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
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"
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