[T]he execution is fresh and clever….The cycle is a compositional tour-de-force that shows Gill’s versatility and attention to detail.
– The American Record Guide, March/April 2016
[Capriccio is] an eclectic curio cabinet worth close inspection.
– Grant Chu Covell, writing for La Folia, November 2015
The overall stylistic profile of Capriccio is intensely eclectic…Capriccio, however, is the sum of its parts, and although many of the movements are lovely in their own right, the greatest impact is registered globally…The imaginative and intellectually curious music lover will be amply rewarded for deeper listening.
– Broad Street Review, 22 September 2015
Here, in one fell swoop, is evidence of Jeremy Gill’s mastery of the form. Capriccio is one of the most remarkable opuses in chamber music this year. The cumulative impact of its individual pieces is quite breathtaking, some of which clearly occupy the bluest part of the flame of the art.
– Jazz da Gama, 23 August 2015
[A] compelling musical narrative much greater than the sum of the individual parts. Gill’s stylistic references range from retro-Baroque to plinkingly post-modern, and the performance by the Parker Quartet, who commissioned the piece, is stunningly accomplished. A work to return to often, for fresh insight and stimulation.
– Terry Blain, writing for Minnesota Public Radio, 17 August 2015
…a tour de force of brilliant miniature compositions…a wonderful showcase for the Parker Quartet… By the vivacity of each part and the experience of the ever-shifting whole one is captivated and endlessly stimulated. In the process Jeremy Gill conveys to us his own special sensibilities as a composer of almost unlimited breadth, a master stylist who knows virtually no boundaries in his poetic collocation of past, present and future into an hour of quartet fireworks and fantasia. Brilliant!
– Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, 4 August 2015
[Capriccio is] a varied and kaleidoscopic collection of vivid miniatures…an ebullient cataloging of the various textural and rhetorical forms that writing for string quartet can take. The work comprises 27 short movements, some no more than 30 seconds long, yet the effect is neither aphoristic nor brusque. On the contrary, there’s a generosity of spirit at work here that is only reaffirmed by the [Parker] quartet’s splendid playing.
– San Francisco Chronicle, 15 July 2015
A movement in which the strings wandered around in high silvery harmonics followed one in which the three high strings plucked a guitarlike accompaniment to the cello’s tenor song. In another, a broadly bowed legato morphed into the pins and needles of a sharply detached spiccato. A movement titled “Open Strings,” which gave off a whiff of orchestral tuning, seemed as at home in here as the movements where the quartet slithered around in microtones. Scattered among the movements, the four interludes with their echoes of the Renaissance and the baroque paid homage to the music’s forebears. The total effect of these distilled slices of musical stuff was intriguing. The Parker ensemble seemed to revel in its challenges, and the hour flew by.
– The Washington Post, 2 April 2014
…engaging and finely crafted…Gill focused on many extended techniques, including wood-of-the-bow effects, complex harmonics (all so perfectly tuned in this performance), near-bridge or near-fingerboard tone, multiple stops, left-hand pizzicati, “Bartók” pizzicati, and so on. The string instruments, however, were really made to produce a glowing legato sound, the one that composers now tend to avoid, and the piece shone most when in that mode, usually in extensive quotations from or adaptations of earlier music. In all of it, the Parker Quartet played with impeccable technique and dedication.
– Ionarts, 2 April 2014
Capriccio is an hour-long work for string quartet in two parts and twenty-seven movements that seeks to encapsulate, technically, expressively, and texturally, all that is possible for the string quartet. The movements are of three types: 1) concerning the “uses” of music, 2) elucidating the “textures” of music, and 3) dealing with the technical “realities” of the instruments (violin, viola, and cello) themselves.
The four movements that are concerned with the uses of music are the second (“Misterium tremendum [sonata da chiesa]”), tenth (“Eros”), twentieth (“Sonata da camera [J. de Berchem, B. Tromboncino]”), and twenty-sixth (“Terpsichore”), which take, as their subjects, religion, love, community, and dance, respectively. These seemed to me to be the primary uses of music throughout recorded history, and they constitute the most extended movements in Capriccio.
