Shostakovich – Quartets
l Condemnation following the attack in Soviet Press
on the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.
l 1936 saw his works under real scrutiny and little
was composed in the immediate aftermath.
l Irony that Lady Macbeth was in many ways
unobjectionable and far less abstract or un-Soviet
than The Nose – which was highly ironic.
l But it was sympathetic to the female character in a
time of state crisis – tender understanding
anathema to state authorities.
l In the New York Times Richard Taruskin wrote:
l ‘In 1960, by which time his international fame offered
him a shield, Shostakovich gave in to pressure and joined
the Communist Party. The autobiographical Eight Quartet,
which places his musical monogram in conjunction with a
famous prison song, was an act of atonement for this
display of weakness.’
l Show how Shostakovich’s personal history and
experiences are revealed in this and other quartets.
l 4. The string quartets of Shostakovich
reveal a more personal and private profile
than the Symphonies. Discuss.
l 7. Take any two quartets and any two
symphonies of Shostakovich and
demonstrate how he both remained within
the Western classical tradition of Beethoven
to Mahler, but was also able to transcend it.
l Formalism the great sin – yet Fifth follows form –
conventional sonata form.
l Tragic feel of first movement also suspect.
l Art supposed to reflect folk or national idioms –
yet very little of such reference is made in the
work. Shostakovich had been told in party
publications to represent heroic Soviet peasants
through folk idioms.
l Paradox that official reception was so positive.
New directions in style
l Economy – mammoth orchestra of earlier
symphonies is gone – though extra percussion and
l He had abandoned the huge 4th Symphony
realising that it would get him into even greater
l Avoids complex treatment of themes.
l No idea inflated beyond its capacity.
l Clarity and simplicity of style to the fore.
l Some similarities with Stravinsky’s neo-classical
l But Shostakovich’s work more programmatic – to
show the making of a man’
l `I saw a man with all his experiences in the centre
of the composition which is lyrical in form from
beginning to end. The finale is the optimistic
solution of the tragically tense moments of the
l Need to cover anticipated official criticism of
tragedy in symphonic writing.
An artists response to just
l The subtitle suggested submission.
l The style was conservative and less
l It met with huge official success and
restored him in official favour.
l In its wake he stared on the first quartet.
l It saved the Symphony as an acceptable
form for Soviet composition.
Fifth Quartet (1951-52)
l Attaching of all three movements reflects
and underlying concern with thematic unity,
l First four notes of the motive played by the
viola at the outset (heard 5 times in the first
12 bars) are a permutation of
Shostakovich’s musical signature DSCH
(D-Eflat-C-B) – also motif of the tenth
l Opus. 49. C major (1938); Moderato;
Moderato; Allegro molto; Allegro
l `I visualised childhood scenes, somewhat
naïve and bright with spring’.
l Written in the months following the 5th
Symphony and the trauma of his first
denunciation by the party for `muddle
instead of music’
l Sonata with melody (mostly first violin) and
l Some jocky passages for cello with gliss.
l Simply melodic idea at the start.
l Only a few moments when solos are heard.
l Starts in A minor – viola solo (viola
important throughout)- folk-like melody.
l 7 variations and a recapitulation.
l Gentle and acts as a slow movement
l Witty and impish scherzo in C sharp minor.
l Much of it has homophonic rhythms –
repeated quavers – or later minim/crotchet.
l Finale back to C major and in sonata form
l Complex rhythmically with augementation,
changes of metre and metrical modulations.
l Opus. 68. A major (1944); Overture;
Recitative and Romance; Waltz; Theme
l Composed with the war moving towards
victory. It has a Russian sound and echoes
l Theatrical movement titles - it is a mixture
of old and new elements.
l Opus. 73. F major (1946); Allegretto;
Moderato con moto; Allegro non troppo;
Adagio – attacca; Moderato – Adagio. An
epic written after the war in the context of
the seventh and eight symphonies.
l Originally it had programmatic titles 1.
Calm unawareness of the future cataclysm.
2. Rumblings of unrest and anticipation. 3.
The forces or war unleashed. 4. Homage to
the dead. 5. The eternal question – why
and for what? It may also have elements of
Klesmer music which fascinated
l Opus. 83. D major (1949); Allegretto;
Andantino; Allegretto-attacca; Allegretto.
