Shostakovich’s eight String Quartet is truly one of the most famous works by the russian composer and one of the most performed nowadays. The reason for this lies in the unusual events behind the composition of the piece which make it remarkable.
Among those curious events is how fast Shostakovich wrote it, namely in three days, between the 12th and the 14th July 1960. The motivation for the composition comes possibly from two traumatic events in the composer’s life: the first signs of a muscle disease which later turned out to be amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and his reluctant membership to the Communist Party.
The Quartet is dedicated “to the victims of fascism and war”, although other theories point out that the composer dedicated it firstly to the victims of totalitarianism, having then the russian authorities forced him to change the dedication. It is as well a silent homage to himself, because it could have been written as a sort of epitaph in which Shostakovich predicted his own death: the main theme is based on his initials – the motive D S C H corresponding to the English music notation D E♭ C B.
There is also a historical link between the composition of this Quartet and the Bombing of Dresden in 1945. Shostakovich was in this city working on the soundtrack of a documentary about the destruction of the city fifteen years before and was composing this quartet as well. It is therefore possible to listen to musical references to the horror caused by the bombing: the panic on the second movement, the flares on the third and the bombs falling on the fourth.
The Quartet has plenty of quotations from other works by the composer, among those are the Cello Concert, the Symphonies No. 1 and No. 5 and Lady Macbeth. This work was premiered in 1960 by the Beethoven Quartet but the most famous performance is by the Borodin Quartet, recorded two years later at the composer’s home in Moscow. Thus, this performance might be the one closest to the composer’s own idea.
The second String Quartet in A minor was written in 1827, when Mendelssohn was only 18 years old and it is frequently considered as one of his first mature works. It was written only a few months after the death of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), which is perhaps why the influence of his last string quartets is in this piece so noticeble. Highly inspired by his predecessor, young Mendelssohn reflects in this Op. 13 various ideas explored by Beethoven in his last works, being the cyclic form the one that he most developed and explored. Thus, Mendelssohn beginns and concludes the quartet with a quotation, heard in the first violin line, of his previously written song Ist es wahr? (Is it true?), which confers a cyclic character of the whole piece.
Although the quartet may intensly reflect Beethoven’s influence, something very unique, innovative and contrasting with his music stands out: throughout the whole
piece lies a clearly romantic atmosphere, where Mendelssohn fearlessly exposes like no one else before the most profound and violent humans feelings, from passion to
dispair, from the most sincere joy to the saddest abandonment – maybe a reflexion of the feelings of the young composer, who’s youth is only perceptible in the intense way
through which he uses emotions and can sublimely transmit them to the audience.
Dimitri Schostakovich (1906 – 1975)
Quareto de Cordas N.º 8 em Dó Menor, Op. 110, Às vítimas do fascismo e da guerra (1960)
(dur. aproximada 25 min.)
⦁ Allegro molto
Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847)
Quarteto de Cordas N.º 2 em Lá Menor, Op. 13 (1827)
(dur. aproximada 30 min.)
⦁ Adagio – Allegro Vivace
⦁ Adagio non lento
⦁ Intermezzo: Allegretto con moto – Allegro di molto
⦁ Presto – Adagio non lento
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