Sierra Chamber Society Program Notes (Updated 08/05/2006)

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

[Bullet6] Piano Quintet in G minor, Op.57 (1940)

[Bullet6] String Quartet No. 9 in E-Flat Major, Op. 117 (1964)

[Bullet6] String Quartet No. 14 in F-Sharp Major Op. 142 (1973)

[Bullet6] String Quartet No. 4 in D Major for Strings, Op. 83 (1949)

[Bullet6] String Quartet No. 5 in B-Flat Major, Op. 92 (1952)

[Bullet6] Two Pieces for String Quartet (circa 1930)

[Bullet6] String Quartet No. 1 in C, Op. 49

[Bullet6] Trio No.2 for Violin, Cello & Piano in E Minor, Op. 67 (1944)

 


Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

String Quartet No. 14 in F-Sharp Major Op. 142 (1973)

 

DSCH in the Forties"Every piece of music is a form of personal expression for its creator...If a work doesn’t express the composer’s own personal point of view, his own ideas, then it doesn’t, in my opinion, even deserve to be born."

Dmitri Shostakovich,1973

 

The Fourteenth Quartet is held to be the most accessible of Shostakovich’s late quartets. The words "late quartets" evoke those works of Beethoven which share many qualities with the Shostakovich Quartets: refinement of the composer’s musical language and process as well as experimentation in musical form, whether toward complexity or simplicity; the result being an intensely personal idiom, recondite and eloquent for those who will listen. I believe that Shostakovich, despite his self-effacing demeanor, aspired to nothing less than the level of the late Beethoven Quartets, as he also inhabited the realm of J.S. Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier" in his own 24 Preludes and Fugues Op. 87.

The F-Sharp Major Quartet was begun at the home of Sir Benjamin Britten (a composer greatly admired by Shostakovich) during a visit to England in the summer of 1972, and was completed the following April in Copenhagen.

The work consists of three movements of similar duration; two animated movements flanking an adagio movement reminiscent of Beethoven.

A clue to the work’s content is the fact that it is dedicated to Sergei Shirinsky, the cellist of the Beethoven Quartet. The Beethoven Quartet had premiered all of Shostakovich’s Quartets with the exception of the First. They were his instrument much as the Schuppanzigh Quartet had been Beethoven's in the presentation of his Quartets. (The Beethoven Quartet was scheduled to perform the premier of Shostakovich’s last Quartet, No. 15, in 1974. However, the death of Sergei Shirinsky, a founding member of the Quartet, during the rehearsal period, necessitated giving over the work to another group.) Shirinsky was featured in the 14th by the numerous solo passages given to the cello; note the droll opening theme, as well as duets for cello and lst violin. (lst violinist Dimitri Tsyganov was the only other founding member of the Quartet still alive). In the third movement, Shostakovich quotes music from his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (1934). This was the work which, despite a successful two year run, became the focus of a hit piece in Pravda in 1936, precipitating the first of Shostakovich's serious difficulties with the Stalin regime. However, the work returned to the Soviet stage some twenty-five years later with a new title Katerina Ismailova. The music quoted in this Quartet is a romantic theme associated with Katerina’s lover Seryozha, an affectionate form of the name Sergei.

The premiere of the work by the Beethoven Quartet took place in Leningrad (again St. Petersburg) on Nov. 12, 1973, and was awarded the state prize of the R.S.F.S.R. in 1974.

1995-96 Season, Program III, Sunday January 21, 1996

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Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

String Quartet No. 4 in D Major for Strings, Op. 83 (1949)

