Author: Snedeker, Jeffrey
Date published: May 1, 2010
Dialogues III for horn and tuba by John Stevens. ENS 177, 2007, 20 CHF.
While I was working on my doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I got to know John Stevens and his music, and played in a brass quintet that performed his fantastic Seasons. I also heard a lot of his music for tuba ensemble, and decided his style is sort of a combination of Chuck Mangione (whose jazz band he played in as a student at Eastman) and Gustav Mahler, with driving and at times jazzy rhythms and thick lush harmonies. Dialogues III was composed in 1987 as part of a larger project where Stevens created a series of duets for tuba and other brass instruments. Set in five movements and lasting about twelve and a half minutes, the piece has numerous technical challenges for the individuals and the ensemble. Each movement has a descriptive title. The first, Prologue and Dance, begins with a slow dialogue introducing each instrument, and then they dance together in fast, mixed meter. Twice the tubaist is asked to glissando "to highest note"-it is hard to tell if this is playful or out of frustration (let's assume the former!). The second movement is a March with several tricky alternating patterns (sometimes at the eighth note, others at the sixteenth) as well as some equally challenging simultaneous rhythms (e.g., five against four). It is still undeniably a march. The third movement is a breathless scherzo, very reminiscent of the Summer movement in The Seasons. The fourth is an expressive "Lament," where the two play together most of the time, with individual cadenzas in the middle. The finale, "Dance and Epilogue," is also reminiscent of other Stevens works, with jazzy licks and fun rhythmic quirks. The "Epilogue" is a restatement of the "Prologue," but the parts are switched at first. Eventually, the piece ends quietly and peacefully. This is a great piece for a solo, shared, or quintet recital that will provide a wonderful musical contrast. The rhythmic elements and the interesting harmonies make John Stevens' music very interesting, which contributes much to their popularity - deservedly so. There is much substance here, and I look forward to performing this myself as soon as possible. JS