We are pleased to announce the two winners of the national 2018 Alexander Stephan Undergraduate Essay Prize in German Studies ! The German-language prize has been awarded to Joshua R. Peterson, a junior at Stanford University, and the English-language prize goes to Emily Durell of Albright College.
Josh Petersen's essay is titled „Das Vorleben von Lulu: Die Gedicht-Lied-Beziehung in Alban Berg‘s Mignon (Jugendlieder ohne Op., 1907).“ This lucidly written, truly interdisciplinary essay makes a highly original contribution to scholarship on Alban Berg’s famous opera Lulu (composed from 1929–1935, but left incomplete) and on Berg research as a whole, by arguing for the composer’s long-standing and deep engagement with Goethe’s late-18th-century novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, the paradigmatic ‚novel of education‘ or ‚formation‘ (Bildungsroman). Petersen carefully analyzes the musical form and text-music relationships of Berg’s early song Mignon (completed in 1907), which is based on Goethe’s eponymous poem, included in his novel Wilhelm Meister, in order to show that Berg’s song stays true to Goethe’s mysterious and sexually ambiguous figure of Mignon and her tragic love for Wilhelm. On the basis of the analysis of Berg’s song Mignon, Petersen suggests, convincingly, that the allusions to the figure of Mignon in the composer’s much later, similarly tragic opera Lulu (Alwa says to Lulu: „Mignon, I love you“) constitute not, as others have claimed, an echo but a critique of Ambroise Thomas’s popular opera Mignon (1866) in which Wilhelm and Mignon find a happy end. From this demonstration of Berg’s long-standing musical engagement with literature, Petersen concludes that scholars should take Berg’s early works more seriously than they have in the past, and that these neglected works may hold many more clues to his complex and often-enigmatic, celebrated operas. Combining musical and literary analysis from a historical perspective, „Das Vorleben von Lulu“ makes a significant contribution to the fields of both Musicology and German Studies.
Emily Durell's essay is titled “The Fatherland and Fatherhood: Children and Family in Great War German Postcards.” Through a careful analysis of images and thoughtful historical and cultural contextualization, the essay demonstrates the ways in which seemingly trivial postcards sent during World War I reflect the ways in which broader German society struggled to come to terms with the political and social ramifications of its value system. Durell convincingly defines an effective methodology to negotiate the difficulties in working with multimedia artifacts produced by multiple hands, resulting in persuasive readings situated within a robust discussion of shifting German concepts of home, masculinity, and childhood. Although no single meaning can be derived from the images, their carefully staged themes and compelling lack of connection with reality, as Durell puts it, facilitated the projection of adults’ emotions and expressions of a world they wished they created. The essay is meticulously researched, clearly organized, and nicely written. “The Fatherland and Fatherhood” combines outstanding academic quality and originality to makes an important contribution to German Studies.
Congratulations to both writers! The 2018 prize committee wishes to thank all of the students for their fine submissions this year. We are already looking forward to next year's competition.