DSCH composingThe Fourth Quartet was composed under the shadow of the infamous Zdanov Resolution, presented at the Composers Congress in Feb. 1948. Shostakovich, as well as other prominent Soviet composers were officially denounced by Andrei Zdanov, speaking for the Central Committee of the Communist Party for "Decadent Formalism." (It is probably unnecessary to add that this charge could mean whatever the accuser chose it to mean.) These denunciations affected not only music but literature, theater and film, and were the means by which the Stalin regime could resume the silencing of dissident voices which had begun with the purges of the 1930’s and which was interrupted by the Second World War. Shostakovich publicly admitted to his sins and by rendering unto Caesar, he avoided the Siberian labor camps for his family and himself. By the next year, his oratorio The Song of the Forests received the Stalin prize. From 1948 to 1952, the year of Stalin’s death, he concentrated on film scores, rather than symphonies and though his public face was contrite, he produced a series of works in which he followed his own muse rather than the dictates of the Party. These works which include the Fourth and Fifth Quartets, the song cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry and the First Violin Concerto represent his finest work of this period. The Fourth Quartet, the Violin Concerto and From Jewish Folk Poetry are all inspired by the folk music of the Jews of Russia. Shostakovich was reportedly very fond of this music, and, indeed, composed these works at a time when, once again, anti-Semitism was rampant. None of these works were performed until after the death of Stalin. The Fourth Quartet received its premiere performance by the Beethoven Quartet in the Mialy Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on December 3, 1953.

It is a work of modest proportions. The first movement lasts only about 4 minutes and has the quality of a prelude. The slow second movement consists of a simple plaintive melody which sings itself out and dies away. Both movements are notable for their terseness and lack of rhetoric. The brief scherzo is one in Shostakovich’s ironic manner. The fourth movement is the longest of the four and contains themes very reminiscent of From Jewish Folk Poetry. Hearing this music, one is easily reminded of Marc Chagall’s surrealist reminiscences of Stetl life and the bittersweet music of the Klezmorim.

1993-94 Season, Program III, Sunday February 6, 1994

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Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

String Quartet No. 5 in B-Flat Major, Op. 92 (1952)

 

DSCH with Slava in 1966Shostakovich began composing at the age of fourteen. He studied at the Leningrad Conservatory where his teachers included Glazunov and Steinberg. His first symphony, composed at age 19 as a graduation piece, brought him international acclaim. Subsequent works made him the Soviet Union’s leading composer. He ran afoul of the Stalin regime twice, once in 1936 when his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District enraged the Man of Steel and again in 1948, when he and a group of distinguished composers (including Prokofiev and Khachaturian) were denounced in a party resolution by Andrei Zdanov, Stalin's chief henchman, at the infamous Composers Congress of February 1948. Shostakovich’s pre-eminence as "the" Soviet composer and his international reputation probably saved him from the fate of lesser known friends, supporters and artists. He managed to weather these political storms and during the last decade of his life reached a plateau beyond ideological criticism.

His fifteen string quartets are seen by many as one of his crowning achievements. Curiously enough, he did not show much interest in writing for string quartet during the early years of his career. It was only after his fifth symphony that he wrote his first Quartet Op. 49, in 1936. It was not until seven years later that he wrote a second. After this slow start, the quartet grew in importance in his musical output. The string quartet became the vehicle for expressing his private thoughts, as it had for Beethoven. It is to Beethoven’s quartets, both spiritually and technically, that these works pay homage and like Beethoven, Shostakovich allows his choice of musical material to determine the overall shape of the piece.

In the years between the denunciation of 1948 and the death of Stalin in 1953, Shostakovich turned increasingly to the composition of film scores. The Fifth Quartet was written during this period, in the autumn of 1952, and, like some of his most significant works of the early fifties, the First Violin Concerto, the Tenth Symphony, and the song cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry, the Fifth Quartet was not performed until after Stalin’s death. The work was premiered by the renowned Beethoven Quartet (to whom it was dedicated) in the Maly Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on Nov. 13, 1953.

The Fifth Quartet is an introspective work fashioned in three large movements played without pause. The opening of the work contains Shostakovich’s musical signature DSCH (D, E Flat, C, B, in German nomenclature). The SCH is the equivalent of a single letter of the Russian alphabet. This musical signature appears in many of his works, most prominently in his Eighth Quartet and the Tenth Symphony. The work embraces a wide emotional range, from anger, irony and passion, to lyricism and contemplative solitude.

