Describing the Countertenor Voice, Ctd



In a previous post, I ended with the question Is there really no other way to describe the countertenor voice without comparing it to a woman or a choirboy?

The answer is a clear “yes,” of course, there are other ways.

American composer John Adams removes gender altogether from the equation, avoiding the usual clichés. In a blog post about his celebrated work EL NIÑO, which incorporates a countertenor trio, Adams relates to the voice in a particular way.

“The genderless purity of the countertenor voices lends an air of archaic mystery and devotion to the music, making it resonate in curious ways with music from the Middle Ages. The three of them carry the narrative weight of work, although at times they embody character roles—the angel Gabriel at one point, and the three Magi kings at another.

With their perfectly tuned and blended three-part harmonies, gave the work an aura of unforced grace and Giotto-like simplicity.”

He seems to perceive the voice as a transcendent being—neither of this world nor of our time, neither male nor female. That the countertenor trio personify the angel Gabriel is no surprise. In general, Angels are a paradox, they have gender and are devoid of it (as well as sexuality).

The description above gives insight into the vivid imagination of one of today’s most influential composers and adds an interesting wrinkle to the discourse on the countertenor voice.

Read More: “How Could This Happen?” by John Adams.

(John Adams; photo: Deborah O’Grady)

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