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This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes / Sikorski for the UK, British Commonwealth (excluding Canada), Republic of Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Israel.


World Premiere
Moscow Conservatoire, Moscow
Beethoven Quartet
Repertoire Note

Shostakovich’s Third Quartet was reckoned by the composer himself to be, together with the Fourth, one of his finest achievements. It was composed in the immediate aftermath of World War 2 and not long after the completion of the composer’s highly controversial Ninth Symphony. It shares with that symphony a certain classical quality, a feeling of purity and lightness of material which nevertheless suggests darkness and depth beneath. And like both the Ninth and the Eighth symphonies, it is in five movements. It also shares with the Second Quartet a strong influence from Jewish ‘klezmer’ music.

After a classicizing sonata-like opening movement, Shostakovich gives us two scherzos. The first is a witty and disturbing piece, full of mockery and sourness, while the second ‘alternative’ scherzo erupts with force and violence. The slow movement keeps promising to be an imposing passacaglia on the model of the slow movement of the Eighth Symphony, but the passacaglia element here seems constantly in danger of fading away, which gives the music an unsettling quality. The finale is awkwardly but expressively lyrical and ends up with a strange repeated phrase on the first violin. Shostakovich dedicated this F major quartet to his friends in the Beethoven Quartet and when they arrived at this ending, he laconically compared this repeated phrase to the famous ‘Eternal Question’ from the opening of the last movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s last quartet (also in F major).

Although the Third Quartet was successful when it was first performed, it fell foul of the ‘Zhdanovshchina’, the official campaign against Shostakovich and other composers begun at the end of 1947. As a result, this quartet was for some time not allowed to be performed, which is perhaps one reason why the composer, naturally enough, cherished it with particular intensity.

Note by Gerard McBurney


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