"There are no two points so distant from one another that they cannot be connected by a single straight line -- and an infinite number of curves."

Composer Lawrence Dillon has produced an extensive body of work, from brief solo pieces to a full-length opera. Three disks of his music are due out in 2010 on the Bridge, Albany and Naxos labels. In the past year, he has had commissions from the Emerson String Quartet, the Cassatt String Quartet, the Mansfield Symphony, the Boise Philharmonic, the Salt Lake City Symphony, the Ravinia Festival, the Daedalus String Quartet, the Kenan Institute for the Arts, the University of Utah and the Idyllwild Symphony Orchestra.

Although he lost 50% of his hearing in a childhood illness, Dillon began composing as soon as he started piano lessons at the age of seven. In 1985, he became the youngest composer to earn a doctorate at The Juilliard School, and was shortly thereafter appointed to the Juilliard faculty. Dillon is now Composer in Residence at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he has served as Music Director of the Contemporary Ensemble, Assistant Dean of Performance, and Interim Dean of the School of Music. He was the Featured American Composer in the February 2006 issue of Chamber Music magazine.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Picking up where I left off in my last post about my Lincoln piece, the second movement uses a wonderful letter that I think of as being in Abe’s stand-up comedian mode. It’s dated April 1st, and it spins a yarn – part tall-tale, but based in fact – about a failed attempt at courtship. Lincoln seems to be having fun at the expense of the woman’s unfortunate appearance, but in the end he makes it clear that the joke is on him:
In the autumn of 1836 a married lady of my acquaintance proposed to me that I wed her sister. I accepted the proposal, feeling confoundedly well pleased with the project. I had seen the said sister some three years before, thought her intelligent and agreeable, and saw no good objection to plodding through life hand-in-hand with her.

In a few days we had an interview, and, although I had seen her before, she did not look as my imagination had pictured her. I knew she was oversize, but she now appeared a fair match for Falstaff. I knew she was called an “old maid,” and I didn’t doubt at least half of that description, but now, when I beheld her, I could not for my life avoid thinking of my mother; and this, not from withered features, -- for her skin was too full of fat to permit of its contracting into wrinkles – but from her want of teeth, weather-beaten appearance in general, and from a kind of notion that ran in my head that nothing could have commenced at the size of infancy and reached her present bulk in less than thirty-five or forty years; and, in short, I was not at all pleased with her. But what could I do? I had told her sister that I would take her for better or for worse. “Well,” thought I, “I have said it, and, be the consequences what they may, it shall not be my fault if I fail to do it.” At once I determined to consider her my wife, and this done, all my powers of discovery were put to work in search of perfections in her which would balance her defects. I tried to imagine her handsome, which, but for her unfortunate corpulency, was actually true. I also tried to convince myself that the mind was much more to be valued than the person, and in this she was not inferior to any with whom I had been acquainted.

All this while, although I was fixed “firm as the surge-repelling rock” in my resolution, I found I was continually repenting the rashness which had led me to make it. I now spent my time in planning how I might get along in life after my contemplated change of circumstances should have taken place, and how I might procrastinate the evil day for a time.

After I had delayed the matter as long as I thought I could, I concluded I might as well bring it to a consummation without further delay, and so I mustered my resolution and made the proposal to her direct; but, shocking to relate, she answered, No. At first I supposed she did it through an affectation of modesty, which I thought but ill became her under the peculiar circumstances of the case, but on my renewal of the charge I found she repelled it with greater firmness than before. I tried it again and again, but with the same success, or rather with the same want of success.

I finally was forced to give it up, at which I very unexpectedly found myself mortified almost beyond endurance. My vanity was deeply wounded by the reflection that I had so long been too stupid to discover her intentions, and also that she, whom I had taught myself to believe nobody else would have, had actually rejected me with all my fancied greatness. And, to cap the whole, I then for the first time began to suspect that I was really a little in love with her.

Others have been made fools of by the girls, but this can never in truth be said of me. I most emphatically, in this instance, made a fool of myself.

I have now come to the conclusion never again to think of marrying, and for this reason – I can never be satisfied with any one who would be blockhead enough to have me.
Letter to Mrs. O. H. Browning, Springfield, Illinois. April 1, 1838

The concluding punch line was famously stolen by Groucho Marx a century later.

For those who may be interested in such things, I’ve set this letter as a scherzo that is inverted halfway through, as the tables are turned on the narrator.