by Ethan Evans

Grand Prize Winner, Visual Category
The Monster Challenge 

Program Notes for Dialogue

I wrote Dialogue for Washington University’s “Music for Frankenstein” concert, in honor of the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s classic novel. Frankenstein lies within the genre of gothic fiction, but it deals with countless themes that define the Romantic period in literature: the search for the sublime, revenge between man and creature, and the tragic disjointedness and failure to communicate that characterize the human experience. These themes are all made flesh in Frankenstein’s monster itself.  The monster is not necessarily a creature of evil, but the failures of its creator, and the harsh and quick judgment of the outside world, make it a product of evil.

In Dialogue, the monster’s theme is simple, relatively unambiguous, perhaps a little odd. After the orchestra sets the tone, you can hear the theme for the first time in full, presented on the solo piano. The theme is inspired by the works of Romantic and Late-Romantic composers, particularly Frederic Chopin, and the romanticism of classic movie scores. Rather than reflect the horrific circumstances of the monster’s creation, the solo piano gets at what I believe to be at the core of the creature: desire for companionship, admiration of virtue, and capacity for kindness.

But slowly, the “outside world,” as represented by the orchestra, begins to creep in again, challenging the theme, corrupting its behavior, and transforming it into the monster.

The two worlds crash against one another. Between the piano and orchestra, between harmonic complexity and harmonic clarity, between classical music and film scoring – there is no dialogue between the worlds, only misunderstanding.

The chaos escalates. Perhaps there are moments of potential de-escalation, but recklessness and selfishness continue to build hard barriers between the monster and humanity. Its theme further distorts itself, and the intensity builds until it snaps, amid death and destruction.

But Shelley’s novel doesn’t end there.  

The final section explores “that which might have been.” What might the monster have been contemplating as he cried over Victor’s body, or as he wandered off into the arctic? Rather than express the desolation of the monster’s final moments, the final section explores, in an impressionistic, dream-like fashion, the “ideal world” that the monster, and perhaps its creator, were searching for.

Shelley’s Frankenstein, despite its fantastical plot, carries themes that are universal to the human experience, and therefore has maintained cultural relevance for over two centuries. Now more than ever it seems the message of Frankenstein cries out to be heard. Today the human race lives amidst worlds colliding. Globalism versus tribalism, bigotry versus acceptance, revolution versus establishment. Frankenstein cautions against the dangers of revenge, of rage, and implores the reader to seek empathy, enable a dialogue. My hope is that this composition contributes towards keeping that message alive.