1992-93 Season, Program IV, Sunday February 28, 1993

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Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 - 1975)

Two Pieces for String Quartet (circa 1930)

 

DSCH teachingThese two pieces for string quartet were discovered in Moscow in the 1980’s. Though dedicated by Shostakovich to the J. Vuillaume Quartet, they bear no opus number and were never published by the composer. Although string quartets were to play a major role in his creative outlet, his first quartet did not appear until 1938. By that time Shostakovich was a composer of international repute with five symphonies, two ballets and two operas to his credit. These pieces predate his first quartet, and are best known as music from different stage works which occupied Shostakovich in the 1930’s. The melody of the Elegy is identical to an aria from his controversial opera of 1934 Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District and the second piece is the famous sardonic polka from his ballet The Age of Gold (1930).

There is some difficulty in calling these pieces transcriptions in the usual sense. Transcriptions usually appear after a work has achieved popularity. The Elegy was written some years before the opera was even produced. Throughout his creative life Shostakovich was fond of recalling themes and motifs from his other compositions, a sort of personal recordanza. (The Eighth Quartet is especially autobiographical, containing themes from the First Cello Concerto Op. 107, the Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano Op. 67, as well as many other works.) Perhaps these two pieces for string quartet are more like palimpsests, ideas worked out in the private world of chamber music that were later translated to the public forum of the performing stage.

1992-93 Season, Program III, Sunday December 13, 1992

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Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

String Quartet No. 1 in C, Op. 49

Wunderkind in 1925Shostakovich began composing at age fourteen. He studied at the Leningrad Conservatory where his teachers included Glazunov and Steinberg. His First Symphony, composed at age 19 as a graduation exercise, brought him international acclaim. Subsequent works made him the Soviet Union's leading composer. He ran afoul of the Stalin regime twice, in 1938, when his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District enraged Stalin, and in 1948 when he and a group of distinguished composers, including Prokofiev and Khachaturian, were denounced in a Party resolution. However Shostakovich's preeminence as the "Soviet" composer and his international reputation probably saved him from the fate of many of his friends, supporters and lesser known artists.

Shostakovich managed to weather the political storms and during the last decade of his life reached a plateau beyond ideological criticism. He has been described as "shy and inhibited, unassuming and self-critical, nervous and highly strung, though fun loving in his later years. He was unfailingly helpful towards younger colleagues and had a high sense of fairness. Because of his reputation for honesty and integrity, his opinions carries enormous weight everywhere. When forced on the defensive, he did not argue; but through the strength of his genius he overcame the limitation of Soviet realism to the point where it no longer inhibited free musical creation, in the battle for which it was Shostakovich who ultimately emerged victorious." (Groves)

Shostakovich was a prolific composer, whose output has an amazing variety. He wrote 15 large scale symphonies, two operas, six instrumental concertos, 3 ballets, incidental music for 11 plays, song cycles, several cantatas and oratorios, chamber music, solo piano music and suites. He also wrote 36 film scores. Curiously enough, he did not show much interest in writing for the string quartet early in his career. It was only after his Fifth Symphony that he wrote the First String Quartet. Seventeen years were to pass before he wrote a second. However, after this, the form grows in importance in his musical output. The string quartet became the vehicle for the expression of his most private thoughts; the symphonies, concertos and film scores were for the public. In this way the quartet served him as it had Beethoven. It is to Beethoven's quartets, both spiritually and technically, and in emotional range, that Shostakovich's quartets pay homage. Like Beethoven, Shostakovich allows his choice of musical material to determine the overall shape of the piece, rather than pouring his ideas into a preexisting mold.

With the composition of the Fifth Symphony, Shostakovich reestablished himself firmly in the Classical-Romantic mainstream. The First Quartet shares that fact, though it does not share in the deep emotional content of the Symphony. The chamber work is more in the style of a four movement divertimento. Originally entitled Springtime, the quartet is assertively written and fresh in its approach to classical elements: the slow movement revolves around a repeated melody that hearkens to Shostakovich's later passacaglia expressions in the Eighth Symphony and the First Violin Concerto, and the scherzo is similar to the corresponding movement in the Fifth Symphony. Composed at a time of great darkness, the First Quartet addresses a form that eventually became the primary format of personal musical expression late in Shostakovich's lifetime.