The movements that elucidate the textures of music are the three “interludes”: monophonic, polyphonic, and heterophonic/homophonic. The first two use exclusively these types of textures (all parts in unison or octaves in the case of the first, all parts independent in the case of the second), while the last is a mix of heterophony (essentially a single line that is heard in multiple voices and embellished by some but not all) and homophony (parts moving in parallel motion).
The eighteen movements that deal with the technical realities of string players and their instruments can be further divided into three types, focusing on 1) the bow, 2) the strings, and 3) the fingers. Each of these categories range from the most simple concepts or techniques (the “up, down” of the third movement, for example) to the most complex (bowing “across the strings” in the fifteenth).
Finally, the first and last movements, “Arsis” and “Thesis,” literally meaning “up” and “down” in a rhythmic, or gravitational, sense, serve as a large upbeat to the work and as a final resting point, respectively. Understood as “becoming” and “being,” they also lend structural coherence to the two parts of the work: most of Part I is implicative (the suggestive “mystery” of the second movement and the promise of love in the tenth, for example), while most of Part II is sufficient-unto-itself (the joy of communal music making and dance of the twentieth and twenty-sixth movements).
The eighteen technical movements and three interludes are ordered, within each part, intuitively; that is, neither in the order of their composition nor in order of increasing complexity. Essentially, once I had determined the large-scale structure of the piece—that it would begin and end with “Arsis” and “Thesis”; that the order of the “uses” movements would be religion, love, community, and dance; and that the two parts would comprise movements of “becoming” and “being”—I placed the technical movements and interludes such that they would organically move from one to another of these nodal points. What follows is a brief description of each of the technical movements in the order in which they appear in Capriccio.
“Up, down,” as mentioned before, deals with the simplest method of sound production (using the bow) on stringed instruments, drawing the bow up and down on the string. “La chitarra” imitates the guitar in technique and tuning, but also in use—the cello is a singer, accompanied by the rest. “Tip, balance, frog; wood” uses these various areas of the bow in characteristic ways. “Colors: normal, fingerboard, bridge” is for solo viola (the most innately colorful of the three instruments) and deals with where on the string the bow is placed, whether normally (between the fingerboard and bridge), over the fingerboard (sul tasto), or on the bridge (sul ponticello). “Nodes” uses only natural harmonics (by touching the string lightly at various nodal points, intervals in the harmonic series above the fundamental string pitch are produced).”Two at once (C. Farina)” is for solo violin and uses double-stopping throughout.
“Up, up…, down, down…” is the first of the technical movements to allude to a previous movement (in this case, “Eros”). As the work progresses, this happens more and more. “Up, up…, down, down…” also remembers, technically, the up and down of the third movement, but here the up and down bows are successive ups and downs. “Pressure” uses excessive pressure by the bow on the string, resulting in “hammer strokes”—harsh, staccato attacks—and the breaking up of sound that occurs when the pressure of the bow interrupts the natural vibration of the string. “Normal, mute, mute” is the first of three movements for string trio (here two violins and viola) and juxtaposes the sounds of unadorned strings, muted strings, and hyper-muted strings (via a “practice mute”). Practice mutes are also used, by the full quartet, in the preceding “Monophonic interlude.” “Across the strings,” the second trio (for violin, viola, and cello), ends Part I with another reminiscence of “Eros,” and has the players bowing across two, three, and four strings.
Part II opens with “Artificial harmonics.” Contrasting with “Nodes,” this movement uses only “touch-fourth” artificial harmonics, which broaden the pitch pallet to include all chromatic pitches and also allow for harmonic glissandi. It is followed by “Pluck, snap,” a mechanical-sounding pizzicato movement that includes “Bartók pizzes”: plucking the string so hard that it snaps against the fingerboard. “Stopped strings” contrasts with the forthcoming “Open strings.” To “stop” a string is simply to shorten it by placing the finger on the fingerboard, resulting in a higher pitch: a simple gesture, to be sure, but in this movement I highlight it by using glissandi (dragging the finger up or down the string) and asking the players to play higher than normal on any given string (as in the opening of the movement). “Drumming” is effected by lightly drumming on the strings with the fingers of the right hand, creating a ghostly, scarcely audible, and beautiful sound. This movement is the last of the three string trios, here for two violins and cello.
