Category Archives: guitar


Works Cited

“Antonio Torres Jurado Biography.” Antonio Torres Jurado Facts – Guitar Maker,

“Antonio Torres Guitar.” Wilson Burnham Guitars,

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Guitar.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 9 Feb. 2018,

ChinoTenshi. “Save Me – BTS Guitar Tabs.”, MuseScore, 9 July 2016,

Dore, Gustave. A Gypsy Dancing in the Sorongo. Mid-19th c.,

Lorenz, Dennis. “Spectacled Warbler.” Bird Photography: Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Europe,

Martin, Darryl. “Innovation and the Development of the Modern Six-String Guitar.” The Galpin Society Journal, vol. 51, 1998, pp. 86–109. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Page, Christopher. “Being a Guitarist in the Time of Byron and Shelley.” YouTube, YouTube, 28 Nov. 2014,

Piotrowska, Anna G. “Expressing the Inexpressible: The Issue of Improvisation and the European Fascination with Gypsy Music in the 19th Century.” International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, vol. 43, no. 2, 2012, pp. 325–341. JSTOR, JSTOR,
Rothwell, Richard. “Mary Shelley.” National Portrait Gallery, 1840, National Portrait Gallery, London,

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein: the 1818 Text, Contexts, Criticism. Edited by J. Paul Hunter, W.W. Norton & Co., 2012.

“Torres Guitar 1890.” Guitar Salon International,

Von Holst, Theodor. “Frontispiece.” Wikimedia Commons,

Whittock, Nathaniel, and Thomas Charles Wageman. “Frankenstein.” Wikimedia Commons,

Wierzbicki, James. “How Frankenstein’s Monster Became a Music Lover.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, vol. 24, no. 2 (88), 2013, pp. 246–263. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Frankenstein, Nathaniel Whittock and Thomas Charles Wageman, 1823 (Wikimedia Commons). This image shows the monster, proud and wild, as Victor (not pictured) cowers below him. A historic depiction as well, this piece of art ultimately shows the power of the Monster as well as the ultimate power and potency of the entire novel. We should not underestimate the gravity of the Monster’s plight, nor should we underestimate Mary Shelley’s power in offering commentary on not just scientific revolutions, but also class and politics through such an unexpected lens as music. 

Return to Project Home  < Back


Class Commentary by Shelley

With the knowledge of Shelley’s excerpts mentioning music and the brief history of the evolution of the guitar, one can construct some inferences regarding why Shelley chose to discuss music (most specifically, in the scenes including the DeLacey’s) and whether she is alluding to some class structure or place in society through these references.

Professor Christopher Page of Gresham College has, by incredible fortune, recorded his speech entitled, “Being a Guitarist in the Time of Byron and Shelley.” In this video, he discusses the transition from a quaint instrument meant for casual play to one that is complex and highly commodified. Ulrich Wedemeier also performs throughout the lecture, and this video is an excellent supplement to contextualize Shelley’s exposure and possible perception of the instrument.

First and foremost, it is important to note that Shelley did not especially mention the monster’s infatuation with music in the way it is presented in modern adaptations. Wierzbicki traces this confusion to its roots in Presumption, an 1823 play of Frankenstein. In this play, the Monster becomes instantly blissful and distracted by the sound of music and is thus manageable. The Monster seemingly surpasses the emotions of any human when faced with a musical experience. However, that does not seem to be the intention of Mary Shelley. The Monster has a distinctly human reaction to hearing music. He stops, listens, and enjoys to Mr. DeLacey and his daughter’s playing as they elicit mournful tunes from the instrument, but he does not lose control of himself or become entranced in some inhuman way. Shelley’s perception of music, in general, should thus be interpreted as a human experience, and the Monster’s human reaction should place him in a light that is not dissimilar from other people.

