Hello all,

This week’s music, as we return to our series on the string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich, is the fourth movement of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 2, performed by the Jerusalem Quartet.

The dark, elusive second string quartet could not be more different than the youthful vigor of the first string quartet (https://thisweeksmusic.com/2022/12/13/shostakovich-strings-1/). Written six years after that first foray into the chamber music realm, the second string quartet reflects the recent Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union and the heaviness of war. It is intense, unrelenting, and often dissonant.

Shostakovich wrote his second string quartet while staying at a retreat center for writers and composers outside of Moscow. It was later premiered by the Beethoven Quartet, the ensemble that Shostakovich ultimately chose to premiere all of his string quartets. I find this choice of ensemble particularly interesting, given that Shostakovich’s compositions, like Beethoven’s, are often divided into three chronological categories: early, middle, and late.

The fourth movement (starting at 24:04) is based on a folk tune that Shostakovich featured in his second piano trio. First, you will hear a sombre (and, in my opinion, extremely Russian-sounding) E-flat minor dialogue between the first violin and the cello. The two instruments trade the folk tune back and forth until the viola ushers the ensemble into a second folk tune in A minor. Shostakovich then puts this new theme through a series of ever-intensifying variations that culminate in a frenzy of punched chords. The movement concludes with a recapitulated variation of each theme and a full-throated and stirring rendition of the original folk tune.



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