In writing about Shostakvich, mention is always made of the ideological controls imposed by the Soviet government on composers. And yet music in the West, one can argue, was not without its own self-imposed ideologies and dogma. From the 1950's to the end of the 1970's Schoenberg's Twelve Tone System and "Post-Webern Serialism", under the banner of progress and prompted by the academic avant-garde, were the way of any right minded composer. Failure to comply, in the case of established composers, was to be denounced as retrogressive, and for emerging composers, wishing to be heard, was to be dismissed as irrelevant, intellectually bankrupt, and unworthy to be heard at all. I mention this lest we lapse into being smug and self-righteous as we gather our stones to throw.

1991-92 Season, Program III, Sunday February 23, 1992

1997-98 Season, Program IV, Sunday April 19, 1998

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I am frightened that I will choke in an ocean of awards.

Dmitri Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 – 1975)

String Quartet No. 9 in E-Flat Major, Op. 117 (1964)

Though Dimitri Shostakovich managed to survive the attacks upon him by Stalin himself in 1936 and Stalin’s goons in the infamous Zhdanov Decree of 1948, the post-Stalin era saw the composer struggling with a more insidious challenge to his integrity. The following quote is from Elizabeth Wilson’s excellent and moving biography of the composer Shostakovich: A Life Remembered1.

"During the 1930s, fear became the uppermost emotion for Shostakovich and for our intelligentsia. It was not only for their personal existence, although that was real enough, but a fear for their families, their work and their whole country.

When, after Stalin’s death the lid was slightly off our hellish cauldron, Dimitri Dimitriyevich went through an ordeal that was even more terrible for an artist: temptation by official fame and flattery, and identification with the prevailing ideology, which was alien to him.

Then the heavy hammer of official honors, belated glorification, dealt Shostakovich a much more terrible blow than all the criticism of the 1930s and 1940s. Taken under the aegis of the watchful Party eye of the Union of Composers, Shostakovich underwent the most anguished period of his life and art. He was painfully torn between a sincere desire to repay all the unsolicited honours through his work, and his real artist’s view of what was going on in the country." This from Fyodor Druzhinin the violist who joined the Beethoven Quartet (the Quartet that Shostakovich had given exclusive rights for premiere performances of his String Quartets. They premiered all of the Quartets, except for the first and the last). Incidentally, Druzhinin’s first session with "the Beethovens" in 1964, as a replacement for his ailing teacher, was a read-through of the Ninth and Tenth Quartets – in the presence of the composer.

Without getting too bogged down in Soviet politics, the situation was this; Khrushchev had gained power after the death of Stalin. He then went on to condemn the Stalinist Regime in his historic address to the 20th Party Congress. As part of the façade he wished to create; that of progressive reformer, he conned and coerced Shostakovich into joining the Communist Party; something that the composer had avoided doing all through the Stalinist era. Hoping against hope that reforms would occur (they didn’t); frightened and worn down by bad health (in the last decade of his life he was afflicted with polio, heart disease, approaching blindness, and lung cancer- other than that he was fine) in 1960 he assented; much to the horror and disappointment of his friends and supporters.

Shostakovich was greatly pained by this. He had always believed that he could best be of service to others by "rendering unto Caesar" and using his personal influence to intercede for others who were in danger from the regime. Wilson’s book cites many instances of his doing just that.

On to music… Before discussing today’s work, about which I will have little to say, I would like to mention Shostakovich’s method of composition. Such was his genius, that he composed his works fully in his mind. He had no use of musical instruments to try out his ideas. He did not make sketches or piano scores of his work, as most composers do. His huge symphonies, as well as his other works were written directly in orchestral scoring, bar by bar. He rarely changed or revised anything. When suggestions for "improvements" came, he would reply to the helpful "suggestor" something like "You’re correct, but I’ll fix it in the next work".

The Ninth String Quartet was one of the few works that gave him trouble. Elizabeth Wilson writes: " Shostakovich finished the first version of the Ninth Quartet in the autumn of 1961. In a fit of depression, or, to quote his own words, ‘in an attack of healthy self-criticism, I burnt it in the stove. This is the second such case in my creative practice. I once did a similar trick of burning my manuscripts, in 1926’.

