Gina Bombola
Can’t Help Singing: The Modern “Opera” Diva in Hollywood Film, 1930 ̶ 1955
(under the direction of Annegret Fauser)

Following the release of Columbia Pictures’ surprise smash hit, One Night of Love (1934), major studios sought to cash in on the public’s burgeoning interest in films featuring opera singers. For a brief period thereafter, renowned Metropolitan Opera artists such as Grace Moore and Lily Pons fared well at the box office, bringing “elite” musical culture to general audiences for a relatively inexpensive price. By the 1940s, however, the studios had begun grooming their own “operatic” actresses instead of transplanting celebrities from the Met, and stars like Deanna Durbin, Kathryn Grayson, and Jane Powell quickly became ambassadors of opera from the highly commercial studio lot.

Contextualized within the changing social and political landscapes of the United States—from the Great Depression to the beginning of the Cold War—my dissertation traces the shifts in film production and marketing of operatic singers in association with the rise of such cultural phenomena as the music-appreciation movement. Furthermore, I draw on archival research, film analysis, and cultural history to examine the construction and reception of the female operatic voice in respect to gender, class, and racial identities. Although Hollywood, like the radio and the recording industry, made operatic singing more accessible to the general public, it in turn heightened the public’s expectations for movie-star glamour and realistic acting in live opera performances.

John Caldwell
“Songs from the Other Side: The Lives of Pakistani Music in India”
(under the direction of Michael Figueroa)

This dissertation investigates the phenomenon of Pakistani music crossing the border into India in the decades since Partition (1947). I approach this project from several angles, looking at musicians, works, sites of collaboration, recordings, performances, and audience reception with an emphasis on the role of music in forging national, transnational, and regional communities in spite of political onflict. Although the border-crossing happens in both directions, I will primarily investigate Pakistan-to-India cultural flows, because in some sense these happen “against the grain,” with India being the culturally dominant entity in the region and a site of majoritarian resistance to Pakistani and Muslim cultural expression. Although the Indian film industry legitimized some Pakistani music, other music, particularly the ghazal genre, was often transmitted in the form of LP and cassette recordings, hand-carried from Pakistan into India and played at student coffee shops and private gatherings. In order to reconstruct this informal history, one component of my dissertation will be an ethnography of Indian listeners and fans who discovered Pakistani music in the 1960s and 1970s and formed its core audiences. In other case studies I will explore how music inhabits the border itself, specifically at the symbolic Wagah border crossing, and how offshore recording studios and television companies bring Pakistani music into contest and collaboration with Indian music. More broadly, I seek to understand the strategies of resistance inscribed in “music from the other side”—the symbols and icons deployed, the networks formed, and the narratives produced.

Christopher Campo-Bowen
“We Shall Remain Faithful”: Gender, Nationalism, and the Village Mode in Czech Opera, 1866-1916
(under the direction of Annegret Fauser)

At the outset of what is arguably the most famous of all Czech operas, Bedřich Smetana’s The Bartered Bride of 1866, two young lovers sing the words “zůstaneme věrni sobě”—“we shall remain faithful to each other.” This scene and these words were evoked in the eulogy for the legendary Czechoslovak president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk in 1937, capturing the powerful hold this opera and the country village it presented had on Czech culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In my dissertation, I argue that the ideal of village life held significant sway in operas throughout this period as the roots of Czech society. It epitomized normative ideas about gender and class as well as how these reflected the larger idea of the Czech nation, which in turn influenced the ways that Czech nationalism was constituted by various facets of society over the latter half of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Operas playing on the village setting used the concept flexibly, displaying a wide variety of social and communal possibilities.

I will focus on four case studies: Smetana’s Prodaná nevěsta [The Bartered Bride] (1866) and Dvě vdovy [The Two Widows] (1874), Antonín Dvořák’s Čert a Káča [The Devil and Kate] (1899), and Janáček’s Její pastorkyňa [Jenůfa] (1904). This dissertation will work towards two mutually interlinked and reinforcing goals, one theoretical and one historical. As to the former, I aim to explicate the village as a kind of operatic mode, whereby composers could encode social and political ideas through a uniquely constituted setting, though this is not to assume that all potentially political gestures were consciously put there. In the historical vein, I will provide an account of the ways in which these operas were influenced by and exerted influence on Czech culture. Through historical analysis and especially through my explorations of gender and nationalism, my dissertation will also engage with opera in Europe more broadly conceived.

