Shostakovich's String Quartet Writing in Context

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General/ Context

Between 1938 and 1974, Shost composed 15 string quartets which are often regarded as the finest in the repertoire after Beethoven's along with Bartok's, the greatest of the C20.

There is great variety of style/ influence within his quartets;

  • No.3 Accused of hiding coded subversive messages against Stalin.
  • No.4 Many folk like middle eastern aspects PC2
  • No.5 Grows from a 5 note motif containing DSCH
  • No.12 12 note tone row PC6
  • No.13 Unusual string techniques PC8

Shost waited until he was 31 to compose his first string quartet, to mature as a composer.

Chamber music would not have been intended for the masses and then would flourish in small circles. This means it would be below the radar of communist scrutiny, therefore allowing Shost more personal freedom and reflection.

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Personal Thoughts (a), Autobiographical(b)

a)

  • Smetana's 2 quartets are very personal 'from my life'. explores romantic feelings, life in general, nationalistic elements and an emotional whining E within the finale which represents the inner ear difficulties during his approaching deafness. PC1
  • Janscek No.2 entitled 'intimate letters' explored intimate feelings.

b)

  • Shost's use of his own personalised motif DSCH has been influenced by Bach's use of BACH (B flat, A, C, B natural) in his 'Art of Fugue'.
  • Webern in his only quartet on a larger scale, base each of the 3 movements on a note rown on the BACH motif
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Quotations (c), Stylistic Incorporations(d)

c)

  • Shost's use of musical quotations from other composers could have been influenced by composers such as Haydn who in his finale to Op. 20 No.5 adapts Handel's main theme from 'and with his stripes' from 'the messiah'. PC2

d)

many earlier composers have incorporated folk song and nationalistic elements. (shost mov.2 and mov.4)

  • Romantic period composers such as Smetana PC3 and Dvorak introduced nationalistic elements such as the Czech/Bohemian Polka and Dumka.
  • Borodin and Tchaikowsky also used Russian folk tunes
  • Charles Ives introduced hymn tunes in his Quartet No.1.
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Number of Movements

  • The four movement pattern was establishedby composers such as Haydn.
  • The majority of Shost's quartet's were four movements but range from 1 movement (No.13) to 7 movements (No.11). No. 8 and No.9 are in 5 interconnected movements and a significant number of the others are interconnected movements. Inspiration could have been taken from Beethoven, Op. 132 (5 movs), Op. 130 (6 movs) and Op 131 (7 movs). Op. 131 played without a break.
  • Schoenberg experimented with one movement.
  • Bartok's 2nd quartet has a central scherzo mov and ends with a bleak slow movement (similar to the mov 3 and bleak finish to shost No.8).
  • BArtok's quartet No.4 has the whole 5 mov. structure as an Arch structure (element in shost mov 5)
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Structure of individual movments

  • Close knit structures of Haydn eg Op.76 No.2 Mov 1 PC4 - decending perfect 5th, sowed seeds for shost DSCH intensity.
  • Mozart's Sonata Rondo structure in K157 (forerunner for Shost Arch form)
  • Mozart's finale K387 synthesis of fugal and sonata forms PC5.
  • Brahms' Op.51 middle movements as 'weighty' as the outer ones
  • Bartok's 6 quartet No.3,4,5 much use of Arch form
  • Shost No.8 has 4th mov as traditional rondo while mov 3 has fusion of aspects of rondo/ arch.
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Cyclical Elements

  • Brahms Op. 51 strenuous motivic development within and between movements . In C minor quartet, motif of mov 4 was taken from mov 1.
  • Cesar Franck's D majors quartet perfected cyclical form with its use of a motto theme, brought back with original character.
  • Debussy and Ravel also wrote cyclical quartets. Debussy recalled his motif with constant fluidity and alteration.
  • Bartok's first 3 quartet use motto linked motifs in successive faster tempi whilst in No.6, each part of his single mov, structure begins with the same melodyin a different setting.
  • Shost use of DSCH in No.8 is influenced by all the above, as is his use of other 7123 tetrachord based motis.
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Tonal Plan of the Entire Quartet

  • The tonal plans of Haydn and Mozart- 3/4movs in tonic and 2nd in a closely related key set the foundations for shost.
  • Tonal ambiguity of tonality is striking in Mozart 'Disonance' quartet K465 PC6. (this relates to the to the maj/min ambiguities of shost movs 1 and 3 with false relation).
  • Brahms Op. 51 quartets had gretat prominence of minor keys (shost 8)
  • Debussy explored
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Tonal Plan of the Entire Quartet

  • The tonal plans of Haydn and Mozart- 3/4movs in tonic and 2nd in a closely related key set the foundations for shost.
  • Tonal ambiguity of tonality is striking in Mozart 'Disonance' quartet K465 PC6. (this relates to the to the maj/min ambiguities of shost movs 1 and 3 with false relation).
  • Brahms Op. 51 quartets had gretat prominence of minor keys (shost 8)
  • Debussy explored phrygian modes (shost flattened 2nd and raised 4th in No.8)
  • Schoenberg use of serialism discarded by shost.
  • Bartok's use of quarter tones in his quartet No.6
  • Webern's serialist note rows feature semitones and minor 3rds extensively (intervals of DSCH)
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Texture

  • Haydn's influence of fugal style Op.20 (shost 8 movs 1 and 5). PC2
  • Haydn - drone based textures (shost 9 mov 1 B sections)
  • Mozart K387 fugal counterpoint and homophony
  • Beethoven wrote may overtly fugal movements in Op 131 and Op 133 PC7
  • Charles Ives begins his 1st quartet with a fugue
  • Bartok's contrapuntal textures
  • Debussy explored a great variety of timbre and Webern's pointillist style was discarded by shost.
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Use of Specialist String Techniques

  • Bartok widened the 'palette' of sound with harmonics, col legno, variou pizzicato effects, explore to some extent by shost but not in No.8.
  • Shost explores the higher range of the cello
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Emotion/ Mood

  • The humour of Haydn's Op.33 quartets which were 'written in a new way' with their move from minuets to scherzos and the humorous rondo finales
  • Beethoven's sublime balance of the serious / comical in his late quartets with its violent out bursts.
  • Bartok often combined serious and popular elements.
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