded timbre as a tool of expression. By analyzing and comparing art and popular examples, the project reveals striking continuities and connections in the history of twentieth-century music. Musicians explored the continuum between speech and song, employed nonverbal sounds and experimental techniques, and enlisted technology to create virtual voices. “The Performer’s Voice” develops new analytical and interpretive approaches to the expressive role of timbre and focuses intently on specific vocal performances, offering models for studying the performance experience.