“The left hand” highlights the uses of this hand. Beyond merely stopping notes, it provides or withholds vibrato, and can be used to pluck the strings, both while bowing with the right hand and in alternation with bowing. “Open strings” continues the technique of bowing while plucking, but only using the open, that is not stopped, strings. “On the string→off the string” deals with the action of bow speed on the relationship of the bow to the string. Essentially, as the speed of the bow increases it begins to bounce off the string. This movement begins legato, with the bow on the string, to non legato, to spiccato (a controlled bounce), to sautillè (a free bounce), paralleled by the increasing speed of the music. Finally, “Multiple strings, plucked,” for solo cello, uses pizzicato on multiple strings simultaneously—sometimes strummed, sometimes plucked together—and also alternates plucking with the left and right hands.
When the Parker Quartet, for whom this work was written and to whom it is dedicated, and I began planning this work, we had the idea to craft a concert work that could be extracted to bits that would work well in educational settings, displaying various musical textures and techniques and also specifically string-related techniques. My challenge was to compose a piece that “worked” in both capacities—in parts as educational examples and as a whole in a concert performance.
Upon reading an essay by the great Italian writer Italo Calvino, “The Structure of Orlando Furioso,” I began to find my “way” for this work. Like several of its near contemporaries (it was first published in 1516), Orlando Furioso, though a poem, is a proto-novel: essentially, a simple frame exists in which disparate tales are gathered together, and the result is a work of incredible breadth and variety contained within the simplest of conceits (in the case of Orlando Furioso, the “frame” is the Crusades). Reading about Ariosto’s work led me to Jacquet de Berchem’s setting of 94 of Ariosto’s verses from Orlando Furioso in his “La favola di Orlando,” Il primo, secondo e terzo libro del capriccio of 1561, the first work in history to bear the title “capriccio.”
The capriccio and its history became my frame for this work, because it encapsulates, through its major examples, all that music has been. For Jacquet de Berchem, it was a madrigal cycle on the verge of becoming opera (as the madrigal cycle did for Monteverdi a few decades later). For Bach, in his Capriccio on the departure of his dearly beloved brother of 1704, it was a programmatic work that included depictions of horns, laments, but also the learned aspects of fantasy through fugue. And for more recent composers it was both a stormy character piece (of Brahms’s seven for solo piano, only one is in a major key) and a virtuoso concert etude (Paganini’s 24 Caprices). Paganini’s rendering of the capriccio had its own predecessor in the strange and wonderful Capriccio stravagante of Carlo Farina (1627); through his programmatic depictions of mewing cats and barking dogs, Farina found it necessary to extend string technique to include, in this work, the first notated double-stops in Western music.
In my Capriccio, I reference a number of these works, some explicitly, some less obviously. In my ninth movement I quote Farina’s double-stopping, and in my twentieth, I use some of Jacquet de Berchem’s music (viewing the madrigal as early chamber music)—as well as some by his near contemporary Bartolomeo Tromboncino (c. 1470–1535)—as bookends to my own music in an older style. I use one whole movement from Bach’s Capriccio, but flesh it out considerably—Bach’s version is bare, two-part counterpoint that a keyboardist would have filled in in performance, and I have done the same for string quartet, though taking the movement in harmonic directions Bach would not have.
Beyond all these influences, references, and technical structurings, I feel that my Capriccio manages to fit the definition of “capriccio” as given in the Harvard Dictionary of Music as “a humorous, fanciful, or bizarre composition.” Composing Capriccio was itself a bizarre experience, and I can only hope that, in spite of my lofty aims (as stated in the first sentence of these notes), it conveys humor and fancy. I hope, too, that it possesses some of the warmth and tenderness I feel for those for whom I composed it—the Parker Quartet—whose perfect sound, unmatched musicianship, and fullest humanity were my greatest inspiration.