It took Shostakovich nearly three years to settle down and write another Quartet. His ‘second’ Ninth Quartet was completed on 28 May 1964. Dimitri Tsyganov, the leader of the Beethoven Quartet, recalled that Shostakovich told him that the quartet that he had consigned to the flames was based on ‘themes from childhood’; the new Quartet was ‘completely different’."

The Ninth Quartet is to my mind an enigmatic work. It consists of five movements, played without pause. The first four movements each last about 3 ¾ minutes give or take a few seconds. They alternate between fast and slow. The wry first movement opens with an oscillating figure, and the materials introduced in this movement can be found in varied form in other movements. For instance the opening violin theme, albeit transformed, appears in opening of the chorale-like second movement. The third movement, one of Shostakovich’s grotesque polkas, also contains material from the first movement. The end of the third movement then provides the opening figure for the fourth movement. This movement also contains the oscillating figure from the first movement, as well as striking chordal pizzicatos. In his liner notes for the Manhattan String Quartet’s recording of the Ninth Quartet, Richard Kassel suggests that the melody of this movement is closely related to the opening of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, which Shostakovich had orchestrated in 1959. Who knows? The last movement is at least twice as long as any other of the movements. It is made up of episodes, often strident and grotesque, not the least of which is a section which sounds like a musical representation of malevolent poultry. This is followed by a mess of counterpoint, a cello recitative including the chordal pizzicatos, again based on the "Boris Godunov" theme, as well as fragments of the polka and material from previous movements.

The Ninth Quartet was dedicated to the composer’s third wife Irena Supenskaya, a young musicologist whom he married in 1962. As mentioned, it was premiered by the Beethoven Quartet in Moscow on Nov. 20, 1964. The next day it was premiered in Leningrad (St. Petersburg).

1 Elizabeth Wilson. Shostakovich: A Life Remembered. Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey (1994, 1995) This book is made up entirely of first hand accounts and reminiscences by family, friends, and associates of the composer.

1999-2000 Season, Program V , Sunday June 4, 2000

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Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Piano Quintet in G minor, Op.57 (1940)

From the opening measures of the Piano Quintet in G Minor, Op. 57 we realize that we are listening to a grand chamber work by a facile and mature composer, but the Quintet is actually an early chamber music work by Shostakovich. Completed in 1940 after the First String Quartet, Op.49 (1938), several film scores and the Sixth Symphony, Op.54 (1939), the Piano Quintet is the fourth work in the composer’s chamber music catalog. Fourteen more string quartets (out of a projected 24), a piano trio, a violin sonata, and a viola sonata follow it.

In 1940 most of Europe had already plunged into war. The Soviet Union, though ostensibly protected by a non-aggression pact signed by both Stalin and Hitler, was already beginning to face the certainty of conflict, though no one could imagine the actual brutality of the Great Patriotic War which was to come. Yet the country was quiet, like the proverbial calm before the storm. The Red Terror of the early years after the revolution of 1917 had passed. The collectivization of the peasants in 1929 and 1930 had been completed (albeit at the cost of famine and starvation and the death of millions). The purge trials of 1935 and 1936 and the mass arrests that engulfed the entire country in 1937 and 1938 were complete. Shostakovich himself had almost succumbed to personal political terror in January of 1936 when Stalin and his minions walked out of a performance of the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District. After an article entitled "Muddle Instead of Music" was published in Pravda ("things could end very badly for this young man"), Shostakovich withdrew public performances of his work. The Fifth Symphony, Op.47 (1937) rehabilitated him in the stern eyes of the regime, i.e.: Josef Stalin, or "Uncle Joe" as FDR and Churchill referred to him.

