How do you interpret Heartbreak?: A prototype theory based approach to understanding genre's effect on musical persona

Madeline N. McLean


When developing a performance of a song, many factors are important to keep in mind. One crucial element is the development of a “vocal protagonist” or persona, which is the projection of the character created through combining text, melody, and accompaniment. This thesis uses how a song relates to others in its genre to inform what persona is projected and how a singer can communicate this persona in performance. I analyze the “heartbroken love song” genre in both opera arias and popular music. This thesis defines genre membership based on Rosch’s prototype theory, which defines examples as prototypical or atypical members based on common features determined by analyzing multiple songs (a corpus study). I determine weighted features such as melodic contour, harmonic composition, timber, and tempo that are necessary to be a prototypical member of the genre. The prototypical and atypical nature of “Ach ich fühl’s” (Di Zauberflöte, Mozart), “Porgi Amor (Le Nozze de Figaro, Mozart), “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (Bonnie Raitt), and “All I Ask” (Adele) will inform performance choices such as vocal timbre, body language, and facial expression that help create a persona that reinforces its typicality regarding category membership.