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DIMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH the man Dates: 1906 - 1975 Nationality: Russian Some background details: Dimitri Shostakovich was

born in St. Petersburg, which at the

time was the arts capital of Russia. His musical talent as a child prodigy pianist and composer was recognized early on, and at the age of just 13 he enrolled at the Conservatory. However, in his 3rd year, just before he was about to study full-time, his father died. A year later, Shostakovich himself was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and he remained often in poor health throughout the rest of his life. His mother was a highly accomplished pianist, and after she lost her job in 1924, he decided to go to work playing the piano at a local cinema accompanying the films but hated it! It was during this time that he composed his first symphony, which he eventually submitted as his graduation piece. It brought instant success and recognition, and the Soviet authorities held the young composer to their hearts as the beacon of Soviet art. Shostakovich was to be the first Russian composer of international repute to emerge as a product of the musical culture during the period of the Soviet Union, but throughout his musical career he had a very difficult relationship with the Soviet government. Vladimir Lenin (1870 1924) was a Russian revolutionary and communist politician who became the first head of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic. At that time, the Soviet cultural bureau was keen to set new trends, and they recognised that Shostakovich could be used as a valuable political tool. They commissioned him to write works for the concert hall and stage, and promoted him abroad as the leading representative of Soviet art. However, by the early 1930s, certain aspects of his musical style (e.g. the dissonant harmonies, avant-garde forms and sardonic idioms) brought him into disfavour with a government then headed by Joseph Stalin (1878 1953). He experienced the first of his setbacks with the authorities when his opera The Nose was

denounced as a product of bourgois decadence by the association of Proletarian composers. Though it took a little time, Shostakovich re-assumed his position in soviet music - but then his opera Lady Macbeth of Mzensk District (written in 1934) also became heavily criticized. It had been a magnificent achievement, and ran very successfully for over two years, but suddenly it became the victim of a political blitz! Stalin hated it and the Russian newspaper Pravda presented a blistering condemnation of it: Muddle instead of music deliberately dissonant, confused stream of sounds singing replaced by screaming.. and so on. As a result, the opera was withdrawn, and Shostakovich found that other works of his were also condemned. For some time, he felt in danger of his life, and was forced to re-think his approach. His fifth symphony (1937), with its simpler harmonies and happy ending found favour again, and was another tremendous success. He had bounced back with amazing resiliency; but later almost unbelievably - his ninth symphony was denounced, and in February 1948 he was once again, along with others, denounced by the communist party for decadent formalism . Shostakovich acknowledged his guilt, and turned to writing music which fulfilled the requirements of the Communist committee. Increasingly, the government had favoured a culture which was to reject all art that did not directly serve the revolutionary cause and the people. The relationship between state and composer was far from easy. Indeed, both Shostakovich and Prokofiev had suffered along with many other artists in Stalin s purges, which were designed to ensure that the arts reflected the political aims of the state. Effectively, this repression removed Russian composers from their place in the evolution of musical style, and their errors of atonality, lack of melody and dissonance were openly criticized by government advisors in 1948. Shostakovich gave the government what they wanted. In 1949, his oratorio The Song of the Forrests was awarded the Stalin prize the 3rd time he had won it! Ultimately, however, it was only after the death of Stalin in 1953 that conditions improved and composers could express themselves more individually. Shostakovich died on August, 1975, in Moscow, where he was given a state burial and recognised by the world press as an outstanding and popular composer.


Use the Internet and Library. Make notes to keep in your file.

Find out and read more about Shostakovich, and the ways in which his music had been affected by the rulings of the Soviet government. Shostakovich s alleged memoirs Testimony FACT OR FICTION?

DIMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH the composer The frequent changes of official attitude to Shostakovich s music were very interesting and clearly had an effect on the composer s output. Indeed, it is probably fair to say that few major composers have been so uneven in their production! Shostakovich has his followers who describe his music as vital, spontaneous and powerful; but he also has critics who describe his work as synthetic and commonplace. His output is extensive: o o o o o o o o o o o 15 symphonies (perhaps his most important compositions), 15 string quartets, various chamber works, 6 concertos for various instruments, song cycles, solo piano pieces, some cantatas and oratorios 2 operas (and an operetta), ballets, 36 film scores and incidental music for 11 plays Some orchestral suites (taken from his other pieces).

DIMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH - general compositional style As a composer, Shostakovich worked with both the old and the new. He was rooted in tradition and tonality, yet using dissonance and occasional atonality as expressive means without adhering to any traditional school (Grove) He combined elements of the classical and romantic eras, and also used comedy, sarcasm and irony; his individuality grew out of the contrast between an almost sentimental lyricism and a vigorous, grotesque dissonant wit. At times, his work reflected a variety of trends (e.g. both neo-classical, and post-romantic), with a bias towards a simple symphonic idiom. Shostakovich was a symphonist first and dramatist next. His art derived from the language of instruments as he wrote with imagination and understanding for the orchestra. It is also important to remember that his music drew on the circumstances of his personal life and his country. Shostakovich was influenced by: Bach, Russian traditions from Glinka to Stravinsky, Hindemith, Mahler, Berg and modernism, neo-classicism, popular music including jazz - and folk traditions.

Some stylistic features of his music include:                 Imaginative orchestration, clear, economical and well-projected. Use of instruments in extreme registers. Transparency in his scores, with widely separated orchestral lines. Unexpected contrasts of sound. Use of effects e.g. glissandi. A sense of form which was enhanced through his manipulation of the orchestra. Confident handling of large structures and forms, often building on long and simple tonal planes. The use of endless repetition, relentless rhythmic patterns and harmonic insistence rather than variety. The tendency to shorten the recapitulation sections (in line with 20th century aesthetics). Big dramatic contrasts which were not profound but seemed so! A unique approach to tonality, which included modal scales, and some harmonies akin to Hindemith / Prokofiev. A tendency to work with patterns and intervals (melodic invention was probably not his strongest feature). Use of a personal motto theme (DSCH see later notes). Melodies were often long. Melodies sometimes included leaps from low to high. Motifs were often based a motif on a minor 3rd, which were then expanded by a semitone, before returning back to the original minor. (This device is clear in the DSCH motif). Some linear textures. Unison and octave passages. Contrapuntal techniques. Some use of simple triadic ideas but also other harmonies which were chromatic, some even dissonant. A sense of tonality, which was recognizable and often rested on a firm diatonic base.


LISTEN! different types of music written by Shostakovich. Make notes on your first impressions, and keep
in your file or musical diary. Have a work of the week ! Listen individually or in pairs, and then discuss the style as a short task in class. Ask your teacher for suitable pieces the following would do to make a start:

Symphonies nos. 1,5,10 and 15 Opera Lady Macbeth DIMITRI Concerto no 1, violin concerto no.2 Cello SHOSTAKOVICH - The string quartets String Quartet no.15, the Viola sonata (op.147)

As Shostakovich grew older and more reflective, he wrote more chamber music. This proved to be a genre which enabled him to explore different and often darker ideas. These works were mainly tonal, but they gave him an outlet for sombre and individual reflection not welcomed in his more public compositions. Most notable from his chamber catalogue are the Piano Quintet (1940), Piano Trio No. 1 (1943), String Quartet No.8 (1960), and String Quartet No.15 (1974). Between 1938 and 1974, Shostakovich composed a remarkable series of 15 string quartets. These are often regarded as the finest in the repertoire after Beethoven s, and along with Bartok's six, are regarded as possibly the greatest string quartets of the twentieth century. Shostakovich had apparently planned to write a complete cycle of quartets so as to have one in every major and minor key. He only managed to complete 15 out of the planned 24, but it is useful to bear this large scale project in mind, so that the quartets may be seen in their rightful context.
String Quartet No. 1 in C major (Op. 49) Composed in 6 weeks 1938 No dedication String Quartet No. 2 in A major (Op. 68) 1944 Premiered by the Beethoven quartet Dedicated to the composer Vissarion Shebalin. String Quartet No. 3 in F major (Op. 73) Written after the 9th symphony had been censured Dedicated to and premiered by the Beethoven quartet The work was denounced String Quartet No. 4 in D major (Op. 83) 1949 Premiered in 1953 No dedication

