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Veronika Jarůšková
violin / 1. housle
Marek Zwiebel
2 violin / 2. housle
Dmitry Shostakovich / Dmitrij Šostakovič
String Quartet No. 2 in A major, Op. 68
Smyčcov�½ kvartet č. 2 A dur op. 68
Overture. Moderato con moto
II. Recitative and Romance. Adagio
III. Waltz. Allegro
IV. Theme with variations. Adagio – Moderato con moto
Jiří Kabát
Peter Jarůšek
cello / violoncello
Recorded at the Domovina Studio, Prague,
11–12, 26–27 and 30–31 May, 2019.
Nahráno v pražském studiu Domovina ve dnech
11. – 12., 26. – 27. a 30. – 31. května 2019.
String Quartet No. 7 in F sharp minor, Op. 108
Smyčcov�½ kvartet č. 7 fis moll op. 108
Recording director / hudební režie
Jiří Gemrot
Recording engineer / mistr zvuku
Karel Soukeník
Producer / producent
Matouš Vlčinsk�½
II. Lento
III. Allegro – Allegretto
String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110
Smyčcov�½ kvartet č. 8 c moll op. 110
II. Allegro molto
10 III. Allegretto
11 IV. Largo
12 V. Largo
Dmitry Shostakovich
came to the
string quartet genre relatively late in
his life. By the time he composed his
String Quartet No. 1 (1938), he had
already completed five symphonies,
two operas, and three ballets. But
from that moment on, he would
continuously compose string quartets
until 1974, a year before his death.
The string quartets were not subject
to the same official scrutiny as large
orchestral or stage works, and so
became a kind of diary; a musical outlet
for Shostakovich’s innermost thoughts
and feelings.
Nowhere is this as clear as in his
Quartet No. 8.
When it was published
in 1961, the official dedication read
“to the victims of fascism and the war”,
but the backstory suggests the music
reflected experiences which were much
more personal and also more recent.
In late June 1960 Shostakovich travelled
from Moscow to Leningrad, where he
met with his close friend and confidant,
Isaak Glikman. The composer seemed
to be on the edge of a nervous
breakdown – he was hysterical and
weeping loudly; Glikman recalled
never to have seen Shostakovich in
a similar state before. After calming
down, Shostakovich told Glikman of the
cause: he had agreed, in a moment of
weakness and under some pressure,
to join the Communist Party.
Shostakovich apparently perceived it
as a devastating personal and moral
defeat – this was the party which had
mounted vicious attacks on him in 1936
and 1948. This also was the party under
which millions were made to disappear,
which in Shostakovich’s eyes was an
embodiment of violence, and which he
had previously sworn never to join.
Appalled by his own cowardice, he
‘escaped’ to Leningrad in an attempt to
foil the planned pompous ceremony
at the Union of Composers. This,
however, proved just a temporary
reprieve: the meeting was rescheduled,
and Shostakovich announced his
decision in a prepared speech, “like
a parrot” (in his own words). Shortly
afterwards he was sent to Dresden, to
compose a score for a propaganda film
in collaboration with East Germany.
In a letter to Glikman, sent from the
picturesque region of nearby Gohrisch,
he wryly wrote that the beautiful
surroundings did nothing to help fulfil
the commission. Instead, in just three
days, Shostakovich had composed
what was, in his view, an “ideologically
faulty quartet, needed by no-one”. This
was his String Quartet No. 8, a tragic
autobiographical work.
“It occurred to me that if I ever die,
it is unlikely that someone would
write a composition dedicated to
my memory,” Shostakovich wrote
to Glikman. “Therefore I decided to
compose one myself. One could write
just that on the cover: ‘Dedicated
to the memory of the author of this
quartet.’ ” Even without his letter, the
autobiographical nature of the quartet
is apparent in the music. The opening
four-note motif, which later recurs over
a hundred (!) times is Shostakovich’s
musical signature: D.S.C.H (D–E
flat–C–B). He also quotes extensively
from his own compositions: the Piano
Trio No. 2, the First Cello Concerto, the
First and Fifth Symphonies, the music
to the film
The Young Guard,
as well as
a prolonged quotation from his last
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk,
very work which brought on the first
attack by the Soviet regime, in 1936.
He chose to quote the purest and most
lyrical moment in the entire opera: the
protagonist’s joy at seeing her lover
after a hard day of marching to exile
in Siberia, unaware yet that his feelings
towards her had cooled down and
that he was already courting another.
In the quartet, as in the opera, this
section appears as a soft ray of light
[11/3:36]: unexpected, beyond hope,
and all too brief, making the returning
darkness seem even more oppressive.
