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The Imagery of Evil in Modern Piano Works: Exploring the Diabolical Elements in N. Lincoln Hanks' Monstre Sacré and Lowell Liebermann's Gargoyles

Yanbing Dong, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This study examines music that evokes a variety of evil imagery in programmatic piano works. Compositions that conjure monster imagery were written throughout the entire Romantic and Impressionistic periods, and up through the contemporary period. Notable compositions in this category include Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz and Sonata in B Minor, Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, Prokofiev’s Suggestion Diabolique, Liebermann’s Gargoyles, and N. Lincoln Hanks’ Monstre Sacré. As a dark force in shaping musical ethos, monster music not only serves as a religious symbol of evil paving the way for the arrival of the saint (as in Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor), but also plays a dramatic role in illuminating the music narrative. Therefore, an intriguing aspect of this study is the exploration of the compositional thought process through their personification of the monster. Crucial to the creation of monster music are the extra-musical elements that fascinate composers and satisfy their fantasies through music. The evolution of the pianoforte is another contributor; its expanded range of register and dynamics allow more extensive musical imagery than was previously possible. This study focuses specifically on the monster imagery in Hanks’ Monstre Sacré and Liebermann’s Gargoyles Op. 29. I will compare the demonic music of both works in terms of formal design, traditional versus nontraditional tonality, variant harmony, dramatic thematic material, innovative scales and textures, complex rhythm, and virtuosity. This document is divided into three chapters: a survey of the imagery of evil in keyboard literature, an analysis of Hanks’ Monstre Sacré, and a comparison of Liebermann’s Gargoyles with Hanks’ Monstre Sacré. The first chapter establishes a historical background of the emergence of diabolical music in keyboard works. The next chapter focuses on the imagery of a monster in Hanks’ Monstre Sacré, and the examination of each programmatic movement, its stylistic definition, and the associated compositional technique. The final chapter provides a comparative analysis between Liebermann’s and Hanks’ portrayal of the monster, including the compositional approaches utilized.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Dong, Yanbing, "The Imagery of Evil in Modern Piano Works: Exploring the Diabolical Elements in N. Lincoln Hanks' Monstre Sacré and Lowell Liebermann's Gargoyles" (2017). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10680838.