As with much of Shostakovich’s music the Piano Quintet is an historical reflection of its time. It is a gravely serene piece marked by a simplicity of texture, especially in the piano writing: lines are doubled two octaves below, and there is little complex inter-part composition. All of this provides clarity, and an ample accessibility reflected in the popularity of the work immediately after its premiere. Rostislav Dubinsky, original first violinist of the Borodin Quartet recalls in his book, Not By Music Alone: "For a time the Quintet overshadowed even such events as the football matches between the main teams. The Quintet was discussed in trams, people tried to sing in the streets the second defiant theme of the finale. War that soon started completely changed the life of the country as well as the consciousness of the people. If previously there was the faint hope of a better life, and the hope that the ‘sacrifices’ of the revolution were not in vain, this hope was never to return. The Quintet remained in the consciousness of the people as the last ray of light before the future sank into a dark gloom."

The work is cast in five movements. The Prelude opens in the style of a Bach prelude, and foreshadows the remarkable preludes that Shostakovich was to write in the Preludes and Fugues for Piano, Op.87 (1950-51). The stirring entry of the piano is answered by the quartet, after which the mood changes and a related idea is developed until the opening reasserts itself. The Fugue begins gently and slowly and builds to a furor of lyricism. The Scherzo returns to Shostakovich’s irrepressible sense of irony and humor, and is utterly brilliant. This side of the composer’s personality is never restrained; there are dazzling and profound scherzos scattered throughout his work. This one is reminiscent of the Polka from the Age of Gold, or moments from the Cello Sonata, Op.40 (1934). The Intermezzo, tinged with regret and tranquillity, leads to a finale in which triumph is flung in direct opposition to darkness. This is the theme that Dubinsky recalls, and it appears before and after a thunderous, descending group of onrushing chords on the piano, the emotional core of the work. The Quintet finishes with wit and whimsy, contrary to the opening, in which the music spins off to a quiet conclusion.

Shostakovich and the Beethoven Quartet premiered the Quintet on November 23, 1940 at the Moscow Academy of Music. Shostakovich was an accomplished pianist and performed the piece many times with the Beethoven and later, the Borodin Quartet. Incidentally, Dmitri Dmitreyvich was an anxious performer and his resulting fast tempi are recognizable in recordings of his performances. Valentin Berlinsky, cellist of the Borodin Quartet, recalls in Elizabeth Wilson’s book, Shostakovich: A Life Remembered that the composer would say "Let’s play it fast, otherwise the audience will get bored." He would particularly rush the fast movements. The player’s would beg him to slow down, saying "but your metronome mark is such and such!" The composer replied, "Well, you see my metronome at home is out of order, so pay no attention to what I wrote."

1998-1999 Season, Program I , Sunday October 11, 1998

Program Note by Richard A. Gylgayton


"Chamber music demands of a composer the most impeccable technique and depth of thought. I don’t think I will be wrong if I say that composers sometimes hide their poverty-stricken ideas behind the brilliance of orchestral sound. The timbral riches which are at the disposal of the contemporary symphony orchestra are inaccessible to the small chamber ensemble. Thus, to write a chamber work is much harder than to write an orchestral one."

Dmitri Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 – 1975)

Trio No.2 for Violin, Cello & Piano in E Minor, Op. 67 (1944)

Shostakovich’s E minor Piano Trio has become the third in a line of great Russian "elegiac" piano Trios; following those of Tchaikovsky (in memory of A. Rubinstein), and Rachmaninoff (in memory of Tchaikovsky). DSCH’s Trio was dedicated to memory of his long time friend and advocate Ivan Sollertinsky. Sollertinsky was a brilliant, largely self-taught polymath, whose interests and expertise spanned philosophy, linguistics, ancient and modern languages, history of literature and drama of various periods and cultures. He was also a popular lecturer on music and, according to Laurel Fay "one of Leningrad’s most learned and perceptive critics" of drama, ballet and later symphonic music. And he shared Shostakovich’s "mischievous" sense of humor.

