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

A set of revision cards on Shostakovich set work for Edexcel A2 Music Unit 6: Further Musical Understanding

  • Created by: Misha Mau
  • Created on: 12-06-12 11:43

Context/Background information

  • Composed July 1960 in three days first performance 2nd October 1960
  • Russian Composer in 20thC
  • was at odds with soviet authority
  • In 1960 forced to join communist party 
  • This piece is said to be an obituary for himself - or autobiography
  • Motto theme D-E flat-C-B which derived from composers initals
  • Dark tone after visit to dresden which was ravaged by bombing in WWII
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Performing Forces + Handling

  • 2 violins, viola and cello
  • low notes exploitation of bottom open string
  • Ranges generally quite narrow 
  • Restraint of techniques like pizz, tremelo and double stopping with everything arco
  • dynamics quiet much pianissimo/piano
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  • b1-11 contrapuntal with imitative entries 
  • monophony can be used for cello opening 
  • Homophonic textures used including homorhythm b23-27
  • extended tonic and dominant drones b28-45
  • countermelody appears b55
  • Parallelism used which is sometimes uncharacteristic of pre-20thC music
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  • opening imitative passage is an introduction
  • A, B, C, B1, A1
  • A ends with first DSCH motif
  • B ends with DSCH motif in cello b46
  • C ends with second homophonic statement of DSCH
  • B1 has more static or slow moving upper parts
  • A1 has an ending with final shift to G sharps
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  • keeps to major/minor tonality
  • atonality was seen as outrageous by the Soviets
  • Labelled this work C minor with 3 flats
  • doesn't depart from key for long: modulates to E flat major and G minor
  • C minor with aeolian inflections in section B
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  • harmony varied
  • traditional 'functional' harmony at the beginning of the piece
  • Some clearly defined traditional progressions like b26 suspension
  • Less traditional chord progressions consist of G major, E flat minor, F major
  • passages of harmonic static where there is no progression like drone b28 
  • insistence on tonic and dominant notes of the C minor scale
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  • stepwise movement with some scalic passages like b67-70 and some chromatic passages
  • descending minor 3rd crucial to DSCH motif (minor motif)
  • minor 2nds D-E flat and C-B natural
  • whole melody spans diminished 4th
  • quotation of first symphony b16 and b109 and sounds half original speed 
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Rhythm and metre

  • simple quadruple time (4/4)
  • simple rhythms, syncopation uncommon but examples are b24-25 (violin 1) and b120-121 (viola).
  • cello opening rhythm is associated with DSCH motif
  • Long notes in lower parts of section V and C
  • rhythmic augmentation in 2nd homophonic statement of DSCH motif. Minims doubled to semi-breves. 
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