How do hearing-impaired individuals perceive music? Just what dream of huge success is suggested to young people by TV talent shows? How do societal structures influence the development of individual musical taste? What do the everyday lives of performers in musicals look like after the curtain has fallen on all the glitz and glamor? How are gender stereotypes represented in film and reproduced in Hollywood movies?

Answers to these intriguing questions are provided by the five “pre-academic research theses” for which the 2023 mdw young research award was conferred. The authors of the winning theses were presented with their awards by mdw Rector Ulrike Sych at a ceremony held in the concert hall of the Future Art Lab on 27 September 2023. The evening’s musical programme was inspired by their chosen themes and ranged from an homage to Evelyn Glennie with various percussion instruments to a self-reflective performance with clarinet and on to a medley of songs from the musicals My Fair Lady, Elisabeth, and The Phantom of the Opera. The awardees, for their part, spoke to the audience about their motivations, selection of topics, and approaches.

From left: Paula Schardax, Celina Zier, Rector Ulrike Sych, Sophia Elisa Aitzetmüller, Athina Tschurtschenthaler, Katharina Felzmann © Nane Holly

2023 marks the first time that this award, the result of a cooperative effort between the Department of Music Education Research, Music Didactics and Elementary Music Education (IMP) and the Office of Research Support, has been offered. A total of 63 theses were submitted by final-year school students who engaged in research on a diversity of themes having to do with music and the performing arts at large. For every thesis, an mdw-based reviewer was found whose expert assessment then served the interdisciplinary jury as a basis for its decisions. Important award criteria were the originality of the questions asked, the stringency of argumentation, and authors’ creative and critical engagement with the topics at hand. Over the course of this process, the mdw young research award grew into a university-wide initiative that involved 14 departments and a total of 45 reviewers. The mdw extends its congratulations to the following five 2023 mdw young research award winners:

  • Sophia Elisa Aitzetmüller: Wer nicht hören kann, muss fühlen: Analyse der Musikwahrnehmung bei hochgradiger Schwerhörigkeit anhand des Beispiels Evelyn Glennie [Those Who Cannot Hear Must Feel: Analysis of Music Perception Among the Severely Hearing-Impaired in Light of the Case of Evelyn Glennie] (BG/BRG Gmunden)
  • Katharina Felzmann: Musikalische Castingshows und ihre Wirkung auf Jugendliche [Musical TV Talent Shows and their Effect on Young People] (Gymnasium Neusiedl am See)
  • Paula Schardax: A Gendered Gaze – Feminist Film Theories Applied to Selected Marvel Movies (Gymnasium Werndlpark, Steyr)
  • Athina Tschurtschenthaler: Musikalische Sozialisation – Individuell – Soziologisch – Kulturpolitisch [Musical Socialisation – Individually, Sociologically, and Culturo-Politically] (Oberstufengymnasium Zams)
  • Celina Zier: Ausbildungspraxis und Karrieremöglichkeiten von Musicaldarsteller*innen [Training Practices and Career Opportunities for Musical Theatre Performers] (BG/BRG Wien XXII Contiweg)

“Not only we, but also the mdw evaluators and jury members were elated by the enthusiasm of these young adults, whom we wish all the best for their paths forward!” stated the organisers.


Since 2014, the pre-academic research thesis (Vorwissenschaftliche Arbeit – VWA) or diploma thesis has been a component of the Matura, Austria’s secondary school exit exam. It provides final-year students with an opportunity to engage in depth with topics of their own choice, gathering initial experience working in an academic manner as they pursue their research. Though awards recognising outstanding theses pertaining to the natural sciences, equality, gender research, and European topics have existed for quite some time, Austria had still lacked a nationwide award for which the 350-to-400 VWAs and diploma theses concerning music and other performing arts were eligible. The mdw young research award facilitates stronger contact between the University and schools while also enhancing the visibility of the disciplines represented here. This corresponds to the University’s societal responsibility of promoting dialogue between the arts, research, and pedagogy as part of its “Third Mission”.

Further information as well as abstracts of all recognised works:

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