In the case of the DeLacey’s, it seems evident that Shelley is indeed making some commentary on their social status when mentioning the guitar. This paper previously mentioned the ambiguity of “air” as a musical form, which appears to be an intentional allusion to vague classicism by Shelley. The air isn’t high class nor is it low class, which appears to be the odd dichotomy that the DeLacey’s are stuck within. Initial examination of the DeLacey’s life would reveal that they had fallen out of fortune within their home country and had to flee to Switzerland. It appears that the family was well-off but had to abandon their lives of comfort in exchange for safety. The “mournful airs” played by both Mr. DeLacey and his daughter indicates a melancholy desire to return back to their home. In a manner similar to gypsies, the DeLacey’s are outside of their home country and isolated foreigners. Unlike the gypsies, however, the DeLacey’s pieces are described as simple and sad, which does not align with a gypsy-like musical style. Thus, the DeLacey’s are placed in an interesting dichotomy of two worlds: they were once wealthy and play simple airs that could easily be pictured in some upper-class drawing room, but now they remain isolated in a foreign country where they were expelled to. Just like the guitar instrument itself, the family bridges a gap between elite classical music and simultaneously humble and virtuosic folk musical styles of gypsies and lower-class individuals. Shelley’s choice of the guitar as the instrument used by the DeLacey’s is extremely effective, and close historical examination of the instrument paired with the carefully chosen words by the author reveals a hidden aspect of the novel that could easily be overlooked. Music in the novel, just like music in the real world, thus lives in a perpetual state of both universal accessibility and unstable rising and falling of class structures and statuses, which adds to the appeal of both music itself and this novel which effectively addresses it.

Image: Mary Shelley, Richard Rothwell, 1840 (National Portrait Gallery). To tie this entire project together, an image of Mary Shelley with her elusive facial expression demonstrates that this class commentary through musical allusions could very likely have been intentional by this lauded author.

Return to Project Home  < Back | Next >


Influence of Gypsies on 19th Century Music

Along with an evolution of the instrument itself, the guitar also underwent a notable evolution of style during the 19th century. Increased legitimacy of the guitar resulted in further support for careful study of the instrument. Thus, the 19th century saw a notable rise in conservatories focusing on guitar in London, Paris, Vienna, and other musical city centers in Europe (Martin). Out of these conservatories rose musicians who would forever change the style and perception of the guitar. It was at this time that established technique for more advanced playing was written about and taught. Previously, the lack of technical standardization made it difficult for aspiring guitarists to learn effective methods for performing more advanced repertoire. With this influx of competent and accomplished classical guitarists rose a foundation on which future musicians could study and build upon.

Conservatory influence was only partly responsible for the stylistic evolution of the 19th century. This era also saw an increased awareness of the gypsy people as they rose in population throughout certain regions of Europe (Pitrowska). Music associated with these people was highly improvisatory, elaborate, and lush. These traveling vagabonds were perceived as degenerates by most of Europe and were not a desired source of inspiration. However, pianist Franz Liszt is credited for turning the conversation about the gypsy people into a positive one that should be at least partially emulated (Pitrowska). Liszt, a Hungarian composer, was arguably the best pianist of his generation and wrote many compositions that integrated rhythm, chordal configuration, and form of Hungarian gypsy music into his classical compositions. These gargantuan pieces, specifically the Hungarian Rhapsodies, are wildly difficult, ostentatious, and exciting to hear. The taste of the classical audience thus shifted; virtuosity, bold integration of “lower-class” music, and exciting new musical styles were gradually becoming acceptable.

With the increased musical capacity of Torres’ instrument, it is understandable that this virtuosic form arose in guitar music shortly after (Martin). With the increased sonority and raised fretboard came performers such as Johann Kaspar Mertz and Francisco Tarrega who began performing complex music to impress the evolving European audience. With increased virtuosity came more respect for the instrument. Paired with adapted compositions of works by Bach and his contemporaries, the guitar quickly gained legitimacy and rose up the social ladder of musical instruments. Most importantly, this rise can be at least partially attributed to the integration of gypsy and folk influence on the instrument.

