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Movement I (Largo) overall comment

This movement is an important introduction to the string quartet, as it is a collage type structure
presenting a number of musical ideas which have an important bearing on the rest of the work. Indeed, it
is very similar to a prelude in character.
STRUCTURE: The movement does not conform exactly to any conventional formal pattern, but it is
possible to identify an overall ABA structure, in that the outer sections bear obvious resemblances in key,
style and thematic content. These outer sections flank a contrasting central section which consists of three
arioso-type passages. On closer inspection, even the central section is based on an arch-type ABA form.
The structure has therefore been analysed according to the following outline:
Section A

Section B1



Section A2

THEMES: The germinal idea is the DSCH motif. Because of the way in which the structure depends on this
motif, as well as on quotations from and allusions to other works (both from Shostakovichs own and other
composers music), the analysis concentrates mainly on melodic matters.
MOOD: As explained in the accompanying background notes, the mood is very intense.
TONALITY: All of the movements are in a minor key, and this first movement is in the key of C minor. The
composer never loses sight of this underlying tonality, though he freely uses incidental dissonances and
extended false relations.
HARMONY: Apart from some chromatic intensity toward the end of the central section, this movement is
rather static harmonically. The chromatic opening and subsequent stabilisation by triadic harmonies with a
chordal closing restatement is typical of Shostakovichs mature compositional style. He interchanges major
and minor 3rds over the root of a chord, and the contrapuntal and harmonic language exists comfortably
side by side.

Structure: Fluid ternary / an incomplete arch - A1+2 B1 B2 B1a A2





Theme a1 =

This first section may be divided into two parts:

A1 = the opening fugato section (bars 02 16)
A2 = the section which presents the quotation from the first
symphony (bars 16-27)

DSCH (from the 10th

symphony - the
year that Stalin

TEXTURE: The opening texture is contrapuntal in style. The quartet

starts with the cello playing the motif, followed by a series of
canonical entries on this motif.
In fugato style, the initial cello idea is imitated by:
Theme a2 =
viola (bar 2), which enters a 5th above (on the dominant - G
violin 2 (bar 3), octave higher than the original pitch (tonic -C
violin 1 (bar 4), which enters a 4th above (on the subdominant
Quotation from
F minor).
opening of
Symphony no.1 (bar However, because each statement is not allowed to run its full
course, this is really more like a stretto than a fugal exposition. After
the second attempt at this entry in viola part in bar 8, we reach the
end of the fugato. This opening feels incomplete, but must have been
intentional, as Shostakovich knew quite well how to write a fugue!
Texturally, the fugato is soon displaced by various quotations and
allusions, and the passage-work in the rest of this section includes
some attempt at interplay between violin 1 and viola, before the

opening section concludes with a chorale-like cadential figure (bar

THEMES: The music begins with a self quotation the DSCH motif
(2317). [See general background notes]
At bar 11, note the DSCH motif on both violins and cello in octaves
against an inner dominant pedal in viola. At bar 16, Shostakovich
includes the first quotation used in this work. It is taken from the
opening bars of his first symphony (though its inclusion here is much
slower than the original). At bar 193, the violin actually plays the
exact intervallic pattern of the first three notes of the DSCH theme.
Two bars later this is heard in sequence, played a tone lower, in fact
at its original pitch.though the final note B is delayed and actually
placed in the second violin, a bar and half later(bar 233). The rising
semitones and falling minor 3rds in violin 2 clearly link with the first
two intervals of the DSCH motif and this originally was the
counterpoint played by the bassoons to the original trumpet theme in
the symphony. The final statement of the DSCH motif in violin 1, bar
233 is harmonized by the lower three parts. Note the motif/tetrachord
played in violin 2 (beginning with the B in bar 233) is a variation of
the DSCH motif, as it uses four different pitches from the C minor
scale,(7-1-6-5: leading note-tonic-submediant-dominant). In doing so,
the outer interval (middle C lower G) has been changed to perfect
4th, and not a diminished 4th as in the DSCH motto.

TONALITY: The entries of the fugato opening are clearly linked to C

minor, though a feeling of tonal ambiguity is quickly established as
the opening motifs in the cello, viola and violin actually cover all
twelve semitones of the octave with exception of the Db, which is
delayed until the bass of the cello in bar 6. Shostakovich attempts to

provide a conventional resolution to the fugato section in bar 10, but

the unison statement of the DSCH motif (bar 113) seemingly
establishes C minor, only to be quickly shifted to E min/major at fig 1.
The mock counterpoint of the first symphony quotation soon
dissolves into rather ambiguous tonality, but the final DSCH
cadential statement reverts quite strongly back to C minor.
HARMONY: The melodic lines follow certain aspects of fugal convention,
but we have already noted that the entries are not all at conventional
pitches and they are not reinforced by conventional harmonies. From bar

