Under some rare conditions a man's voice does not break as he moves from boyhood through adolescence into adulthood; two examples of such conditions are puberphonia and Kallmann's syndrome.

For example, singers with an unbroken adult male voice include Michael Maniaci and Jon Anderson.

I was under the impression that the term counter tenor referred to singers who had trained their falsetto voice to be powerful enough and to have sufficient range to cover much of the music written for castrati (and of course the twentieth and twenty-first century music written especially for the counter tenor voice). I think of Alfred Deller as the pioneer of this voice type on stage (though I believe it was common in English church choirs before then).

With this definition adult male sopranos or trebles whose voice never broke are not countertenors. Perhaps a similar question is whether castrati are counter tenors, and I think the answer is clearly "no".

Are adult male trebles counter tenors?

  • I'd have said castrati. Maybe not sexually, but certainly vocally.
    – Tim
    Dec 14, 2014 at 12:08
  • I think a term like castrato is about the biology of the singer. I'd like to understand if the term 'counter tenor' is a description of the way that the vocal range is attained or a description of the range itself. I'm guessing that the definition of the term 'counter tenor' is not yet settled enough to authoritatively answer the question but it's worth a try.
    – dumbledad
    Dec 14, 2014 at 12:14

1 Answer 1


"Countertenor" is not a well-defined term. It was sort of coined by Alfred Deller, having a more masculine flair than "male alto" (originally just "alto" as differentiated from the female "contralto"). Deller's beard also served to stress the "male" character of the singer. Male altos at the time were quite established in English choiral singing but not typical for solistic performances.

As the term is of comparably recent origin, it does not really apply to music types before its time and does not really have a useful musicological definition. It is a marketing term. Depending on their stylistic choices, some high register singers rather label themselves "male alto" or "male soprano".

Regarding the vocal character, singers preferring the "male alto" label usually are firmly in the "sounds like a female" camp whereas the rare "male soprano" tends to be harder to characterize as his vocal type is due to more than "just training". If they even have a "real voice" type, it tends to be the rare "true tenor" which has no problems scouring even higher tenor passages in chest voice or somewhat lightened head voice.

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