Shostakovich - String Quartet No. 8, Op. 110: Movement I

Revision cards for Shostakovich A2 Music set work

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Background

  • Composed 1960, following the composers enforced membership of the communist party in Russia, and a visit to Dresden where it was still possible to observe the effects of bombing during WWII
  • The quartet is autobiographical

- Use of D-Eb-C-B motif. This stands for an abbriviated form of the composers name, DSCH (Dmitri Schostakovich). Other translations from earlier works are also included.

  • No 8 of 15 string quartets by Shostakovich
  • The work was composed in 3 days, and is dedicated to 'victims of facism and war', although his family wrote that he dedicated it to himself (he became ill later that year and contimplated suicide).
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Rhythm and Metre

  • Slow (largo), simple quadruple time throughout
  • No values shorter than a quaver, many much longer
  • Some dotted rhythms - characterises quote from 1st symphony, bars 17-19
  • DSCH motif head in rhythmic augmentation, bar 79
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Melody

- In a low tessitura throughout  (59-60 violins)

- Melodies are often chromatic

- Prominence is given to the DSCH motif

- Some melodic material is taken from earlier works (Symphony No 1 - bar 19)

- Appoggiaturas (bar 30)

- Conjunct movement with balanced rising and falling phrases(from bar 55)

- Some narrow range motifs (50-56 in the violins)

- Repetitive figures (bar 50-56 in violins)

- Sequence (bars 19-23 of viola)

- Countermelody at bar 53 onwards in violin

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Harmony

  • Some clearly defined traditional progressions - perfect cadence at 26, with a suspension(9-8), preceded by a V-Ib-IV
  • Less traditional chord progressions 

- bars 79-81 consists of G major, Eb minor, F major, with chromatic inner parts. 

  • Passages of harmonic stasis (no progression as such)

- The drone at bar 28, tonic pedal on C at bar 50, then pedal at bar 67

  • Chords missing 3rds
  • Inverted pedal on B in 1st violin bars 13-16
  • Occasional unrelated triads e.g. bars 79-81 G-Ebm-F and dissonances at bar 82-83
  • Enharmonic change (Ab-G sharp) at end of movement to prepare for the next movement.
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Tonality

  • Unclear at the start - all chromatic pitches at bars 1-7, but Cm defined by cadence bars 25-26 pedals in section B and C
  • Tonal scheme is slow moving, starting in C minor, with quasi-fugal answer in G minor (dominant) at bar 2, and hints of F minor at bar 7
  • Structure is defined partly by perfect cadences (in C minor) at bars 24, 84, and 122
  • Other devices to reinforce tonality - drone (tonic and dominant) at bars 28-45 and tonic pedal at bars 50-66
  • Major mode inflection at bar 55. Shift to A minor at bar 87, F sharp at bar 93, C major at bar 95 and return to C minor at bar 105. The G sharp at the end prepare for the second movement
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Structure

  • Unfolds without reference to traditional forms. Keys are clearly established through cadences, drones and pedals
  • Arch form - A-B-C-B1-A1

Bars 1-27: Section A. Closes with DSCH. Key: C minor

Bars 28-45: Section B. Key: C minor (drone)

Bars 46-49: Link using DSCH. Key: C minor

Bars 50-78: Section C. Reharmonisation of DSCH. Key: C minor

Bars 79-104: Developed Recapitulation of A and B. Key: A minor (87), C major (95)

Bars 105-118: Based on bars 11-23. Key: C minor

Bars 118-124: Final reference to DSCH. Key: C minor

Bars 125-126: Link to second movement. Key: Unison G sharp 

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Texture

  • Low tessituras throughout.

Variety of textures:

Bars 1-11: Four part imitation

Bars 11-13: DSCH in octaves with internal pedal in viola

Bars 19-22: Two-part counterpoint

Bars 23-27: Homophony

Bars 28-44: Drone with melody in violin I

Bars 50-78: Pedal supporting accompanying figures and melody

Bars 87-91: Chord in upper parts with melody in cello

Bars 92-94: Four-part free counterpoint

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