Seth Rait

Student, Coder, Sailor, Musician

Recently, my quartet played Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8.

Putting this piece together was a lot of work, but incredibly rewarding. Thank you to the rest of my quartet, and to our coach, Mark Berger. Here’s a little about the piece.

Shostakovich’s Eighth Quartet, composed in three days in 1960, is perhaps his best known work. It is a five-movement, 20 minute work for string quartet. The movements are as follows, and proceed one after the other with no break (attaca): 1. Largo

  1. Allegro molto (04:48)

  2. Allegretto (7:44)

  3. Largo (12:16)

  4. Largo (16:55)

The meaning of this work has been furiously debated. It is dedicated to “The Victims of Fascism and War”, though there is some evidence that that epitaph was added later on, either by the composer himself or someone else. The music can be seen initially to support this idea. The first movement begins with the cello, adding in the other instruments one at a time to create a polyphonic, fugal texture. It is slow, lamenting, and tedious. The second movement is fast, angry and stabbing. The third is both playful and creepy, evil sounding. The fourth movement back to angry, and the final movement is somber and consigning.

The second interpretation, one which has more recently been conceived, is that the Eighth Quartet is autobiographical. This claim is strongly supported by the contents of the quartet. Throughout the piece, there is one common motif, the notes D, Eb, C, and B, which in Russian are DSCH, the initials of Dmitri Shostakovich and a motif which Shostakovich used in his music extensively. Further, Shostakovich includes many allusions to his other works, including his opera, Lady Macbeth, his first cello sonata, first and fifth symphonies, seventh string quartet, and second piano trio. The copious allusory material gives credence to the claim that the quartet is autobiographical, but also paints a sad portrait of Shostakovich’s ethos at this time. This is a piece of anger, sorrow, and mourning.

Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 - Seth Rait