Image: A Gypsy Dancing in the Sorengo, Gustave Dore, mid-19th c. (Sothebys). The gypsies in this image are playing music and dancing, showing the fluid action of the music even through the stillness of a painting. Such music would influence composers such as Liszt and continue to direct future compositions for many years.

Return to Project Home  < Back | Next >


Antonio Torres

Before the beginning of the 19th century, there had not been homogeneity in different guitar instruments as well as the settings in which they were played. There was a very visible class distinction between various instruments; small, lute-like instruments were used by wealthier individuals who desired to quietly play music within their drawing rooms (EB). Small groups of people would gather and enjoy food, drink, music, and company. In contrast was a larger instrument that was traditionally played by lower-class individuals. Interestingly, this instrument is more recognizably related to the modern guitar than the high-class lute. This folk instrument was commonly played with a plectrum, which is a hand-sized wooden pick that amplifies the sound of the plucked string. Increased sonority was already evident in the folk instrument, further showing the heavy influence of this class on the guitar.

The most famous guitar maker of this era (and arguably for the entire history of the guitar) is Spanish-born luthier Antonio Torres (1817-1892) (Antonio). The structure of guitar that he formed has barely changed since his guitar making years and is now the standard that all modern guitar makers adhere to. Torres designed this guitar at the prompting of guitarist Julio Arcas who demanded an instrument that could be used in a less intimate setting while still being audible (Antonio). The universal acceptance of Torres’ guitar can partially be due to his commitment to combining aspects of several guitar styles of the times in Europe into one homogenous instrument. The strengths of each instrument were thus maintained, and weaknesses were improved upon. It is thus partially due to the work of Torres that the reputation of the guitar rose. This new and improved instrument began catching the eye of composers and transcribers who desired to create new music and adapt old material for the burgeoning instrument.

Guitar Designs before Antonio Torres

Figure 1: Predecessors of Torres’ guitar, less enforced (Martin)

Guitar design of Torres

Figure 2: Torres Guitar, structurally supported (Martin)

Torres’ guitars had many new and improved strengths. The 19th century saw more development in the guitar makeup than any other century. The fretboard was raised using metal enforcements which resulted in an overall louder instrument when paired with the wrapped metal strings. In order to produce a more sonorous sound, guitar makers began to support the instrument with wooden and metal internal enforcement. With tighter strings and a louder desired sound comes increased pressure on the structure of the instrument. The inside of the instrument received a fan-like wooden configuration that supported more weight than previous instruments (see Figure 1 versus Figure 2). A more sturdy and durable instrument arose from this evolution of guitar aural taste.

Image: 1890 Torres Guitar, Guitar Salon (Guitar Salon). This is another Torres guitar which boasts superior structural support. When looking at this image, it appears to be practically identical to guitars manufactured today, thus proving how Torres set the stage for the formation of guitars in the future.

Return to Project Home  < Back | Next >


19th Century Increase in Guitar Legitimacy

The guitar has not been a prominent instrument within Western classical music very long in comparison to instruments such as keyboard instruments, cello, and violin. Indeed, the guitar can be traced only as far back 16th century Spain. For reference to other instruments at this time, Johann Sebastian Bach was composing his renowned keyboard, organ, and concerti at the same time as a rudimentary guitar-like instrument was first being formed. It is because of this that guitar composition and performance was underdeveloped and not taken seriously for many years. Bach and his contemporaries and predecessors did not have an opportunity to compose for this burgeoning instrument, and later composers such as Mozart and Beethoven did not hold the guitar in as high of a regard as other well-established Western instruments (Encyclopedia). One cannot blame them; the early guitar was crude, used only four strings, and made of only wood (Encyclopedia). It was also used in a traditional folk setting that appeared to stand in contrast with music of the high-classical style. If the guitar would be taken seriously in any regard, extensive improvement was needed to gain legitimacy.