Joanna Helms
“Electronic Music History Through the Everyday: The RAI Studio di Fonologia (1954–83)”
(under the direction of Andrea Bohlman)

The Studio di Fonologia Musicale (SdF, 1954–83) at Italian state radio and television broadcasting company Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI) was founded in the context of national post-war cultural rebuilding efforts, European avant-garde discourses, and a worldwide boom in experimental music research centers. These centers, associated with universities, industrial manufacturers, and (as in the case of the SdF) mass media networks, served as sites of creative exchange among international and local networks of artistic and technical collaborators. The SdF hosted numerous composers of not only art music, but also of music for documentaries and dramatic works intended specifically for broadcast on radio and television. Existing research on the SdF centers on the art-music outputs of a select group of internationally prestigious Italian composers (namely Luciano Berio, Bruno Maderna, and Luigi Nono), offering limited windows into the social life, technological everyday, and collaborative discourse that characterized the institution during its nearly three decades of continuous operation. This historiographical preference reflects a larger trend within post-war electronic music histories to emphasize the production of a core group of intellectuals—mostly art-music composers—at a few key sites such as Paris, Cologne, and New York.

With this dissertation, I supplement and reorient existing histories by suggesting an alternative understanding of the Studio through the lens of everyday operations and presenting a continuous history of the SdF as a space. I rebuild the Studio’s boundaries and reach through a study of its technology, personal and professional networks, and mass media audiences. I emphasize the role of technology at the SdF, considering the equipment and techniques available there as prominent members of a network of human and technological actors whose actions resulted in the creation of electronic and experimental music. The other members of this network include not only the composers who came to work there, but also employees associated with the Studio including longtime sound engineer Marino Zuccheri and RAI executives, in addition to the performers, playwrights, and directors who worked on a variety of projects. The final, vital part of these networks were Italian radio and television audiences—as well as art-music audiences in the concert hall—who experienced the music produced at the Studio in a variety of public and domestic listening settings. Situating an experimental studio within such a diffuse network positions the SdF as a part of the Italian cultural landscape of the mid-twentieth century and as a space that operated in both avant-garde and mass-media cultural spheres.

Megan Ross
“The Critical Reception of Beethoven’s String Quartet in C# Minor, Op. 131”
(under the direction of Mark Evan Bonds)

Beethoven’s late string quartets have long been considered paradigmatic of the composer’s late works.  Of these, Op. 131 emerged early on as the quintessential late quartet.  My study examines the history of our understanding of this work across nearly two centuries of reception. The critical reception of Op. 131 serves as a paradigm for the reception of Beethoven’s late quartets and his late style in general.

The most important critical and creative responses have interpreted this work through approaches that include biography, theoretical analysis, critical interpretation, sketch studies, and compositional influence. My account within each of these broader approaches is chronological, drawing on reception theory in the field of Beethoven studies, musicology, and literary criticism.  The critical reception of Op. 131 thus has broader relevance in terms of Beethoven studies writ large, the history of the string quartet, and the development of the fields of music criticism and musicology.

Stephen Stacks
“Keep on Walkin’: The Afterlife of the Freedom Songs in America”
(under the direction of David Garcia)

The conventional historiography of the American Civil Rights Movement marks the beginning of its decline in 1968, with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and increasing internal dysfunction within SNCC (Student Nonviolent/National Coordinating Committee). Group singing of “freedom songs” characterized protests and mass meetings and played a vital role throughout the heaviest period of activism from the early 1950s to the late 1960s. Movement participants gathered the songs came from many sources—spirituals, Black church hymnody, labor songs, R&B—and put them to use in the collective action of the movement, adapting the music and the lyrics to fit specific circumstances and address contemporary concerns. Very little scholarship, however, has addressed the usage of these songs in the long shadow of the movement, as people sang, recorded, and interpreted them in light of new political concerns and in new contexts, often contesting their meaning and what they say about the movement itself.

Each time a freedom song appears after the movement, it contains both the symbolic weight it gained during the political action of the movement itself and the added meanings the new performers and new contexts inject. The central purpose of my dissertation is to rethink the contested legacy of the freedom songs—not as static tools for a social movement that ended fifty years ago, but as a continually reinterpreted and repurposed musical repertory whose appropriation facilitates the construction of specific memories of the movement and provides political capital for various individuals and groups. Through ethnography, archival research, and analysis of media I will examine the use of the freedom songs in four contexts since 1968: protest movements, performance, and film, and sound recording. Not only will this project address an overlooked area in the study of civil rights music and provide a model for future inquiry, but it will also enrich understanding of how political songs function when removed from the immediate political contexts and mobilized by new participants in new circumstances. Lastly, it will speak to the uses of music in the construction of historical memory and the ways in which these constructions reflect and affect political and cultural climates.

