String Quartets

with the Emerson String Quartet after the premiere of String Quartet No. 5: Through the Night.

The Invisible Cities String Quartet Cycle

With commissions, performances and recordings by the Emerson, Daedalus, Cassatt, Borromeo, American and Mendelssohn String Quartets, Lawrence Dillon has been recognized as one of his generation’s foremost composers of string quartets. In The Invisible Cities String Quartet Cycle, Dillon has addressed the formidable tradition head-on, creating compositions that focus on contemporary ramifications of Classical forms.

“We are living in hell. We have two choices: we can become a part of the hell around us, or we can find those things around us that are not hell, and give them a form that will allow them to endure.
— ITALO CALVINO: Invisible Cities

The Invisible Cities String Quartet Cycle is a set of six quartets, each centering on a different traditional form. In the same way in which the cinematic close-up can reveal more than any dialogue, with close focus each of these forms reveals a wealth of possibilities and a surprising relevance to contemporary thought and experience. The quartets also bring into focus the points at which Classical forms break down under the weight of contemporary expression. This tension between coherence and chaos is a recurrent expressive feature of the cycle.

Brief descriptions of each quartet follow. Click on the titles for more details, including sound and score samples.

String Quartet No. 1: Jests and Tenderness
[premiere by Mendelssohn String Quartet: Oct 2000]
The focus of the first quartet is the Classical scherzo, or “joke.” Approaching the scherzo through the eyes of contemporary psychology and anthropology, Jests and Tenderness explores the fine line between rage and humor, with three increasingly agitated scherzi followed by a serene nocturne.

String Quartet No. 2: Flight
[premiere by Daedalus String Quartet: Nov 2003]
The second quartet focuses on the literal meaning of the word fugue (flight) with six brief fugues, each depicting flight from a different perspective, from the inspiring magnificence of nature to the lethal manipulations of manmade aircraft. The six movements are titled Birds, Insects and Paper Airplanes, Stars, Langley, Swings, and Daedalus and Icarus.

String Quartet No. 3: Air
[premiere by the Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival: January 2005]
The shortest of the six quartets, Air is in five continuous movements (Aura-Aria-Air-Aria-Aura) totaling just over ten minutes. The centerpiece is a passionate, Italian-influenced aria, with florid ornamentation of pitch, tempo and timbre.

String Quartet No. 4: The Infinite Sphere
[commissioned by the Daedalus String Quartet and the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts, premiered by the Daedalus String Quartet at Wolf Trap in January 2010]
Taking Pascal’s reference to an “infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere” as a starting point, this fourth quartet explores the potentials of Classical circular forms and techniques – in particular the rondo form and canonical rounds – pitted against the chaos of infinity.

String Quartet No. 5: Through the Night
[commissioned by the Emerson String Quartet and an anonymous donor in honor of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, premiered by the Emerson String Quartet at the Kölner Philharmonie in March 2010]
The fifth string quartet is based, literally and figuratively, on the Welsh tune “All Through the Night,” using an assortment of variation techniques to take the listener on a journey through the night.

String Quartet No. 6: Rapid Eye
[Commissioned by the Carpe Diem String Quartet; premiered in Columbus, OH in October 2014.]
String Quartet No. 6: Rapid Eye is a rumination on the musical, literary and cognitive meanings of fantasy in two movements: Adrift and Ashore.