2020-2021 Dean's Essay Prize Winners

First Prize: Andrew Hon
Essay: “From Passion to Compassion: The Opposites and Uniformity of David Lang’s the little match girl passion (2007)”
Prize: $1,000.

With the flourishing of the Passion genre at the turn of the twenty-first century, there also arose a trend in dechristianization of the genre, giving rise to Passion settings with narratives not centered on Christ. One of the most well-known and performed works of this new trend is David Lang’s the little match girl passion (2007), which takes influence from J. S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, but “replaces” the suffering of Jesus with that of H. C. Andersen’s little match girl. The poor girl, not unlike Jesus in the traditional Passion, is portrayed as an outcast of the society. But the allegorical character represents more than an individual in that she embodies the lower class that suffers under the capitalist system. Through a retelling of the Andersen story in a post-minimalist framework, Lang’s Passion renounces the myth of progress, challenges the status quo, and contemplates change.

The original tale by Andersen is one of many opposites: violence and love; poverty and wealth; struggle and redemption; life and death. These dualities are largely retained in the little match girl passion, mitigated by the uniformity of Lang’s hallmark post-minimalist style. This paper examines Lang’s Passion focusing on its musical dualities and uniformity. It will also illustrate how these opposing and unifying forces can elicit emotional response in the listener and create meanings, both musically and extra-musically, in light of social justice issues.

Second Prize: Thomas Posen
Essay: “From “Radical Blunders” to Compositional Solutions: A Form-Functional Perspective on Beethoven’s Early Eroica Continuity-Sketches”
Prize: $500.

In 1802, Beethoven began working on what would become one of his largest and most discussed works: the third symphony in E♭ major, "The Eroica.” Beethoven drafted his musical ideas for the work in what we now call "The Eroica Sketchbook," the most famous of all his sketchbooks. The sketches to the Eroica have fascinated scholars for nearly one and a half centuries, beginning with Gustav Nottebohm’s pioneering work in the late nineteenth century. More recently in 2013, Lewis Lockwood and Alan Gosman finished transcribing the complete sketchbook into modern legible music notation, which has led to a resurged interest in his compositional approach for the piece.

Beethoven’s compositional process to the first movement of the Eroica has long vexed scholars. Many of his early drafts have been interpreted as “failed experiments” or even “radical blunders.” In this paper, I reappraise these supposed problems by (1) reconstructing the early single-line continuity sketches to the first movement, (2) by analyzing the reconstructions with form function theory (Caplin, 1998, 2013), and (3) by performing the sketches as if they were viable pieces. I suggest, for example, that the sketches show Beethoven’s many innovative approaches for problematizing a lyrical subordinate theme in order to elevate rhetorically the arrival of a new lyrical theme late in the development. In short, by reorienting the analyst to valorize the sketches with the well-defined theory of formal functions instead of critiquing them with imprecise traditional sonata theories, this paper develops new insights into Beethoven’s compositional process for one of his most celebrated pieces.

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