Instrumental development gained momentum from the late 16th-early 19th centuries (EB). First, a fifth and, later, a sixth string was added for a wider range of notes. The string materials were also changed from being made from animal intestines to metal. More complicated and elaborate works were now possible; however, this increase of possibility was not fully taken advantage of until the 19th century (Martin). This can be best demonstrated by notation style of the time: from the 16th to the beginning of the 19th century, guitar music was written almost exclusively in tablature and chord symbols (EB). This style of writing does not allow for exact rhythmic and melodic notations to be conveyed exclusively on paper. Instead, this style of writing only allows the performer to understand the overall form and structure of the work and relies on previous careful listening of the piece to understand the overall piece. This slightly more rudimentary form of musical notation was more attainable for amateur musicians but also, again, prevented classical composers from writing for the instrument. However, the 19th century saw a transformation from tablature to traditional staff notation which opened the door for classical guitar writing.

Image: Save Me, ChinoTenshi, 2016 (MuseScore). This image is modern tablature, which is a shorthand way to notate music. Tablature of the era was very rudimentary and poorly documented, so this image is a modern rendition of tablature. Such notation is still used frequently today.

Return to Project Home  < Back | Next >


Music in Guitar Playing

Music is again mentioned a few pages later in a specifically human context. The Monster observes the DeLacey’s using a man-made instrument, and he reacts very similarly to when he hears the bird:

“The young girl was occupied in arranging the cottage; but presently she took something out of a drawer, which employed her hands, and she sat down beside the old man, who, taking up an instrument, began to play, and to produce sounds, sweeter than the voice of the thrush or the nightingale… He played a sweet mournful air, which I perceived drew tears from the eyes of his amiable companion… until she sobbed audibly…” (74)

The manufactured sound is instantly perceived by the Monster as superior to birdsong. The music is not simply superior due to the complexity or degree of musical accomplishment achieved by Mr. DeLacey. Instead, the music is simply “sweeter” and elicits so much emotion that the daughter can even be heard crying at a distance. The piece performed by Mr. DeLacey is described by Shelley as an “air”, which is an extremely vague musical term. An air describes several musical styles across the timeline of music. During the Baroque period, the air was interchangeably used as an instrumental or vocal piece composed by such artists as Bach or Handel (Indiana). Later, however, the air could be used simply to describe a melody heard within a folk song. Shelley does not divulge class commentary quite yet and chooses to use a musical term that does not reveal any insight into social status. Instead, this passage merely ties human-produced music as superior to birdsong at eliciting emotion within the Monster.

Music appears lastly in the Monster’s story when he learns language. The Monster is immediately aware of the uncouth sounds that arose from his vocal cords and began to compare those with the DeLacey’s:

“[I committed to] apply with fresh ardour to the acquiring the art of language. My organs were indeed harsh, but supple; and although my voice was very unlike the soft music of their tones, yet I pronounced such words as I understood with tolerable ease” (80).

Language here is described as an art form akin to music. The Monster is dedicated to perfect the craft of dialect but is discouraged by his “harsh” tones as compared to their “soft” ones. Though the actual formation of words and sentences were relatively attainable for the Monster, it was the music-like intonation and swell of the sounds that were difficult for him. Perhaps it is from here that film adaptations of Frankenstein have adopted the monotonous and drone-like tone of the monster (Wierzbicki).

Music thus plays a significant role in the cognitive development of Frankenstein’s Monster. He immediately becomes aware of his affinity toward ‘rudimentary’ music of the birds and only finds more appreciation for it when he observes the DeLacey’s. He does not appear to be aware of the class implications that the guitar may have had in society. However, he does appear to perceive his own inferiority in societal ranking as he believes both the bird and the DeLacey’s to be superior to him in the realm of music. Thus, initial close reading of these passages already indicates some commentary on class by Shelley in relation to the Monster.

Image: Antonio Torres Guitar, Wilson Burnham, 2017 (Wilson Burnham Guitars). This is a well-known Torres guitar created in the mid-1800’s. This instrument is a synthesis of many European guitar styles. Mr. DeLacey most likely played an instrument similar to this one, as he lived around the same time as Torres was producing instruments such as this one. 

