Composition Date: 2000
Commissioned by Swedish and Scottish Chamber Orchestras.
First performed by Swedish Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Dausgaard, Örebro, Sweden, 2001.
In 1996 I collaborated with Janice Galloway on a work based on the life of Mary Shelley. The piece was commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra as one of a set of collaborative art works by pairs of artists working in different artistic disciplines. We chose Mary Shelley for a variety of reasons: her own life, its traumatic progress and her extreme youth as a creator all held their own attractions. Not least, of course, was her intrigue as the author of Frankenstein, one of the most potent literary archetypes ever written.
After the successful completion of the commission, we had the idea of a full-length opera on the same subject, which is now nearing completion. Whitescape represents part of our work together so far – a sort of `sketch-pad’ of ideas, concentrating particularly on the aspects of dream and landscape in the Shelley novel. This material is used in dreamlike interludes throughout the opera.
The idea for this piece and recurring motif is implicit in the novel itself. At the outset of Frankenstein, creator of the legendary monster, has followed his creation to the arctic in order to destroy it. Whitescape feeds upon the ideas of ice and abandonment, using disembodied sound to create half-heard sub-human howls and heartbeats echoing across bleak wastes.
Mary Shelley’s own fascination with landscape was stimulated by reading the Swedish diaries of her mother (Mary Wollstonecraft), and by a visit to Scotland of some months’ duration when Mary herself was a young teenager.
Whitescape also explores the `Waking Dream’ state of mind in which the idea of Frankenstein was conceived. Elements of her own traumatic life – specifically her abandonment following the death of her mother in childbirth, and her father’s rejection when she embarked on a relationship with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley – are reflected in fragments of simple childlike melody, overlaid with glockenspiel.
Whitescape was commissioned by the Swedish & Scottish Chamber Orchestras with assistance from Kultarradet & the SAC. It was first performed by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Dausgaard, on 1st March 2001, at Örebro Konserthuset.
Sally Beamish 2001