Shostakovich Quartet no.10
Shostakovich's 9th and 10th quartets were written in the summer of 1964 and premiered together by the Beethoven Quartet. They seem to signify a surge in new creativity after a near 4 year break in quartet writing. They are works of extremes, different emotions and with a huge variety of musical colours. The 10th quartet was the last of Shostakovich's quartets to use the traditional four movement format and unusually for Shostakovich he dedicated this work to a living person - a fellow Soviet composer and close friend - Moisei Weinberg. We feel that this dedication perhaps sheds light on some of the emotions behind the 10th quartet.
Weinberg was of Polish - Jewish origin, but moved to Russia during the 2nd world war. He lost many members of his family in the Nazi concentration camps and then in 1948 his father-in-law was assassinated on Stalin's orders. In 1953 Weinberg himself was arrested for 'Jewish Bourgeois Nationalism'. Shostakovich put himself at risk by interceding on his behalf and also agreed to look after Weinberg's daughter in case anything happened to him and his wife. Stalin's death in 1953 led to Weinberg's release, but he never forgot Shostakovich's act of kindness and bravery.
There was also a friendly rivalry between the composers - to see who could write string quartets the quickest - and with the completion of his 10th quartet, Shostakovich took the lead! The atmospheric and at times mysterious 1st movement, contrasts with the fast and furious scherzo. The expressive 3rd movement Passacaglia is the emotional heart of the work, based on a 9 bar repeated phrase first heard on the cello. The initial feeling of warmth is gradually dispelled by increasingly chromatic writing, until brightness re-emerges as the theme transfers to the violin and into the major key. In the 4th movement a rhythmic dance-like theme is introduced which at the beginning seems jaunty and almost carefree, but it never quite takes off. Ambiguously the theme varies between hot and cold and at one point seems to almost turn into a death march.