Is an optimistic work and quite Beethovenian in style. Shostakovich wrote of this quartet: "I visualized childhood scenes, somewhat nave and bright moods associated with spring . It consists of four short movements, with the inner movements providing a contrast in both mood and key. The lyricism and shading of the second movement is particularly noteworthy. One of the longest quartets, which is only one minute shorter than his longest quartet, no.15. It was the only one actually written in wartime (1944), and it consists of four movements.

Shostakovich was accused of hiding coded subversive messages against Stalin within this work. It consists of 5 movements and was later successfully arranged for chamber symphony.

String Quartet No. 5 in B flat major (Op. 92) 1952 but not premiered until

This quartet has four movements, and marks the beginning of a mature quartet style. Though it is not as directly Jewish as some other works, it is coloured by folk-like and vaguely Middle Eastern melody, rhythm and texture. Note: the first violin part in the second movement, the menace and humour of the third movement scherzo, the link to the last movement by a viola incantation, and the complexity of the final movement. This quartet is a substantial and even symphonic-like work lasting for almost half an hour. It consists of three movements performed without a break. The material grows from a five note motif: C, D, E

1953 Dedicated to, and premiered by, the Beethoven quartet Was withheld from public performance during the period 1946-53 during the ban on music deemed to be inaccessible to the wide masses . String Quartet No. 6 in G major (Op. 101) 1956 Premiered by the Beethoven Quartet No dedication String Quartet No. 7 in F sharp minor (Op. 108) 1960 In memory of his first wife Premiered by the Beethoven Quartet

flat, B and C sharp, which contains the composer's personal mottoDSCH (E flat being S, and B being H in German). This monogram also appears in the Eighth quartet, and the Tenth Symphony.

This was the first quartet written post-Stalin. It is generally less weighty, and more lyrical in content, with the first two movements being carefree and cheerful. It consists of four movements in all.

The shortest string quartet, but a very personal work, dedicated to his wife. It consists of three movements which are performed without a break.

String Quartet No. 8 in C minor (Op. 110) 1960 Written in 3 days Premiered by the Beethoven Quartet According to the score, it is dedicated "to the victims of fascism and war .

String Quartet No. 9 in E flat major (Op. 117) 1964 Premiered by the Beethoven Quartet Dedicated to his 3rd wife String Quartet No. 10 in A flat major (Op. 118) 1964 Premiered by the Beethoven Quartet Dedicated to his friend Moisei Weinberg. String Quartet No. 11 in F minor (Op. 122) 1966

Probably the most recorded quartet of the set, and one of the bleakest and most private works he wrote. Shostakovich's friend, Lev Lebedinsky, said that Shostakovich thought of the work as his epitaph and suggested that the composer planned to commit suicide around this time. The work is compact and is in five interconnected movements. The DSCH motto introduces the first movement, and is used in every movement of this quartet. The work is also filled with quotes of other pieces by Shostakovich. In addition, it has been transcribed for string orchestra, in which version it is known as Chamber Symphony in C minor (Op. 110a). This work took Shostakovich three years to complete. It consists of five movements, which are played without pause.

The work has four movements: Andante; Allegretto furioso; Adagio and Allegretto - Andante.