His sudden death at the age of 41 was devastating to the composer. "It is impossible to express in words all the grief that engulfed me on hearing the news about Ivan Ivanovich’s death. Ivan Ivanovich was my very closest and dearest friend. I am indebted to him for all my growth. To live without him will be unbearably difficult", he wrote to Sollertinsky’s widow. Fay then relates that "More than twenty years later, Shostakovich confessed in a television interview, ‘When I work on new compositions, I always think, And what would Ivan Ivanovich have said about this?’ "

Work on the trio had actually begun in 1943, before Sollertinsky’s death, with the first movement being completed on Feb. 12,1944, four days after his death. He then stopped composing altogether. Depressed and ill, he feared that inspiration would never return. However, return it did, but not until August, when he was able to complete the other three movements in a couple of weeks.

The first movement, Andante Moderato, opens with a muffled tune on the violin, then taken up by the cello in what sounds like a distant trumpet blowing taps. There follows episodes rich in DSCH’s ironic melodies. His characteristic writing for the piano in chamber ensembles, that proved so successful in his Piano Quintet, is also featured. He has the pianist play the same melody with both hands, however, the melodies are spaced many octaves apart, so that the melody seems to enclose the strings like bookends. Fay tells us that "Sollertinsky’s sister recognized in the second movement ‘an amazingly exact portrait of Ivan Ivanovich, whom Shostakovich understood like no one else. That is his temper, his polemics, his manner of speech, his habit of returning to one and the same thought, developing it.’ " The third movement Largo sounds like a recitative of quiet lament. Introduced by chords on the piano, the violin and cello declaim, accompanied and punctuated by the piano’s chords. Shostakovich’s mordent humor is evident in the final movement. Noteworthy is his use of "Jewish music" in this movement. . In her book Shostakovich: A Life Remembered, Elizabeth Wilson writes "The intonations of Jewish folk music appealed to the composer. As Shostakovich explained, ‘the distinguishing feature of Jewish music is the ability to build a jolly melody on sad intonations. Why does a man strike up a jolly song? Because he feels sad at heart.’ "

A number of his works composed during the years 1944-49 were inspired by the music of the Jews of Eastern Europe and Russia. Besides this Trio (1944), there is the song cycle "From Jewish Folk Poetry" (1948), the Fourth String Quartet (1949), and the Violin Concerto No.1 (1947-48). It should be mentioned that at the time these works were being composed, the Soviet Union was going through one of its all-too-frequent paroxysms of Anti-Semitism. Communism had not been able, or necessarily willing, to eradicate this nasty habit of old Mother Russia in the Peoples Paradise. In fact, the quartet was not performed until 1953, after the death of Stalin. The song cycle and violin concerto were not publicly performed until 1955. The Trio was publicly performed only a few months after its completion on Nov. 14, 1944. The string parts were played by members of the Beethoven Quartet, first violinist Dmitri Tsïganov, and cellist Sergei Shirinsky. The piano part was taken by Shostakovich himself. The work was very well received, and soon taken up by other musicians.

Dmitri Shostakovich is always viewed in the context of the oppression and brutality of Stalinist Russia and the Soviet Union. We are moved by the mistreatment of this great musician by bureaucrats jealous of his genius. He was a brave man, though he lived in constant fear for most of his adult life. He was beaten down, yet he was able to produce great Art in a prison of Totalitarianism. Those of you who have been watching Ken Burns’ Jazz series, aired these past weeks, have seen Shostakovich’s contemporaries here in the Land of the Free, also brilliant and brave musicians hideously treated and beaten down because of the tint of their skin. Yet they too were able to produce great Art in a prison of Racism and Bigotry.

 1Fay, Laurel E., Shostakovich: A Life. Oxford University Press, N.Y., 2000

 2 DSCH was Shostakovich’s musical monogram, made up of the notes D – E flat- C – B. He wove it throughout many of his compositions.

 3 Fay, Laurel E. Shostakovich: A Life Oxford University Press. N.Y. 2000

 4 Wilson, Elizabeth Shostakovich:A Life Remembered Princeton University Press N.J. 1994

 5 It should also be noted that the full extent of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany was not yet known. Shostakovich would again deal with and condemn Anti-Semitism in his 13th Symphony "Babi Yar" composed in 1962.

2000-2001 Season, Program III, Sunday February 11, 2001

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All original text on this page Copyright 2000 by Joseph Way