13. DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH: String Quartet No. 3, Op. 73 -- Fourth Movement

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

This movement is a short transition between the Third and Fifth, in C# Minor (relative minor of E Major -- remember the second movement? -- E Minor ... both a semitone below the tonic, F Major, which will take us home in the Fifth...

After such horrific violence in the previous movement, Shostakovich now gives us a kind of funeral march (Stalin's victims?)...

The Borodin subtitle for this movement:

"Homage to the dead."

A solemn five-bar theme is repeated seven times.


The two violins quietly exchange long tones in a short, connecting contrapuntal passage, and then the theme appears again, almost exactly the same as I:


The only difference is the fifth and final bar -- in I. the arpeggio outlined G# Major; here Shostakovich moves it up a whole-step to A# Major...

A similar transition as before, and then


Notice how Shostakovich stretches out the theme with an additional quintuplet, in the cello. The sound is dark and dreary.

Just a few bars of transition to the next occurrence:


Shostakovich introduces a typical da-da-duh figure, funeral march-style. Note the two bars of introduction in the accompaniment before the first violin enters. It sets up the theme nicely.

The transition which follows (although not notated here) is absolutely gorgeous. The first violin passionately soars against the simple rhythmic background.


Note how the da-da-duh rhythm drops out in the third bar, and things get real intense!

Another few bars of increasingly concentrated passion and the cello take up the theme in a high register:


The intensity decreases. The da-da-duh figure returns in the cello, and the theme is played by the viola, as the two lower instruments fade away with a sad sort of wistfulness...


All three quartets take this below 80 BPM.

This brings up another interesting anecdote about Shostakovich's tempi. Quoting the cellist Berlinsky again, from Wilson:

" . . . in the Third Quartet, he hurried us on in the great funeral march of the fourth movement. 'No, no,' he would say, 'while you're stretching out that first C-sharp, the audience will fall asleep.' In general, his marking of the tempo often contradicted what he really wanted." (p. 244)

All three quartets handle the emotional quality perfectly. Now we're ready to finish things up:

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