It follows yet another quotation, this
time from a Russian revolutionary
song ‘Tormented
by heavy captivity’
[11/2:04], which could easily apply to
Shostakovich himself.
The musical result of this
“hotchpotch” (as Shostakovich
referred to it) is a tense five-
movement work of exceptional
emotional and psychological power,
even by Shostakovich’s standards.
Unapologetically dark and intense,
it’s almost monochromatic in mood
– though within that darkness the
music ranges from pathos and real
pain to sarcasm, fright, and crushing
aggression. And throughout the
quartet, Shostakovich’s humanity
is constantly felt, a warm thread
contrasting with the often horrific
narrative – whether the soulless
brutality of the second movement,
the biting sarcasm of the third, or the
dreaded knocks on the door in the
fourth. In the closing movement, the
warmth is embodied in the sorrowful
counterpoint melody, first heard at the
track 12, 0:20. It accompanies the music
to the very end, when after a pale and
subdued repeat of the opening section,
all fades into nothing.
both felt they were indispensable to
each other. Their friends commented
on Nina’s unwavering support and
companionship, as well as her brilliant
mind and buoyant spirits, which helped
Shostakovich and shielded him in the
most difficult times. Her sudden death
affected him deeply.
At 13 minutes, it is the shortest
quartet Shostakovich wrote, but the
inspired imagination of its structure
and sonorities belies its compactness.
A short jagged motif played by the
first violin becomes an
idée fixe,
recurring multiple times throughout
the outer movements. The second
movement presents a static, transfixed
landscape, depicted by an undulating
line in the second violin, akin to
a wizard’s incantation, above which
floats a lament in the first violin. After
a distant ominous march [6/1:33],
a short connection leads into a snarling,
furious fugue, in which the ‘academic’
devices (augmentations, diminutions
and canons) contrast with the
resolutely modern musical language.
In the second part of the finale the
fugue’s theme is transformed,
it becomes gentle and lilting, even
caressing. The
idée fixe
from the first
movement returns, and the finale ends,
like the first movement, with three
repeated F sharp major chords – a brief
but deserved moment of light.
String Quartet No. 7,
just a few months earlier, also held
a personal significance: Shostakovich
dedicated it to the memory of his first
wife, the physicist Nina Varzar, who
died in 1954. The two met in 1927 and
married in 1933, and even though their
relationship was often turbulent, they
In contrast to the concentrated worlds
of the String Quartets Nos. 7 and 8, the
String Quartet No. 2
is conceived on a nearly-symphonic
scale. It was written in Ivanovo, some
250 km north-east of Moscow, at
a recently created summer retreat, the
Composers’ House of Creativity. After
the harsh first years of the Second
World War, the supportive conditions
at Ivanovo proved productive: in
1943 Shostakovich composed his
monumental Symphony No. 8 there.
This was followed by two major
chamber works in 1944 – the Piano
Trio No. 2, dedicated to the memory
of his closest friend, the polymath
Ivan Sollertinsky, and the String Quartet
No. 2, composed in just 19 days.
A bold
majestically introduces
the quartet, its energy tautly held,
its harmonies austere. The haunting
second movement, complex and
multilayered, forms the psychological
core of the work. It opens and ends
with an extended
in the first
violin, traversing a broad range of
emotions: it’s passionate, painful, soul-
searching, lamenting and raging. This
is in stark contrast with the chorale-like
simplicity of the accompanying chords.
The middle section,
is far
from a typical lyrical gesture. Despite
glimpses of beauty, the atmosphere is
uneasy, the harmonies ever so slightly
sick, and its climax truly horrifying.
follows: a restless, muted,
ghostly dance, turning demonic in
the middle section. The
a masterful set of variations; its theme
[4/1:20] ingeniously combines a folk-
tune simplicity with unmistakeable
Shostakovich language. The variations
build up slowly but relentlessly, leading
to a series of climaxes, and ending –
against all classical canons, but very
much according to the inner logic
of the quartet – in a resolute A minor.
The quartet was premiered in
November 1944 by the Beethoven
Quartet, who were Shostakovich’s
close collaborators. Years later, before
the premiere of the String Quartet
No. 7, the first violinist of the quartet,
Dmitry Tsiganov, mentioned that
the Melodiya label had wanted to
record Shostakovich’s last quartet.
“How do you mean ‘last’?” exclaimed
Shostakovich. “First I should finish
writing all the quartets,
it will
be the last.” “And how many do you
intend to write?” “Twenty four. Have
you not noticed that the keys do
not repeat themselves? I want to
compose a complete cycle.” In the
end, Shostakovich completed 15 of
the planned 24, but they forever
stand as one of the pillars of chamber
music composition in the 20
and open a unique window into
Shostakovich’s soul.
Boris Giltburg
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