Return to Project Home  < Back | Next >


Music in Birdsong

The theme of music is present throughout the entire novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Most notably is the commentary on music by the Monster as he observes different sources of sound. As the Monster gains awareness and observes both human and animal, he appears to be entranced by the pull of music. There is a distinct evolution of music from birds to Mr. DeLacey’s guitar, and these observations clearly demonstrate Mary Shelley’s perception of music as not just a human experience but also of the natural world, which even further alienates the monster.

When Frankenstein’s monster escapes into the forest, he very quickly becomes aware of the birds singing around him:

I was delighted when I first discovered that a pleasant sound, which often saluted my ears, proceeded from the throats of the little winged animals who had often intercepted the light from my eyes… sometimes I tried to imitate the pleasant songs of the birds, but was unable… sometimes I wished to express my sensations in my own mode, but the uncouth and inarticulate sounds which broke from me frightened me into silence again.” (Shelley 71)

This passage shines a light on Shelley’s ranking of music in the status of the human experience. Even before the Monster has learned language from listening to the DeLacey’s, he not only observes but delights in the musical improvisations of the birds. Indeed, he only can identify them as “little winged animals” even after he had developed language proficiency. Shelley, then, places more relevance on music than language simply by the order in which she placed the Monster observing them. First, he is aware of sensory experience as he observes his vision being obstructed by some figure. Then, he is delighted by a sound that he observes. Third, he attempts to imitate the sounds and becomes self-conscious as he realizes his vocal inferiority. It is the final step that he develops language and proceeds to chronicle this experience with the bird to Victor Frankenstein.

Shelley makes a point to not just allow the monster to be displeased with his voice when he attempts to imitate the bird. Instead, he is so horrified by his own auditory effect that he is “frightened… into silence again”. The Monster’s sounds are so inferior to that of a natural creature that he is startled into silence. It is here that the monster first experiences ranking rather than mere rejection. Previously, he felt the pang of rejection when Victor looked onto him with horror before he fled. This passage is the first indication of what will happen in the final section of the Monster’s chronicles as he curses his rank in society that alienates him from not just humans but the entire natural world.

Image: Spectacled Warbler, Dennis Lorenz, 2013 (Bird Photography). This bird is a typical songbird in Switzerland. We can, therefore, imagine that the bird heard by the Monster could look quite similar to this one.

Return to Project Home  < Back | Next >



Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein contains overt themes such as paternal love, rejection, and the dangers of scientific innovation. Another perhaps less evaluated underlying theme throughout the novel is music and how it is observed and imitated by Frankenstein’s Monster. In one critical scene, the Monster observes the exiled French DeLacey family as they gather around the father and listen to him play guitar. Emotions are immediately elicited within the Monster and he immediately draws a seemingly inexorable tie to the family. Once he subsequently faces rejection once again now from this family, he pledges to wreak havoc on the world around him and ruin the life of his creator, Victor Frankenstein. This tie to music thus serves as the final bond toward humanity felt by the monster and is thus an important theme to observe within the novel. Initial examination of the passages containing music will illustrate the Monster’s evolving relationship with music throughout the novel and how it affected his cognitive development. Then, the fact that the DeLacey’s are exiled individuals provides an interesting lens to explore the perception of music as an indicator of class status within European society of the 19th century. To determine this, this section will also differentiate between different musical styles and instruments of this time that would have been observed by Shelley. Finally, the close literary reading combined with an examination of music indicating class structure will be synthesized to propose possible implications that Shelley could be making on the rank and status of both the Monster and the DeLacey’s within the novel.

Image: Frontispiece, Theodor Von Holst, 1830 (Wikimedia Commons). This image depicts the creation of the monster which is the action that sparks the ultimate disastrous outcome of the novel. It is thus fitting that the beginning of this project, like the novel, opens with this iconic image.

Return to Project Home  Next >