|String Quartet No. 1: Jests and Tenderness (1998)
from the Invisible Cities String Quartet Cycle
String Quartet No. 1
(Audio clips are in MP3 format)
Composed in the summer of 1998, Jests and Tenderness
is a meditation on the Classical scherzo. Traditionally, the
scherzo (Italian for "joke") is a fast, jovial movement
in three-part form. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,
composers took advantage of the scherzo movement as an opportunity
to play jokes on the listener, on other composers, or even on
the performers themselves.
In more recent times, inquiries into the anthropological and
psychological roots of humor have taught us that a "joke"
is often more than it seems: humor has many uses, from promoting
cooperation to veiling hostility. The quip that serves to relieve
tension in one setting can easily increase tension in another.
One of our most versatile coping mechanisms, humor is a weapon
that wounds and heals.
Jests and Tenderness digs beneath the aggressive edge of
humor, revealing what is left behind when the energy has been
stripped away. Accordingly, the first three movements are scherzi
-- though their forms vary, they are all relentlessly brisk,
capricious, and even, at times, manic in character. A wide range
of comic treatment is featured throughout, from subtle parody
to blatant slapstick.
The first movement pokes fun at two different musical cliches:
first the abrasive monotony of contemporary popular music, then
the elitist pretensions of the current classical music scene.
These two poses become the contrasting ideas in a sonata form
that attempts (and fails) to resolve the conflicts between them.
Most everything about the second movement -- the triple meter,
the ternary form, the rapid tempo, the frequent hemiolas --
is typical of a classical scherzo. The only neoteric wrinkles
are in the edgy harmonies and odd phrasing: the entire movement
is cast in eleven-bar groups, which makes the pacing unpredictable
and a little ungainly.
A brief but vigorous fugue, the third movement pushes beyond
the limits of decorum, where wit devolves into hyperactive energy.
The conclusion culminates in a cadenza for the viola which leads
directly into the last movement. With a duration as long as
the middle two movements combined, this final nocturne is both
a response to and a consummation of the preceding frenzy. Its
four sections evoke the serenity and mystery of the night, with
a coda that fades off into silence. While the first three movements
seek to exhaust the energy of humor, the last seems to ask "How
should we respond to aggression?" -- a question that is,
in both its personal and social forms, both timely and timeless.
Jests and Tenderness was premiered by the Mendelssohn
String Quartet at the North Carolina School of the Arts on October
ORDER JESTS AND TENDERNESS:
image to view score.
|"....difficult to believe that this piece was Dillon's first crack at a string quartet - so complete is its mastery of form."
| Ken Keuffel, Winston-Salem Journal