5. DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH: String Quartet No. 3, Op. 73 -- Second Movement

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

After that delicious V-I cadence in F Major which closed the first movement, DS suddenly drops a semitone to the weirdly unrelated (traditionally) key of E Minor. (The harmonic layout for this quartet is somewhat similar to Beethoven's Op. 131).

The Borodin subtitle (see here) for this second movement:

"Rumblings of unrest and anticipation".

Emerson takes the tempo a bit faster than indicated. The Éder and the Beethoven stick a little closer to the 138 BPM. In any case, Wilson quotes Berlinsky:

"...In general, his marking of the tempo often contradicted what he really wanted." "We would say, 'But, Dmitri Dmitriyevich, your metronome mark is such and such.'" "He replied, 'Well, you see, my metronome at home is out of order, so pay no attention to what I wrote'" (pp. 244-45).

As the viola pounds out a brutal E Minor arpeggio (this is somewhat reminiscent of the third movement of the Eighth Symphony, also in E Minor, although there, the arpeggios are in 4/4), the first violin skips along in dissonant contrast to the tonic. At Bar 7, the viola switches to what amounts to a diminished leading tone to C Major, or dominant of the F major tonic of the quartet, although not this particular movement. The violin plays upon this ambiguity with increased vigorous dissonance.

The whole thing is rather grotesque sounding! This is a major of feature of Shostakovich's work.

From Wilson. The quotes are from a letter (DS to Tatyana Glivenko, 2/26/24).

"Shostakovich conceived the idea of the First Symphony in July 1923. Probably his early Scherzo Op. 7 was initially intended as its third movement. The young composer noted, not without satisfaction, that he had provoked Steinberg's displeasure with this piece: 'What is this obsession with the Grotesque? The [Piano] Trio already was in part Grotesque. Then the cello pieces are Grotesque and finally this Scherzo is also Grotesque!' Steinberg's comments did not have much effect. The young composer went on to ridicule the traditional tenets of his teacher: 'The inviolable foundations of The Mighty Handful, the sacred traditions of Nikolai Andreevich [Rimsky-Korsakov] and other such pompous phrases. Unfortunately, I can no longer indulge him with my music' (p. 45).

The music glides along, becoming more and more chromatic, and as the texture thickens, we get glorious bursts of wonderful independent part-writing. For example:
This leads into a Bartók-like ostinato with a powerful viola solo:
One tiny thing bugs me in the Emerson recording. The violist, Lawrence Dutton, perhaps accidentally, accents the 4th beat of the initial tied (6-1/2 beats) F-natural. The Éder violist, Sándor Papp, makes the cres. molto much more smoothly.

Things move along in similar fashion until this absolutely magical moment, which seems to come out of nowhere:

All three quartets successfully convey the very eerie feeling produced by this gorgeous music.

By the way, you might notice that in the staccato eighth-note accompaniment (Vln. II, Vla. & Cello), only one instrument changes notes: the viola, from a C# up to a D. This makes two chords: F# Major and D Major, 1st inversion (3rd in the bass). With both chords, the first violin dances around in tiny chromatic steps...

Shostakovich switches back and forth between the earlier, legato material and this second section composed of staccato material.

At the second repetition of the staccato theme, which is an octave higher, Dimitry Tsyganov, the first violinist of the Beethoven sort of screws up a little -- he plays the B# as a C#. (Second bar after Rehearsal #41 in the Sikorski score).

Finally, the music winds down and dies away:

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