String Quartet No. 2, “Shadow Dances” (1993)
Work on String Quartet No. 2 ("Shadow Dances") began on June 8, 1992, and with several interruptions in-between, was fully completed at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts on November 20, 1992.
In this work each movement is an evocation of hidden, recessive, or 'shadow' aspects (used in a Jungian vein) of personality. As Joseph Campbell spoke of man as ‘one being with many personas', so this quartet is one work with four faces that hopefully complement and contradict one another within a unified whole.
The first movement, ‘Stomping Ground’, is a return to the child within, to the exuberance and uninhibited wonder, energy and sense of surprise that we experience(d) as children. There is a play on words with this movement’s title as much of the music revolves around a repeated bass line, or ‘ground.’
The second movement, 'The Little Dictator,’ is a scherzo which addresses the controller in us; the one who would rule and reign partly in an effort to hide the true pain and vulnerability within. The movement alternates between a driven, almost obsessive march, and a gentler, more tender music to illustrate this.
'My Father's Song,' the third movement, is actually music inspired by memories of my father's funeral. It involves the 'shadowed' relationship we have with death, and the surrender and acceptance that we must submit to in order to confront this great and awesome mystery. This adagio, imbued with an air of mourning is the darkest and at times, most despairing of the movements in the quartet. The slow, descending scale figures that repeat in the movement's coda, are an evocation of the 'laying to rest' that occurs in bidding farewell to a loved one.
The finale ‘The Trickster' refers to the character that often appears in folklore and literature in the form of various guises: the jester, the fool, the coyote, the clown. In some cultures the symbol of the trickster has negative connotations. In almost all interpretations, however, the trickster refers to a mercurial, highly spontaneous unpredictability; it is also an energy and a persona that we all carry and often utilize. The trickster is the one who delivers the punchline, the one within that often teaches us that life cannot be controlled. Often the trickster appears in an event or through a person. Whatever the focus, the result is always accompanied by sudden change.
The music in this fast, frenetic movement recalls much of the material in the other three movements, transforming and transmuting the ideas into new but familiar ones. In this way the quartet refers (as many
works do) to its own inner nostalgia, and in doing so, acknowledges the connections inherent between the movements.
-- Richard Danielpour