Dmitry Shostakovich(1906-1975)hamber Symphony

Allegro molto

Shostakovich wrote his 8th string quartet in 3 days in Dresden in 1960. He was there working on music for the film "5 days, 5 nights’. This film with its horrifying images of the death camps had a deep effect on Shostakovich. It was with these images in his mind that he set about writing the quartet. He dedicated it to the "victims of war and fascism". The quartet was created as an instrumental Requiem. On finishing it, the composer said to his daughter: "I have dedicated this quartet to myself" The quartet reflects the sorrows, which the composer himself suffered throughout his life.

This autobiographical work begins with Shostakovich’s famous theme based on his initials "DSCH". In German "S" = E flat and "H"= B thus making up D, E flat, C, B natural. Throughout the quartet there are quotations from many of the composer’s other works.

The quartet opens with a slow meditative movement typical of Shostakovich’s 1st movements in his symphonies and quartets.

The second movement is one of Shostakovich’s "war movements". Terror and fanaticism rage throughout it. One is reminded of the 2nd movement of the 10th symphony. As it reaches its climax, Shostakovich uses a theme from his Piano Trio, op.67. In the trio Shostakovich combines this theme with Jewish dances creating a grotesque and ironic effect. In the quartet however the theme is used to portray protest.

The third movement opens with a quote from the composer’s first cello concerto and continues with a waltz, which is full of suffering.

The fourth movement is based on music from the film "The young guard" and a worker’s revolutionary song " You fell victim". This theme Shostakovich also used in his 11th Symphony. During the quiet culmination of the movement Katerina’s beautiful aria from "Lady Macbeth of Mtensk" is heard.

The fifth movement returns to the first movement material and ends with the marking "morendo" (dying) giving one the impression of complete exhaustion.

The quartet was first played in 1960 in Leningrad. Under the composer’s guidance the legendary conductor of the famous Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Rudolf Barshai adapted it for string orchestra. This work is now one of the most important works in the string orchestra repertoire.

copyright ©Lygia O'Riordan