This piece breaks from the more traditional four-movement structure, as it presents seven separate short movements (more comparable with a partita or divertimento). The movements are

Premiered by the Beethoven Quartet Dedicated to Shirinsky, the second violinist of the Beethoven quartet. String Quartet No. 12 in D flat major (Op. 133) 1968 Dedicated to Tsyganov, the first violinist of the Beethoven quartet. String Quartet No. 13 in B flat minor (Op. 138) 1969/70 Completed when Shostakovich was undergoing treatment at an orthopedic clinic in Kurgan. Dedicated to Vadim Borisovsky, violist of the Beethoven Quartet. String Quartet No. 14 in F sharp major (Op. 142) 1972/3 dedicated to Sergei Shirinsky, the cellist of the Beethoven Quartet String Quartet No. 15 in E flat minor, (Op. 144) One of two in the set not premiered by the Beethoven quartet Written in 1974, year before he died he was very frail No dedication

thematically unified by a sequence of phrases introduced at the beginning of the first movement.

The work consists of two movements. It is worth noting the tempo changes in each movement and the fact that use was made of a tone row. It starts with a 12 note statement, but still feels as if it is in a key. This was typical of Shostakovich. This is the only quartet in a single movement: Adagio - Doppio movimento - Tempo primo. It is about 19 minutes long, is highly unified and is palindromic in form. It is dominated by the viola throughout, opening with a twelve-tone row played on the viola, and finishing with a long viola solo in the high register. It also includes a number of unusual performance techniques i.e. tapping on the bodies of the instruments with bows at several points (unusual in Soviet music of this period). This work consisted of three movements, and was started while the composer was visiting the home of Benjamin Britten. It was finished in Copenhagen. The cello has the leading role in this piece.

This sombre work was the longest of Shostakovich's string quartets. It consists of six linked movements, all marked Adagio. The work reflects his state of mind and failing health as it is tragic, intimate and moving. Its restrained and dissonant style, (like that of the fourteenth and fifteenth symphonies), is again characterised by the influence of Schoenberg s twelve-note aesthetic.

PRESENTATION: Choose a string quartet from the above (not the eighth!). Working with another student from the A level music class; listen to the work, using a score if possible. Research the piece in a little more detail, and make some general notes. Present your observations in the form of a PowerPoint presentation, which could then be given to the rest of the class. In this way, you will gain a broader understanding of the composer s writing for string quartets.


This quartet is probably the finest and single most recorded string quartet written by Shostakovich. It is one of the most famous string quartets in classical music, vying for popularity with the best known chamber works of Mozart and Beethoven - and was supposedly composed in just three days! It has been described as autobiographical in that it includes references to previous works written by the composer. It is certainly possible to sense the personal drama in the music. There are also allusions to folk music, and some music of other composers. In addition, there are many statements of DSCH, the composer s own motto in music. The prevailing mood of seriousness is programmatic, and the expressive power of the work evident; only the powerful and violent attacca writing of the second movement lifts the piece out of gloom and despair. First performance: 2nd October, 1960, Leningrad, at Glinka Concert Hall. It was successful from the outcome, and reviews were glowing . Performed by: The Beethoven Quartet (Dmitri Tsyganov, Vasili Shirinsky, Vadim Borisovsky, and Sergei Shirinsky). Orchestrated versions of the work soon appeared, sometimes with added timpani. To date, there have been at least 10 independent arrangements, none of them by the composer. Note the arrangements for: piano four hands by Anatoli Dmitriev; wind octet by Dmitri Smirnov; wind quintet by Mark A. Popki, and string orchestra by Rudolf Barshai (Op. 110a).

The quartet is dedicated To the Memory of the Victims of Fascism and War . It is of quite modest dimensions and consists of 5 movements, played without a break for around 20 25 minutes.

General Background Information.

Whether the eighth quartet is about Shostakovich s reaction to World War II or a reflection of his personal traumas has been the object of some discussion. Certainly, there are particular circumstances surrounding the composition of this quartet, and controversy has sprung up around it. For the purpose of study, and bearing in mind the dedication To the Memory of the Victims of Fascism and War , it is advisable to be aware of the following theories.

