2012: Steven Hummel, Named after distinguished musicologist Rufus Hallmark, Davidson class of 1965, the Rufus Hallmark Writing award recognizes the best essay on a musical topic written in the previous year. The music faculty is pleased to present the 2012 Hallmark award to Steven Hummel for his essay, “The Pitfalls of Familiarity: The Problematic Historiography of J.S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor BWV 565,” written for MUS 325 (Music History I) last fall. Dwelling on the ways music scholars have updated and revised their ideas about even extremely famous pieces of music, Hummel’s essay deftly tells the story of the work made so famous by its seeming ubiquity in horror films, the familiar lower mordents on the organ that accompany characters like the phantom of the opera, Captain Nemo, and Dr. Jekyll. Hummel turns to the conundrums raised by that North Carolina organist, Peter Williams, who questioned whether there was anything remotely accurate about the phrase “Toccata in D Minor for Organ by J.S. Bach.” Reminding us to question received ideas and to use our imagination and intellect when we think about music, Williams and Hummel remind us that even the music we think we know the best may still be full of mysteries.
2011: Brian Tapfar, "Salomone Rossi (Ebreo): An Analysis of Judaism in the Mantuan Court of Vincenzo I."
2010: Evan Eskew's essay, "Door to the Unconscious: Danny Elfman's Music for Hulk," written for MUS 228 (Film Music), studies how the repetition of a particular musical motif in Elfman's score "link[s] together the physical basis for Bruce [Banner's] mutant condition and the psychological trauma that eventually causes Bruce to ‘hulk-out' as an adult." Paying careful attention both to musical details as well as visual and thematic ones, Eskew elegantly weaves together a reading of the film that is well informed by film music theory, reminding us that close listening pays great dividends for those attempting to do a close viewing of a film.
2009: Mario Silva's essay, "Between Control and Freedom: The Middleground of Morton Feldman's Rothko Chapel," written for MUS 328, moves past the obvious connections of Feldman's style and the visual style of Abstract Expressionism into a more subtle reading of the dynamic conflict at work in this piece, an ongoing struggle, in Silva's words, "between melody and verticality," "between the viola and the choir," and indeed, "between Rothko's Jewish past and his own death." In viewing the composition as a meditation on the composer's own mortality, Silva finds in the music some of the most profound questions any person can ask.
2008: Parker Hobson. Engagingly written with a clear, confident voice, Parker’s essay "Mécanique romantique: A Neo-Romantic Analysis of the Ultramodern," written for MUS 328, does a remarkable job casting light on a work whose fame (or, more correctly, its infamy) tends to outshine its actual construction and stylistic details. That son of Kentucky, Parker Hobson, brings his own bad boy flair to the most famous piece by the original bad boy of music, George Antheil and his Ballet mécanique, arguing for a more nuanced understanding of its historical place in the spectrum of modernist styles while bringing to bear a rare talent for describing and analyzing a kind of music that too frequently slips between the cracks. Much more than simply an excuse to bring together loud noises on stage (most famous, perhaps, the airplane propellors), the Ballet mécanique expresses central anxieties about the rapidly building mechanization, and possible dehumanization, of human life in the early twentieth century. Parker employs striking analogies to make his points, as he does here: "Antheil went on record many times denouncing Stravinsky, even going so far as to call the mania surrounding him ‘Strawagnerism,' an insult, in anti-Wagner France, somewhere in the neighborhood of equating the Sex Pistols with Pat Boone."
2007: Molly Barnes, "Franz Josef Haydn: Humble Man of the People?" and Mejin Leechor, "The Old in the New: Ralph Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis."