In celebration of their musicological scholarship, two UChicago doctoral students recently received fellowships from the American Musicological Society, reinforcing the University’s prominent presence among award winners. Jessica Gabriel Peritz and Tommaso Sabbatini were the recipients of the 2018 Alvin H. Johnson AMS 50 Dissertation Award. Their two dissertation awards represented half of the four AMS dissertation awards given in 2018. Peritz also received the AMS Paul A. Pisk Prize.
The AMS 50 Dissertation Award grants one-year fellowships of $22,000 to each recipient, based solely on academic merit, and is intended to support the completion of the fellow’s doctoral dissertation.
Writing about the Italian lyric mode of voice in song and subjectivity from 1769 to 1815, Peritz’s dissertation addresses cultural conceptions of voice in connection with emotion and selfhood, and explores how 18th-century anxieties about the virtuosic voices of Italian opera contributed to an ideological link between voice and subjectivity in Western culture.
Her dissertation contends “That to both redeem voice and redefine the nature of political power, reformist singers and intellectuals rebranded Italy’s most famous cultural export as an agent of moral edification.”
Her thesis adviser, Martha Feldman, said, “Her work is deeply researched because Jessica delves into the archives. She has the ability to think critically and use language that is rich and eloquent, as well as incorporating original sources.”
Feldman further praised Peritz, who uses her own voice to record examples for her work, as a wonderful singer, with a velvety, rich soprano voice with fabulous low notes.
“Her voice and research is revising our notion of voice and subjectivity in Italy during this period,” said Feldman, the Mabel Greene Myers Professor of Music at UChicago.
Sabbatini’s dissertation, “Music, the Market, and the Marvelous: Parisian Féerie and the Emergence of Mass Culture, 1864–1900,” examines féerie, an overlooked but significant genre in 19th-century French theater, by building on extensive archival research in Paris and on the interdisciplinary convergence of theater, film, and media studies.
“Tommaso’s groundbreaking dissertation explores the fascinating genre of féerie (French fairy play)—a forgotten paragon of popular art,” said Berthold Hoeckner, professor of Music and chair in the Department of Music. “The féerie takes the form of theater with music that belonged to the multifaceted world of 19th-century Parisian theater, which resembled and anticipated 20th-century mass culture.”
Sabbatini tells the unheard story of fin de siècle féerie by overcoming disciplinary boundaries among musicology, theater scholarship, and film and media studies, as well as challenging methodological assumptions about authorship, textual stability, and the autonomy of the work of art.
In his dissertation, Sabbatini argues that féerie is exemplary of the 19th-century transition to modern mass culture, and proposes a broader field of “theater with music” by expanding on musicological research on melodrama, recent French theater historiography, and early film scholarship.
For Peritz, the Pisk Prize was awarded to her paper “Luigia Todi’s Timbre: The Enlightening ‘Social Utility’ of Female Voice in 1790s Italy.” The Pisk Prize is given to a graduate music student for a scholarly paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society.
Peritz’s paper interprets the unusual reception of opera singer Luigia Todi in 1790s Venice as a means of engaging with shifting discourses around female voices, bodies, and subjectivities in late 18th-century Italy. She argues that vocal sounds and the knowledge they seemed to reveal about a (gendered) self were heard through twin fantasies of female suffering and maternal voice.
While 2018 is the first time two UChicago graduate students have won the AMS Dissertation Awards, Seth Brodsky, UChicago Associate Professor in Music, received the 2018 Lewis Lockwood Award from AMS. Previous UChicago graduate student winners for the AMS Dissertation Awards include Maria Josefa Velasco in 2016 and Claudio Vellutini in 2014.