1) Theory 1. The inclusion in this quartet of self-quotations and allusions should be probably taken as confirmation of the composer s identification with a fundamental anti-war message. In July 1960, Shostakovich went to Dresden to work on a film score about the heroic efforts of the red army soldiers as they rescued the art treasures of Dresden before the final bombardment of the Second World War. While there, he saw some of the film footage, and the ruins of the city. The dedication was said to reflect his outrage and compassion, and in fact the work is sometimes known as the Dresden quartet. The explanation that this was a war quartet held good even until after his death in 1975. In fact, the slowed down twisting of the cello concerto quotation used in movement four has been described in many commentaries as representing the drone of aircraft and the explosion of bombs. 2) Theory 2. Some people felt that his unwilling candidature for membership of the communist Party had filled Shostakovich with despair. He then sought to exorcize these feelings in this quartet, a bitter musical retrospective over his damaged career, which was dedicated to himself the victim. This second theory, which attempts to explain its many quotations, is also feasible, and has become quite famous in more recent years. In June 1960, just before he wrote the quartet, he was cajoled into applying for membership of the Communist Party. This was something he had sworn he would never do! But in poor health and in between his second and third marriages, he succumbed to the pressure. He agonized at having betrayed his principles: in this light, the violent chords of movement four are not bombs or aircraft, but the secret police s knocks on the door in the dead of night. This had been a real threat that had dominated his life under Stalin. It is known that he had kept a bag outside his door - so if the police had come to get him, his family would not be disturbed. It is also worth realising that in the days of oppression, a triple knock on a table from underneath was meant to signify that the KGB were coming and everyone had to be careful about what they were saying or doing. There is no doubt that this is a very dark piece of music. In a letter to his friend, Shostakovich says: When I die, it s hardly likely that anyone will write a quartet dedicated to my memory; so I ve decided to write it myself. One could write on the frontispiece dedicated to the author of this quartet ..The pseudo- tragedy of this quartet is so great that while composing it my tears flowed as abundantly as urine after downing half a dozen beers. I ve tried playing it twice and I ve shed tears again, this time not because of the pseudo tragedy, but because of my own wonder at its marvellous newity of form (That was probably a sarcastic comment in itself!)

Particular features of compositional interest in the eighth quartet: 1. A collage of quotations This quartet is very rich in subtext and cryptographic reference. It has often been described as autobiographical in nature. The quotes were not there simply to save time and effort; but the re-crafting and incorporation of this significant material into a new composition was the challenge. Throughout the quartet, each one of the quotations is introduced by the DSCH motif, and there is a chronological perspective. The composer seems to be looking back on his life, older, sadder and wiser, as each of the pieces he quotes holds memories of such difficult times for him (even though they were all great successes for him at their first performances). At times, as in the inclusion of the quote of the cello concerto in movement IV, the transformation is quite brutal. In addition to the regular inclusion of the DSCH motto, several themes from other works by the composer are quoted: Symphonies No. 1, Op. 10, No. 5, Op. 47 and No. 8, Op. 65 Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra No. 1, Op. 107 Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 67, The Young Guard , Op. 75a (No. 6) Katerina s Seryoscha, My Love from Act IV of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District , Op. 29. It is worth noting that the work also includes an allusion to both the second theme from Tchaikovsky s Symphony No. 6, Op. 74 (first movement) and the Funeral March from Wagner s Gtterdmmerung . In addition, he quotes from a revolutionary song in movement IV. As this song was an emblem of the soviet Tzarist past, Shostakovich seems to be identifying with the victims in his own country.

2. Use of the DSCH motif The first solemn notes heard unaccompanied on the cello in movement I are Shostakovich s personal four note musical signature. In the German transliteration of the Cyrillic alphabet, his initials come out as DSCH. For reasons that go way back - in German, E is spelt Es, B is their H, and their B is our B. Bach famously introduced his monogram B-A-C-B into the incomplete final contrapunctus of The Art of Fugue. (Many later composers pay tribute to it). Bach was an important influence on Shostakovich, and not just in the use of this motto idea, as he also adopted contrapuntal ideas and textures as found in much of Bach s work. In the same way as Bach, Shostakovich was able to spell the German form of his initials in music and he did! In doing so, he nearly always uses the narrowest pitch range, i.e. from the B up to E, as seen in the opening bars of the quartet:

This is heard at the start of the quartet, as a fugal idea, heard first in the cello. Note that the interval from B up to E is a diminished 4th.