3, the cello plays the descending form of the C melodic minor scale
with the A (bar 43) supporting an Italian augmented 6th chord which
resolves to the dominant in bar 5. The first phrase ends in the tonic
via the chord of the flattened supertonic (bar 6). There are further
dissonances, e.g.:
The initial viola entry forms a 7th above bass;
There are false relationships formed by the interplay of
Bs and Bs in the texture.
At fig 1, the cello is unable to continue with the DSCH motif down to
B (as it is outside its range), so the move up to E brings the totally
unexpected E minor (then major) chord in bar 13.
However, the held B in violin 1 (bars 13-16) serves as an inverted
pedal point and the lower 3 parts descend chromatically. This soon
brings us back to C minor, and yet another pedal point on E initially
in the cellos at bar 16, then joined by the violins (bar 17/18).
Bars 232-27 present a conventional cadential figure (V-i6-iv-V9-8 I).
Generally, much of the harmonic flow in this opening section consists
of 7ths, 9ths, six-fours, passing notes and neighbour-note chords
(both diatonic and chromatic).


Allusion to
Symphony no.6

TEXTURE: A single melodic line, supported by held tonic and

dominant notes. This is a thin texture, with an almost confessional
quality, in the style of an arioso.

Allusion to
THEMES: This first arioso is very chromatic in shape. Note that the
Shostakovich 5th
first 5 notes include the pitches of the DSCH in descending order,
symphony in the
plus the D the flattened supertonic. The 9-8 suspension heard in
violin 2 at bar 25 in the previous section feels as if it is being
Ideas are also
linked with DSCH by thematically developed here (i.e. the last two notes of the 7165
motif) - and the idea is repeated at various pitches in the violin 1 part
the falling
throughout this section. At bar 44, note the variant of 3217 except
that the flattened supertonic of D is again used. This feature is
becoming common and remains a characteristic throughout the rest
of this movement and indeed, later movements. The B at fig 3 in
violin 1 is also the first note of 7123, forming a countermelody
against the cellos DSCH motif, which returns at the original pitch
half way through the same bar.
This arioso falls into 5 clearly cut phrases: 3+3+5+5 (1+4) plus the
last three bars:
Phrase 1 (bar 28-30): taken from the descending semitones
from the DSCH fugato and the first quotation. Ends with a
semitone sigh, in violin 1, bar 30.
Phrase 2 (bar 31-33): this reverses the melodic shape it is an
ascending chromatic line initially, and ends with a little
cadential motif that is worth noting a rising diminished 4th
followed by the falling semitone sigh (bar 324-33, violin 1).
Phrase 3 (bar 34-38): this begins with a little development of
the cadential motif, before another descending line (cf the
contour of Tchaikovskys second subject theme, S2, from the
Pathetique). The final 4 notes of this phrase echo the first four,
but they are a fifth lower.
Phrase 4 (bar 39 -43): this elaborates the sigh by repeating the
opening falling motif. The remainder of the phrase then follows
the general shape of the third phrase, but ends lower, and
finishes with a sigh of falling minor third (reminiscent of the

middle two notes of the initial DSCH motif).

Phrase 5: the minor 3rdalternation continues for one bar before
the melodic line leads to another counterpoint of the DSCH

TONALITY: C minor, as seen in the double pedal notes heard in all

three lower parts.
HARMONY: Very little of interest here, really! However, note that the
2nd, 4th and even 8th degrees are flattened, which is quite modal in
style. Previously the interplay between E and E has been
mentioned, so harmonically, we must question whether the F in
violin 1 at bar 42 is actually the major 3rd of the chord, falling to the
minor 3rd of the chord (i.e. E E); or is it a flattened appoggiatura to
the third of the chord?


Allusion to
symphony no.5,
both in the rhythms
and intervallic
figure x =

TEXTURE: This section begins with simple imitation, and the

counterpoint which follows between the two violins from bar 55
onwards demonstrates Shostakovichs skill in manipulating his basic
melodic material. Sequential movement continues in violin 2.
THEMES: Lots of motivic manipulation here! Violin 1 starts with a
short linking figure in bar 50 (figure x). Two bars later, violin 2
answers with a version of figure x extended to 3 bars, in which the
last falling semitone (the sigh) is repeated. From Fig. 4, figure x is
treated as a free rhythmic ostinato with changing pitch contours,
always in violin 2. This underpins the entire second arioso (and
eventually forms the crucial link between the first two movements!).
The phrasing of the 2nd arioso is quite regular and falls into 3x 8 bars.
Phrase 1 (bar 55/Fig. 4): the melody in violin 1 is extremely
plaintive and closely resembles that heard at Fig. 2, this time it
outlines a tritone (E down to B). The E brings the welcome

