See Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich as Related to and Edited by Solomon Volkov (1979, repr. 2000); biographies by V. I. Seroff and N. K. Shohat (1970), E. Wilson (1994), and L. E. Fay (1999); study by N. F. Kay (1971); I. MacDonald, The New Shostakovich (1990); A. B. Ho and D. Feofanov, Shostakovich Reconsidered (1998); M. H. Brown, ed., A Shostakovich Casebook (2004); L. E. Fay, ed., Shostakovich and His World (2004); S. Moshevich, Dmitri Shostakovich, Pianist (2004); S. Volkov, Shostakovich and Stalin (2004).
The piece was written shortly after two traumatic events: the composer's diagnosis with myelitis, and his joining the Communist Party reluctantly. According to the score, it is dedicated "to the victims of fascism and war"; his son, Maxim, interprets this as a reference to the victims of all totalitarianism, while his daughter Galina says that he dedicated it to himself, and that the published dedication was imposed by the authorities. Shostakovich's friend, Lev Lebedinsky, said that Shostakovich thought of the work as his epitaph and that he planned to commit suicide around this time. The work is one of his most private; in a letter to Isaak Glikman he described it as "an ideologically deficient quartet nobody needs... It is a pseudo-tragic quartet, so much so that while I was composing it I shed the same amount of tears as I would have to pee after half-a-dozen beers".
The work was written in Dresden, where Shostakovich was to write music for the film Five Days, Five Nights, a joint Cold War propaganda project by Russian and East German filmmakers. The quartet, extremely compact and focused, is in five interconnected movements and lasts twenty minutes:
The first movement opens with the DSCH motif which was Shostakovich's musical signature. This slow, extremely sad theme can also be heard in his Cello Concerto No. 1, Symphony No. 10, Violin Concerto No. 1, Symphony No. 15, and Piano Sonata No. 2. The motif is used in every movement of this quartet, and is the basis of the faster theme of the third movement.
The work is filled with quotes of other pieces by Shostakovich: the first movement quotes his Symphony No. 1 and Symphony No. 5; the second movement uses a Jewish theme first used by Shostakovich in his Piano Trio No. 2; the third movement quotes the Cello Concerto No. 1; and the fourth movement quotes the 19th century revolutionary song "Tormented by Grievous Bondage" and the aria "Seryozha, my love" from Shostakovich's opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.
It has been transcribed by Rudolf Barshai for string orchestra, in which version it is known as Chamber Symphony in C minor (Op. 110a).
Shostakovich legacy awaits grander finale: Keepers seek a home and honor for works of a Soviet composer who's hard to place.
Jan 03, 2007; Byline: Alex Rodriguez Jan. 3--TALLINN, Estonia -- Inside a small apartment in a dingy, gray building with peeling paint on Parnu...