Of course, the motto here is in the home key of C minor using the supertonic, the mediant, the tonic and the sharpened leading-note of that key i.e. degrees 2-3-1-7 of the C minor scale:

This apparently is the only time in Shostakovich s output that the motif actually appears in the home key ! Because of this, there is less friction between the motif and its harmonic context. As this motif appears so many times during the course of the quartet, it will not be possible to highlight each one in the given analysis. If you have your own score, you could always highlight the motto every time you notice it! Remember, sometimes it will be heard in a different key. 3. Use of intervals a) A minor 3rd and a semitone Shostakovich often based a motif on a minor 3rd, and then expanded the interval by a semitone to give a brighter feel, before returning back to the original minor 3rd. These intervals are clearly incorporated into the DSCH motif. b) A diminished fourth We have already established that the DSCH motif as identified above is based on 7-1-2-3, of the C minor scale which spans the interval of a diminished 4th. This is a collection of four pitches, technically known in music as a TETRACHORD. In addition to the DSCH, Shostakovich adopts a number of other motifs from these notes, and in so doing, uses the tetrachord in a variety of ways.

Some examples in movement 1 would be:


Movement V begins with two ideas together:

It is impossible to outline and identify all permutations here. At times, the motto and the tetrachord are used in a variety of keys. (Remember, the highest and lowest pitches of the tetrachord will give a diminished 4th interval which must not be confused with a major 3rd!


It will be a good idea to keep your eyes peeled for these patterns, intervals and tetrachords. Identify them as you study your own score and mark them in with pencil or a highlighter pen!

Eighth Quartet Summary of Structure

The work is in 5 movements. All are in the minor mode, with only intermittent glimpses of major-mode colouration; this tonality supports the overbearing tension. The 5 sections are continuous (i.e. attacca is written at the end of each of the first 4 movements so that the next

movement follows on without a break; also the last 3 movements are linked by a note in violin 1 held on from the previous movement). Movements I, IV and V are all LARGO. The germinal idea throughout is the DSCH motto, and because of the collage-type structure, the detailed analysis concentrates on mainly melodic matters. Sometimes the melodic lines follow aspects of fugal convention and imitation, but they are not always reinforced by conventional harmonies in the way we would perhaps expect. Movement I Largo C minor This is quite like a prelude in character. It has a fugal opening, but never becomes a fully fledged fugue! Instead of sustained contrapuntal workings, it gives way to a self-quotation, then to quasi-vocal solos over long pedal points which are quite arioso-like. Note the DSCH motif and variants of it; it is very meditative, and perhaps not what you would expect from the first movement of a string quartet! A violent movement, and in a remote key (a semitone above the dominant). It is an extreme contrast to the first movement and is a more straightforward, perpetual motion Scherzo substitute movement. Contains substantial quotations from other works. The dance of death movement. This is again very Scherzo-like in character, and is more diverse in material than the Allegro, though they are both similar in overall design. It is in the dominant minor key. Quite a haunting movement said to be a portrait of Shostakovich himself. The key is unusually a semitone above the tonic, and the 3 long-drawn out arioso passages mirror the first movement. The content (a mixture of outward oppression and inward protest) includes violent outbursts (the cello concerto theme) and a distorted version of the material from the trio section of the Allegretto. Note the extended quotation the revolutionary song which has drawn much critical comment. The movement also contains substantial quotations from other works a collage of quotations . This, at last, provides a finalised version of the fugue and musical ideas from movement I.

Movement II Allegro molto G# minor

Movement III Allegretto G minor

Movement IV Largo C# minor

Movement V Largo C minor