Written after the second denunciation and
rehabiliation of 1948, it may also have
Jewish meanings, with folk-like middle
eastern melody, rhythm and texture. The
first two movements use monothematic
shapes, and the third is a menacing scherzo
that leads by way of a viola incantation to a
the finale which finishes in statis. Finale
l Opus. 92. B flat major (1952); Allegro non
troppo; Andante – andantino – andante –
andantino – andante – attaca
l A companion piece to the Tenth Symphony.
It has three large movements. It has groups
of subject themes and is a teeming historical
panorama. The last movement has a long
contemplative introduction leading to a
l Written in year of Stalin’s Death
l Opening allegro non troppo is a large scale sonata-
form movement complete with repeated
l Intense even tragic slow movement presents a
simple alternation of Andante and Andantino
l More complex finale is full of finely wrought
counterpoint – from writing of 24 Preludes and
Fugues for piano (1950-51). Influence of piano in
polyphony and thematic integration
l Opus. 101. G major (1956); Allegretto,
Moderato con moto; Moderato con moto.
Stalin had died in 1953 and from this point
there is a gradual thaw in the repression.
However Shostakovich’s personal life was
turbulent with the death of his wife and
mother and a short-lived second marriage in
1956. A light work in contrast to the 5th
simple ostinati, drones, dance figures and
easy tunes. Gradually all is invaded by
sense of darkness
l Opus. 108. F sharp minor (1960);
Allegretto – attacca; Lento-attacca; Allegro-
l Shostakovich’s shortest (11 minutes) but of
great intensity. Dedicated to the memory of
his first wife – a profound leave taking.
Balancing of extreme elements ended by a
musical death at the end.
l Opus.110. C minor (1960); Largo-attacca;
Allegro molto-attacca; Allegretto-attacca;
Largo-attacca; Largo. Year of 1960 one of
l The quartet is dedicated to the memory of
the victims of fascism and war.
Shostakovich visited Dresden and witnessed
the devastation – it as an autobiographical
l The five movements are played without a
break and are all built from the same
material-it has unusual structural and
thematic unity. Different views of the same
l Opus. 117. E flat minor (1964); Moderato
con moto-attacca; Adagio-attacca;
Allegretto-attacca; Adagio-attacca; Allegro.
Married the much younger Irina Supinskaya
and restablished his independent voice.
Ninth and tenth both composed in summer
of 1964. dedicated to his new wife. All
five connected movements grow out of each
other like one gesture
l Opus.118. A flat major (1964); Andante;
Allegretto furioso; Adagio-attacca;
l Dedicated to friend the composer Mtak
Wainberg. First movment has three themes
which grow out of each other. Brutal
second movement, third a passacaglia and
the last disappears into nothing.
l Seven miniatures – like a human comedy –
full of dark humour.
l Like a film score.
l All movements brief.
l Each movement has a theme – and all
appear in the finale.
l Tells a story of human tragedy.
l Opus.122. F minor (1966); Introduction:
Andantino-attacca; Scherzo: Allegretto-
attacca; Rectitative; Adagio-attacca; Etude:
Allegro-attacca; Humoresque: Allegreo-
attacca; Elergy: Adagio-attacca; Finale:
Moderato-meno mosso-Moderato. Like a
film score – seven miniatures human
comedies that are ultimately tragic. Full of
l Opus.133. D flat major (1968); Moderato-
Dialectic approach throughout. Gigantic
second movement really three. Third uses
all 12 pitches in the theme and five –note
rhythmic figure. The adagio a point of
stillness and the last movement a
redefinition of all that has been before.
l Opus.138. B flat minor (1970); Adagio-
Doppio movimento-Tempo primo. More
use of unconventional playing techniques.
Harshness of last three reflect the world of
pain and drugs Shostakovich lived in.
Polio, heart desease and cancer. Features
viola and dedicated to Vadim Borisovsky of
Beethoven quartet. Symmetry of form with
jazz section at centre. Full of dissonace and
atonality – full gamut of musical language
from folk to radical dissonance.
Opus. 142. F sharp major (1972-3);
l Opus. 144. E flat minor (1974); Elegy:
Adagio-attacca; Serenade: Adagio-attacca;
Intermezzo: Adagio-attacca; Nocturne:
Adagio-attacca; Funeral March: Adagio
molto-attacca; Epilogue: Adagio molto
l Greatest set of twentienth-century quartets.
l Range of styles from new experimetalism of
12th to conservatism of 1st; from oddity of
11th to deep sadness of 8th.
l All are individual and reflet most closely on
his personal progress through a difficult life.
A life that charts not only the struggles of
the Soviet era – but of the world in general.