Shostakovich String Quartet in c, Op.110
For Dmitri Shostakovich and other composers living under the Soviet Communist regime, life was made a living nightmare. He had seen his close friends being censored and even killed for failure to conform to the Soviet government. His own work was under constant scrutiny; his works were always closely watched by Soviet officials who often denounced his works as either too individualistic (his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) or not revolutoinary enough (his Ninth Symphony).
The last insult came when he was forced to join the Communist Party in 1959, an act that Shostakovich saw as worse than death itself. The following year, during a 3-day visit to Dresden, he wrote this quartet in c minor and subtitled it: "To the Memory of the Victims of Fascism". This subtitle apparently pleased Soviet officials, who moved quickly to endorse it as an example of fine Soviet art.
The truth is much more tragic, however. Around the time he wrote the quartet, he had told close friends that he was contemplating suicide. Shostatovich's true intention for the quartet was for it to serve as his suicide note. Contained within the piece is an explanation of the reason for his death.
He associates this piece to his life by inserting his initials throughout the work. This is done through a sequence of four notes: D, E flat, C, and B. In the German nomenclature these notes are read: D, Es, C, H - which stands for Dmitri SCHostakowitsch, the German transliteration of his name. Shostakovich used this figure in many of his pieces: his Tenth Symphony, his Violin and Cello Cencertos, and in the Seventh String Quartet; however, never is the DSCH used to obsessively as in this Eighth Quartet.
Shostakovich ultimately did not commit suicide, but this quartet
serves as a reminder of the torments brought on by the Communist
government of the Cold War. Along with the quartets by Bartók and Schoenberg, this work is
considered among the greatest chamber works of the Modern Period.
Hear the Entire Piece
Mvmt 1 | Mvmt 2 | Mvmt 3 | Mvmt 4 | Mvmt 5
Note: This is a recording of the Shostakovich Chamber Symphony in c. This piece is basically note-for-note the same as the opus 110 quartet, but with a few textural changes and is written for full string orchestra. We realize that true chamber music only has one player to a part, but this was a fine recording that we could neither top or refuse. We believe that the score and the recording both stay very true to the original string quartet, so please enjoy!
Recorded: in the Lazlo Funtek Auditorium on April 4, 1999
Violins: Miki-Sophia Cloud and Emily Schelstrate;
Viola: Sean Hardesty;
Cello: Sandi Lin;
This work is divided into five continuous movements. Shostakovich begins the quartet by stating the DCSH figure that is explained above. Remember those four notes, because you will hear them constantly in different forms; they represent Shostakovich in this musical account of his life. Throughout the whole work, Shostakovich inserts musical sections taken from pieces he wrote at various stages in his life; early on in this first movement he quotes a section from his First Symphony, the piece that launched his musical career at the age of 19.
The second movement is a mad whirling storm, once again with DSCH at the middle of it all. The movement includes the "Dance of Death" theme from his Second Piano Trio, which is said to be the theme sung by Jews in Nazi concentration camps as they were being forced to dig their own graves. We could take this to mean that the Communists were forcing Shostakovich to his own death by forcing him to join the Communist Party.
The Third Movement includes a Jewish-sounding waltz, which comes out of Shostakovich's hate for the institutionalized Soviet anti-Semitism which caused thousands of Jews to flee. The movement also includes a reference to Shostakovich's First Cello Concerto, which Soviet officials forced him to write as part of his "rehabilitation" for creating "subversive" works.
Savage chords set off the Fourth Movement, and punctuate it throughtout. These three bangs could, as some have suggested, represent fire bombs landing on Dresden, but the more likely explanation would be Stalin's death squads knocking on the door. After his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk brought him under Stalin's wrath, Shostakovich was so afraid that he always slept with a bag packed in case that ominous knock on the door ever came.
The movement also contains two telling musical quotations, both set off by the DSCH theme: the first is a Russian funeral song, Tormented by the Lack of Freedom. This section pulses with Shostakovich's torment over his lack of freedom, and of his contemplation over his own funeral. The second quotation is from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, the work that marked the beginnings of his troubles with the Communists.
The last movement is a
heart-wrenching reflection of the first, with even more repetition
of the DSCH. If the first movement represented the beginning of his
tragic life, then this movement marks the bitter remembrance of it.
There is no sense of redemption at the end; the music, after
reaching a final climactic moment, miserably fades away...
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