Sunday, 16 November 2008


Went up to Birmingham Town Hall to see the Brodsky Quartet play Beethoven, Shostakovitch, Stravinsky and Tchaichofsky this afternoon. I especially wanted to hear the Shostakovitch, the 8th String Quartet - one of my favourite pieces of music.

My favourite rendition is the one by the Borodin Quartet: the lp notes give some background:

There are many autobiographical and historical references in Shostakovich's large output of music. One cannot claim that these invariably help to produce works of permanent artistic merit, but one must recognise him as an artist of intense feeling, certainly no mere official chronicler. His 8th and latest String Quartet is a very fine artistic as well as profoundly emotional work. It is in five movements played without a break. As Bach some times musically signed himself BACH (B being the German for B flat, H for B natural), so Shostakovich like to include his monogram and does so in the Violin Concerto and the Cello Concerto. This quartet too opens with D (for Dimitri) E flat (in German - and Russian - Es, pronounced like the letter S), C, H (B natural). There is a gentle, sorrowful Largo which leads to a fierce, heavily punctuated Allegro molto. The legato theme introduced by the violins in octaves is taken from the Finale of the Piano Trio. THe third movement, a sad, rather Oriental little Waltz, also opens with the D. Sch monogram. Strange cries from the second violin, and rhythmic changes (which quote the Cello Concerto) interrupt its flow. At the end of the movement the G string of the first violin, vibrateless and hollow, becomes the drone of a hostile bomber aircraft. Shostakovich composed this quartet in Dresden in 1960. Surrounded by devastation, he remembers, deeply moved, his own experience of the war - as every listener will.

The evil drone is interrupted by sharp gun fire. Then we hear a momentary Dies Irae and the simple confident melody of an old Revolutionary song. After a brief question from the 10th Symphony, in the most poignant part of the work, the composer is carried back to the years of his youth, as the cello sings an air from his early opera "Lady Macbeth of Mtensk" (1934). But the bomber and the gun-fire remain until the 5th movement, a return to the opening Largo, which closes the work, sad but serene.

The Borodin Quartet played this work to the composer at his Moscow home, hoping for his criticisms. But Shostakovich, overwhelmed by this beautiful realisation of his most personal feelings, buried his head in his hands and wept. When they had finished playing, the four musicians quietly packed up their instruments, and stole out of the room.

Anyway, here is the Brodsky (not the Borodin) Quartet playing it:


Terra Incognita said...

Shostakovitch brings me to my knees.
Thanks for that. Sarcasm. Not good to go to work with runny nose and weeping eyes. LOL.
Hope you are well.

Abysmal Musings said...

Oops sorry! take care, D