David VanderHamm
“The Social Construction of Virtuosity: Skill, Value, and Musical Labor in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries”
(under the direction of Mark Katz)

The central argument of this dissertation is that virtuosity is socially constructed. It is not that there is no such thing as skill, but that virtuosity is a social phenomenon that centers on skill made conspicuous in a public context where it is understood and experienced in culturally and historically specific ways. The primary research question guiding this study concerns how discourses of skill and displays of musical labor produce value and meaning within varying practices. I explore these questions through three case studies that demonstrate how different understandings of skill are formed and made subsequently conspicuous through performance, discourse, and media. The first case study considers the construction of a “down-home” virtuosity in the early country music radio broadcasts of the 1930s. The second deals with the cosmopolitan virtuosity of Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin, and the ways that skill and cross-cultural adaptability become especially prized (and mutually dependent) with the contemporary example of Béla Fleck. The third case study considers virtuosity from the disciplinary viewpoint of disability studies, using guitarists (some of whom are physically disabled) from several 20th century genres to consider the ways in which technologies accommodate different bodies and how bodily difference is given meaning.

The musicians who perform within virtuosic frames of understanding display bodily skill that is at once intensely personal and irreducibly social. By arguing that virtuosity is not simply a fact about a performer’s body that audiences encounter but a social experience that they help construct, I foreground issues of identity and valuation within musical experience. Even in the mediated listening of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, many people continue to value music not as an independent “sonorous object,” but as a particular type of human labor undertaken by musicians who exemplify culturally specific notions of agency and subjectivity. Though virtuosity ultimately takes place within the public sphere of the marketplace, it is shaped by values that overflow the economic to include the aesthetic and ethical.

Oren Vinogradov
“Theorizing Program Music: Schumann, Liszt, and Wagner as Critic-Composers”
(under the direction of Mark Evan Bonds)

My dissertation examines how a limited group of German composers actively shaped conflicting discourses about program music in the period between 1830 and 1865. I approach these discourses through a systematic reconsideration of composers as serious public intellectuals. The definition of program music developed into a heated philosophical conflict between opposing factions of musical aesthetics, each headed by a highly public critic-composer who promoted their own prescriptions for programmaticism. This project focuses attention on three composers who built their careers by influencing public opinion through music criticism: Robert Schumann (1810-1856), Franz Liszt (1811-1886), and Richard Wagner (1813-1883).

The traditional historical narrative holds that Romantic composers considered program music a unique aesthetic product, distinct from “characteristic” instrumental music, or incidental dramatic music. I propose instead that programmaticism was a particular quality within the music of multiple avant-garde movements, each of which vied for political control of program music’s public definition. This complicates previous suggestions that program music was conceived solely in opposition to absolute instrumental music. My research concerns the combined philosophical and musical-political motivations behind individual critic-composers’ public acceptance or rejection of specific extramusical content within their definition of programmaticism. Alongside close readings of their public writing, I investigate how these critic-composers managed their allied factions, and so regulated audiences’ exposure to opposing theories of expressive abstraction. The exploration of these rhetorical networks as musical-political influences on critic-composers provides a more refined perspective on how German Romantic composers constructed original philosophical ideas about aesthetic experience in general.

Jennifer Walker
“Crossing the Divide: Music, Religion, and Politics in Third-Republic France, 1880-1905”
(under the direction of Annegret Fauser)

Military defeat, political and civil turmoil, and a growing unrest between Catholic traditionalists and increasingly secular Republicans formed the basis of a deep-seated identity crisis in Third Republic France. As the divide between church and state widened on the political stage, however, musicians frequently began to bridge the gap by composing increasingly religious—even liturgical—music for performance in decidedly secular venues, including elite salons, popular cabaret theaters, and prestigious opera houses. This “crossover” music, along with its performance and reception, challenges the current historiography of Third-Republic France that emphasizes a sharp break between the Church and the “secular” Republic. My dissertation draws on new archival research to provide an alternative acoustic historiography of the Third Republic that suggests that music created a channel through which a more cohesive French national identity was constructed—one that was simultaneously sacred and secular.