10. DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH: String Quartet No. 3, Op. 73 -- Third Movement

A detailed analysis of Dmitri Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 3, Op. 73 -- Third Movement, including notated musical examples.

We have reached what I like to call the "Stalin" movement.

The Borodin subtitle: "The forces of war unleashed."

As the beginning of the second movement is reminiscent of the third movement of the Eighth Symphony, so this movement is very reminiscent of the second movement of the Tenth Symphony!

If the second movement of the Tenth is a "portrait of Stalin," as Solomon Volkov reports in Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich (p. 107), then this movement certainly qualifies, as well.

However, there is burning controversy in the Shostakovich community about the veracity of this, and, indeed, the whole of Volkov's book, which has no tape-recorded source verification.

Duh! Of course, it doesn't! I can't imagine anyone even thinking that any Soviet citizen at that time would have voluntary let such evidence exist. Volkov took notes.

But Fay (and others) are adamant. At least she gives Volkov his say, in a footnote regarding a horn part in the Tenth which DS had realized was related to some Mahler:

"Considerably more attention has been paid to the sensational revelation attributed to the composer by S. Volkov in Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich of a 'hidden' program in the second movement: 'The second part, the scherzo, is a musical portrait of Stalin, roughly speaking.' I have found no corroboration that such a specific program was either intended or perceived at the time of composition and first performance. Maxim Shostakovich has classified this as one example of the 'rumors' reproduced in Testimony: 'I think some musicologists set this idea forth. Others repeated it.... Father never said it was a portrait of Stalin.'" (p. 327, n. 14)

My problem with this argument is two-fold:
  1. Why would Volvok make it up? There is very little dispute about the rest of the book, all taken from private conversations with DS, just like the one that Volkov probably had about the Tenth; and
  2. Of course Maxim never heard him say it! Or perhaps this quote is from before 1989! It is not inconceivable that DS told only Volkov for the future. Before 1953, it would have been a death sentence to even whisper such a thing, especially to his family!
In any case, Irina Shostakovich has this to say, and Volkov replied with this.

So, back to this quartet: Here we go:

Now, let's compare that to the opening of the second movement of the Tenth Symphony:

Pretty similar, huh?

Quartet: We're in G# Minor, the relative minor of B Major, which is the dominant to E Minor, the key center of the previous movement. [This key-relationship template for the five movements is quite similar to Beethoven's Opus 131, as I pointed out earlier.]

After the opening theme is repeated, the texture thickens. By the time we get to this:Shostakovich is in full-blown "orchestral-sound" mode! This is really powerful string quartet writing! Time for a modulation. From G# Minor to Eb Major. An unusual shift of tonality, and quite effective. Note the oom-pah off-beats, as well as a very cool viola solo...

Things move along powerfully (and brutally/grotesquely), often returning to the 5/4 meter, until he finally settles into a straight 2/4 and the movement ends with this delightful musical conversation:

Sad to say, but the Éder just don't quite have enough oomph going for this kind of brutality. Compared to the Emersons, the whole movement is simply not edgy enough. The Emersons must have really shaken up the Aspen Festival with this performance. It's absolutely fantastic!

The Beethoven, at a tempo just slightly slower, play this movement with the same tightly controlled energy, however. The viola solo (notated above) is intense. The rest of the movement propels itself forward, with zero rubato stick-ins (the Emersons are guilty a few times, but it never distracts from the music.)

Want to buy the score for this piece? Click here.

Want to see the EMERSONS perform this standing up?

Want to see an unnamed Croatian quartet perform this?