10 January 2011

Dmitri Shostakovich - String Quartet No.8

At first, I had planned for this post to be about Shostakovich's Eleventh Symphony. It is my favourite piece of classical music (along with The Execution of Stepan Razin) and I was lucky enough to see it live at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam last friday. However, it is a very long piece (around an hour) and I honestly believe that picking parts from it doesn't do it justice. (Of course, this is a problem with a lot of classical music, it can be very difficult to pick movements as opposed to entire pieces.)

But still, I have decided on a piece that is part of a whole (in this piece there are usually no breaks between the movements), namely Shostakovich's String Quartet No.8: II Allegro molto.

As most of you know, I am a massive Shostakovich fan (as shown by my DSCH tattoo) and he will feature on this blog more than any other composer. Because of the wide variety of pieces he has written, I found it pretty difficult to pick one to post first, but this is not only a short piece but also extremely exciting and powerful. And thankfully my favourite recording, played by the Kronos Quartet was on youtube! The ending is rather abrupt because it usually goes into the third movement, but I hope that that won't bother you too much. You will be able to hear that this is not an orchestral piece, because as the name suggests, a string quartet is played by four musicians; two violins, a viola and a cello.

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) was a Russian composer, and wrote some of the most amazing pieces ever. His most well-known works are probably the 5th and 7th symphonies, and Waltz No.2 from his second Jazz Suite (André Rieu even butchered it, urgh). He wrote a stupendous amount of music, including 15 symphonies, 15 string quartets, 6 concertos, 36 film scores and much, much more (not all of it amazing, for example some of the film music was commisioned by the Soviet government and therefore wasn't allowed to be particularely exciting).

The 8th String Quartet was called autobiographical by Shostakovich himself, it is one of the first works where you can hear the DSCH theme, and some of his friends have said that they believed he was suicidal after finishing it, that it would be his last work. Thankfully this is not the case (the 15th string quartet turned out to be his last piece), but I think that the despair and melancholy of Shostakovich can certainly be heared in this piece. I rather like what he said himself: "The Pseudo-tragedy of the quartet is so great that, while composing it, my tears flowed as abundantly as urine after downing half a dozen beers".

If you like what you hear, I'd definitely recommend listening to the entire string quartet. Unfortunately not all the movements are available as played by the Kronos Quartet, but there are good ones by the Emerson String Quartet. Here is I: Largo, III: Allegretto, IV: Largo and V: Largo.

Please let me know what you think!


  1. Kort, maar krachtig: kippenvel.

  2. I really like this! I'd been waiting for a Shostakovich post! Thank you.

  3. Wow, I don't know much (not to say any of Shostakovich's chamber work. After hearing this excerpt, I'll definetely start researching about it.