flavour of a major tonality, however brief; it is also a semitone

higher than at Fig. 2. The stepwise descent of the violin 1 part
has now been expanded from semitones to tones, and the final
resting sigh, the A to G, is repeated.
Phrase 2 (bar 63): the first 3 bars repeat the opening of phrase
1, but then ascends using the notes of the DSCH motif, with
Both Fig. 1 and 4
the falling semitone sighs taken over in violin 2 as ascending
melodies (as well as
sequences. Note the use of sequence again to extend the
the 3217 variant of
falling semitones in violin 2 (bars 68-70). Note also how violin 1
DSCH) derive from
utilises the rising and falling tetrachord at bar 67 -70.
a melody from the
Phrase 3 (bar 71): violin 1 echoes the first phrase of arioso 2,
1st movement from
though violin 2 is different as it continues the sequential
the composers fifth
movement. Note both the enharmonic F in bar 76 and the very
symphony, which
subtle held D in violin 2 join together two statements of the
had actually been
rhythmic ostinato. The pitches are 2317 in D minor (i.e. E-Fwritten in response
to the damning
The concluding phrase at Fig. 6 is very similar to the phrase that
review of his Lady
concluded section A, but it is extended and with different and more
dissonant harmonies.
TONALITY: C minor, with the motives supported by a tonic pedal,
though there is brief interruption with a dominant pedal for four bars
at bar 67 -71.
HARMONY: The modal degrees of arioso 2 are the same as arioso 1,
but in some cases they have been used in slightly different ways. The
manipulation of the semitone is noteworthy here, and the D is once
again an appoggiatura semitone sigh to D, at times decorated. The
F notes, for the most part are written as Es but this time the
figure is inverted, with Es rising the semitone to Es, (e.g. bar 6162). The exception is in bar 76 where the E becomes F again.
Likewise, note the Bs rising to Bs.
The final harmonic phrase of this section is: V iii (unrelated)-IV-V in

bar 82, (with a min 9th above the bass in vln 2 and a diminished 7th
above the bass in the viola).


Elaboration of
arioso 1 like an
arch idea in the
middle section. It
re-works arioso one
and provides a
frame for arioso 2.

STRUCTURE: The function of this section is to re-work arioso 1; but it

also leads back to a return of the opening section A.
TEXTURE: The texture becomes increasingly complex and
contrapuntal as we move from the homophonic style of the middle
ariosos. Note the inverted pedal points; during the first 3 phrases, the
upper voices gradually gain individuality, and move away from the
sustained chords.
THEMES: Like arioso 1, this has 5 phrases - 3+3+2+5+4:
Phrase 1 (bar 87): below the opening pedal points in
violins and viola, the cello paraphrases the first phrase
from arioso 1 but it is lower and now in C major.
Phrase 2 (bar 90): this has the same intervallic shape as
phrase 2 of arioso 1, but again in cello and this time a 3rd
lower; the ending of this phrase is therefore slightly
adapted for harmonic reasons.
Phrase 3 (bar 93): this begins as phrase 3 of arioso 1, but
is cut off after just 2 bars.
Phrase 4 (bar 95): the violin now leads and refers back to
arioso 2, almost like another little development of the
earlier idea. This C major violin 1 melody, (derived from
bars 55-58) is underlined by the 3217 version of the
tetrachord heard in the viola in A minor (bar 95-99).
Phrase 5 (bar 100): once more the chromatic descent in
cello echoes the first phrase of arioso 1, and the violin
inverts the 3-note sigh from the end of the first arioso
section i.e. bars 39-40.

HARMONY: The music feels increasingly chromatic. It starts with an

A minor chord at Fig. 7, then moves to an F# minor chord (again
with a flattened supertonic) at bar 913. This phrase ends briefly in C
major (944), only to begin the next phrase at Fig. 8 - again diatonic
and in C major. This soon becomes very chromatic, however, and
almost feels atonal (bars 99-104). Slides chromatically to a D in
violins and cello, with the sustained G continued in the viola part, bar
104. This prepares us for the return of the final section in C minor.


Quotation from the

first symphony

STRUCTURE: Begins with a repeat of 113 -211 (except for slight

decoration in the viola part, at bar 106). The fugal section (A1) has
been omitted, so this concluding section A is shorter than the first
section A.
TEXTURE: Homophonic with equality of parts (bar 104-109),
followed by a return to the contrapuntal texture of the first quotation
(bar 109 -118), though the work at the end of the phrase is altered
and extended. The final phrase again concludes with a chorale-like
cadential figure.

THEMES: DSCH until bar 109, which links to a return of the first
symphony quotation. Note the brief reference to figure x from the
central section in bars 122-126. With the pedal notes reminiscent of
the mid section textures (i.e. the ariosos), it almost feels as if another
arioso section is to follow: but the repeat of this motif is interrupted in
bar 125 by the held G# in the lower three parts. This is the
enharmonic equivalent of A, (the flattened submediant of C) and
serves as the link to movement 2, which is in the apparently
unrelated key of G# minor.
TONALITY: C minor.
HARMONY: This section connects the harmonic parallel thirds of the

quotation extension to the final DSCH cadential figure, providing

sufficient closure in the absence of the fugato re-statement. At bar
118, the harmony of the final phrase may be compared with that
found at the end of section B2, but with the violin parts swapped.
(C) Copyright 1960 by Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd.
Reproduced by permission of Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd.