Among the few complete recordings of the string quartets of Dimitri Shostakovich, this has the best qualifications for becoming established in a special position: the Rasumovsky Quartet, from Saarbrücken, here makes use of an edition which contains corrections of many details in comparison with the traditional edition. Maxim Shostakovich, son of the composer, contributed
further corrections from original sources.
The result has been given many advance laurels by Maxim Shostakovich: “The new recording
of the complete string quartets of Dimitri Shostakovich by the Rasumovsky Quartet has made the very deepest impression on me. The creative and sensual penetration into the world of the music of Dimitri Shostakovich, the individual mastery and the talent of each of the individual
members of this excellent ensemble allow this recording to be numbered amongst the best interpretations ever of the music of my father”.Withdrawal to
private or universal
About the string quartets of
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975)
Shostakovich’s string quartets clearly appear to mean a withdrawal into private life as the genre itself would suggest. Just the almost symbolic, excessively clear division of his main works into fifteen “official” symphonies and fifteen “private” string quartets speaks for this. In addition, during a difficult period in 1938, Shostakovich found his way to this genre for the first time (the Two Pieces for String Quartet op. 36 of 1931 are merely arrangements): two years before completion of the 1st String Quartet,
namely, the Soviet party newspaper Pravda ran the headline on 28 January 1936 in bold lettering
“Chaos instead of Music” and meant not only Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth but also the assertion of socialist realism.
As though through a wonder, Shostakovich survived Stalin’s Cultural Revolution and the great terror of those years. The fact that Shostakovich
discovered the string quartet in this atmosphere is remarkable against the background
that the official art doctrine demanded big genres which had an effect on the masses and clear vocal, stage and programme music. In the course of the Second Cultural Campaign
in 1946/48, cultural functionaries were also in fact to speak of “Sophistry in the close area of secluded chamber music”. But it is not quite so clear: the symbolic division of fifteen symphonies and fifteen string quartets is qualified by the fact that Shostakovich wanted to compose at least another sixteenth quartet (his friend and biographer, Krzysztof Meyer, made up for this later).
Above all, however, the musicologist, Michael Gervink, showed in 1998 the extent to which for Shostakovich the genre borders wore away and certain language and structuring
cannot be interpreted purely in the terms of chamber music. Just here, Shostakovich can refer to tradition if, for example, you think of the orchestral chamber music sound of Brahms, Tchaikovsky’s Requiem Piano Trio op. 50 or Beethoven’s – however intended – programmatic
“schwer gefassten Entschluss” (the hard won decision) from the String Quartet op. 135: just these few examples do not correspond to the customary understanding of introverted private and absolute chamber music. Shostakovich’s
string quartets thus show the character,
musical units of meaning and topics which actually characterise his whole work over and beyond the borders of genre.
After the events of 1936, therefore, Shostakovich
finds his way increasingly to instrumental
recitatives which the musicologist Constantin Floros describes as “speaking parties”:
Alongside the 4th movement of the 9th symphony, the 2nd movement of the 2nd string quartet and in free design, the 3rd movement of the 11th string quartet can be counted amongst the central examples. The climaxes of passacaglia – i.e. variation sequences on an ostinato bass to which Shostakovich turns
Schostakowitsch in den 1960ern
in the context of sorrow and lamentation – are represented then again not only by the lento of the 6th String Quartet, the adagio of the 10th String Quartet or in the free design of the 2nd movement of the 14th String Quartet but also in examples from the 8th Symphony or the 1st Violin Concerto.
Also the numerous fugues, waltzes, chorals or funeral marches are in no way restricted to chamber music. In addition, the Eastern German
researcher, Sigrid Neef, notices rightly, in the filigree harmonic play in the second movement of the 5th String Quartet, a transposition
of the celesta sound (a glockenspiel with keyboard), which symbolises eternity in the orchestra works of Shostakovich following
the example of Mahler. Completed gestures of crescendo cries from multiple piano to multiple forte cannot only be found at the end of the 13th and at the beginning of the 2nd movement of the 15th String Quartets but also as the final structure of the 14th Symphony.
The d-e-flat-c-b motive – Shostakovich’s
initials in German writing put into tones – determines equally occurrences in the 8th String Quartet and the 10th Symphony. And the recurrent topics of desolate pounding as characterised in the 3rd movement of the 3rd and the 2nd movement of the 10th String Quartet
also unmasks the grimace of raw violence in the Symphonies nos. 8 and 10.
While negatively occupied Russian folk music is mixed into the pounding, the 3rd movement of the 4th String Quartet suffers in the positive-cast voice of the Jewish music – this also a means a recurrent agent of shaping in Shostakovich’s work after 1936 which additionally cannot be put into harmony with the anti-Jewish Soviet policies. It is therefore no wonder that the 4th String Quartet was only given its first performance
after Stalin’s death. But no matter how right all these inter-genre observations may be, it is the private experimental character of the later works once again which cannot be denied – what shows the way in Shostakovich’s later works is, however, in quantity and quality, the chamber music. Shostakovich discovers here for himself the twelve-tone row (for example in the 12th String Quartet) and reduces unusually non-pathetically, ideally related to contemporary
tendencies with Luigi Nono, the material into nothing. In the 13th String Quartet, Shostakovich
in fact has the musicians beat the wood of the bow on the bodies of the instruments.
Are Shostakovich’s string quartets therefore
to be understood now as a withdrawal to private life or an expression of the universal? As so often, there is with Shostakovich no clear answer to this. It is always a matter of position. Shostakovich’s much conjured double entendre is applicable here. If he had given clear answers, he would at least not have survived Stalinism either physically or artistically. And therefore, Sigrid Neef characterises
the cycle of the fifteen string quartets most accurately when she speaks of the “Diary of inner Development”. Diaries are, after all, personal expressions which react to the environment and document private matters in the universal and universal in the private life – a search for the truth.
The author is a music journalist and wrote his doctorate
about Shostakovich. His book book “Chaos statt Musik“. Dmitri Schostakowitsch, die Prawda-Kampagne von 1936 bis 1938 und der Sozialistische Realismus” (“Muddle instead of Music”. Dmitri Shostakovich, the Pravda Campaign from 1936–1938 and the Socialist Realism, published by Pfau-Verlag in Saarbrücken, has been available since June 2006.
About this recording of the complete works
The basis of the recordings is namely the not yet completed latest complete edition by DSCH Publishers in Moscow, which only takes the autography into consideration. As, at the point of time of the recordings, not all quartets had been published, with the support of Shostakovich’s
son Maxim some printing errors not recognised up to now could be corrected. Even more important than the notation are the questions of choice of tempo and the tempo relations. The musicians have kept strictly to the demands of the composer resulting in the slow movements no longer appearing so heavy and pathetic. On the other hand, the waltz in the Second Quartet and the last movement
of Quartet No. 9 are now interpreted in their orignal tempo, to a breathtaking effect. Not least, these recordings come from an understanding of Shostakovich which questions
common ways of interpretation from the historic distance.
About the painter
Born in White Russian Witebsk in 1913, the seven year-old Gabriel Glikman took the opportunitiy
to watch Marc Chagall working, something
which was to shape him lastingly. After moving to St. Petersburg, he studied there at the Academy of Arts and worked henceforth as a painter, sculptor and graphic designer. He was friendly with numerous personalities including Shostakovich, who estimated his work greatly as, not the last, his signature on the cover drawing for this CD shows. He came to know Shostakovich through his brother Isaak Glikman, who was closely acquainted with the composer and published important letters of Shostakovich. When in 1968 an exhibition with his pictures was closed after a few days and he was regarded as “artistically
subversive”, Gabriel Glikman made an application to emigrate and was able to leave for the West in 1980. He lived in Munich from 1982 until his death in 2003.
The new recording of all the quartets by Dmitri Shostakovich by the Rasumowsky Quartet have left the very deepest impression with me. The creative sensuous penetration into the world of Shostakovich’s music, the individual craftsmanship and talent of each member of this excellent ensemble make it possible to count this recording amongst the best interpretations of the music of my father’s altogether. I congratulate sincerely all the members of this wonderful quartet on the magnificent artistic performance and am convinced that these CDs will provide the lovers of Shostakovich’s music with very great joy.
Maxim Shostakovich, May 2006