A New Composition by Giovanni Dettori: “Quartetto Doppio”

The composer in Milan whom I’ve written about before, Giovanni Dettori, has just published a recording of a new work, “Quartetto Doppio,” on his Youtube channel, and this ensemble piece, with Feyzi Brera playing the violin and viola, Patrick Graziosi the first guitar, Laura Rotondi the cello, and Alberto Roveroni the drums, while Dettori, completing the quartet (or quintet), handles the second guitar and the bass, is fascinating; in view thereof I have added the video – helpfully equipped, as many of his other videos are, with the score – to the playlist.

(Like his EP Suite, the “Quartetto Doppio” too is available on iTunes.)

This composition begins by setting up a bifurcation: first the ensemble strikes off something like a theme, which then is not varied so much as it is sundered in two, both of the resulting parts, the one bristling with a loud guitar riff, the other holding its ground by an ostinato on the violin and viola, succeeding one another by turns whereby they defy one another audibly, the one nearly taunting the other and vice versa in each alternation – and in their very contrariety they together instantiate a musical contention that may well owe something of its parallelism to the art of counterpoint; thus, still at the outset of the piece, the popular and the classical modes are counterposed to one another, situated in opposite corners of this “double” sonic space, and here it is far from obvious whether ever the twain might meet, so definite does their mutual repugnance seem to be. However, largely on account of this same alternation, one can also fore. . . – forehear that they will soon be leaving those corners behind and advancing towards each other.

At this point listeners may well wonder where all this musical action may be supposed to be taking place. Of course, it could be a dramatic or diegetic scene or scenes, in the usual sense of that term, which these musical means are sketching out, with the alternation of the two musical modes in his composition then replicating the cross-cutting montage technique used in the cinema to lend visual and narrative intensity to stretches of dialogue. Yet there also is another distinct possibility, namely, that all of this – the choice of musical modes, the distance virtually interposed between them, the rhythm of their alternation, etc. – would constitute an aural representation of the interactions between the several different kinds of music in the creative mind of a contemporary classical composer such as Dettori, who, as he himself has remarked, is concerned to circumvent in his work the narrowness of the old musical dichotomies; in that case, the setting of “Quartetto Doppio” would be in the interior of the composer’s mind itself, and the dramatis personæ would comprise the different kinds of music that circulate within it, while, for its part, what the audience would be given to hear, are the ways in which the latter comport themselves and behave towards one another in that inner region. And, in fact, doesn’t this latter possibility seem a more plausible delineation of what Dettori’s composition is actually about?

How “Quartetto Doppio” then proceeds to unfold might lend this supposition further plausibility, for now the two modes, where in the first it’s the guitars that lead, and in the second, the other strings, do indeed leave their respective corners and move towards each other – the alternation between them is itself succeeded by sequences wherein contact is made – though in the first few moments of this phase, is the action akin to the exchange of blows between boxers in the ring, or, on the other hand, to the holds by which the partners in certain genres of dance come to grips with one another on the floor? – it is hard to decide, for these moments of music move in a manner that’s simultaneously pugilistic, martial, and sensuous; and thus, cognizant of this very difficulty, listeners may feel as though they are overhearing an inner creative process wherein the protagonists are the different kinds of music themselves as they jut up against each other and spar with one another in some usually by-invitation-only realm (and then the composer too may seem to be first of all an observer and only subsequently a transcriber of their interactions and altercations). Yet, as the musical idiom then swings towards Buenos Aires, we listeners soon find ourselves witnessing something like a tango, and that initial question is swiftly dispatched.

In his compositions Dettori has made thought-provoking use of tango music before, and this time around he incorporates it in a particularly striking manner. Its usage here suggests, most obviously, that this particular genre is especially suitable when the compositional aim is to flesh out, to lend body to an encounter between modes of music that mainly had wanted to avoid one another (then the guitars stand in for rock music in its entirety, in the manner of a synecdoche, and the strings likewise for classical) but which now are thrown together (the old dichotomy in which both were content to abide, is replaced by their close contact) – joined in this musical mise en scène in a tense dance whose brutal refinement the tango elements express quite well. Yes, as a genre both of dance and of music, tango seems to illustrate, generally speaking, how brutal the application of refinement itself can be, and how refined brutality’s (for in practice neither refinement nor brutality excludes the other); thus it is – so at least it seems to me – that the drama, the rhythm, and the tone of tango have been invoked in the “Quartetto Doppio,” as though to underscore that something so new in music may emerge perhaps only when, with considerable daring in the composition, the old opposites are forcibly, kinetically, or even violently joined together.