17. DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH: String Quartet No. 3, Op. 73 -- Fifth Movement

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

The Borodin subtitle for this final movement:

"The eternal question: Why? And for what?"

The last note of the fourth movement was the cello low C, and the word attacca -- i.e., continue without pause...

That C, of course, acts as the dominant for our overall tonic, F Major.

So there's our five-movement harmonic layout:

F Major/E Minor/G# Minor/C# Minor/F Major

I discussed how the inner movement keys relate to each other previously. The only thing left to say is that one should notice how Shostakovich gets us back into F Major.

This slippery, unstoppable 6/8 is filled with notes either just above or below the key center and its relations.

For example, study the first two measures of the cello part -- The first note (after the low C from the fourth movement) is a G-Flat, a semitone above the tonic, then an F, then a D-Flat, a semitone above the dominant (C), followed by a C, and then a B-Natural (a semitone below the dominant) ... thus Shostakovich inhabits two harmonic worlds at once: the firmly traditional diatonic framework (again, see how these key relationships compare with Beethoven's Op. 131) and the overt chromaticism of the 20th century ...

This is a long movement. I will try to show how Shostakovich develops this simple 6/8 progression through various permutations, always keeping the energy moving forward and, as last movements are supposed to do, making his overall musical statement in a clear and powerful manner.

The rolling eighths in the cello continue, along with the viola octaves into the next restatement of the theme:

Eventually, these rolling eighth-notes become a seductive melisma in the violins:

and then a delightful passage where the first violin plays the melody in augmentation (stretched out), with a jaunty accompaniment:

Shostakovich frequently relieves tension in his music by falling into some kind of very tonal pattern, if only for several bars. Here is one of those times, where he pivots on an E7 to provide a strong dominant to the new key of A Major:

After much development of the sinuous quarter-eighth-quarter-eighth motive, intertwined with the running eighths, Shostakovich begins to let it all out:

Here, as the two violins saw away like crazy, Shostakovich brings back the funeral march melody from the fourth movement in the viola and cello. See how ingenious:

More development after this, including a restatement of the recent A Major theme in A Minor. Gradually, the pace winds down until nothing is left but the cello playing the slippery 6/8 theme. Things begin to die away. The quartet is completed with three soft plunks by the first violin, and it is over.

The violist of the Beethoven, Fyodor Druzhinin, sums it up nicely:

" ... People who lived in Shostakovich's epoch have no need to dig in the archives or to marvel at the evidence of repressions and executions and murders. It is all there in his music. Following the best tradition of Russian art, the murky and ugly side of terror, repression and suffering lead us finally to ... the mysterious transformation into eternal light and conciliation in the Third Quartet ..." (Wilson, p. 390).

Both quartets do a terrific job with this movement.

Final analysis:

If you're on a budget, the Éder is not only a bargain, but a real good performance (3rd mvmnt. excepted)...

On the other hand, you can definitely think of the purchase price of the Emersons (complete, all 15 quartets) as a great investment! DGG quality, baby! And an unbelievable ensemble!

On yet a third hand, if the hiss and slightly muddy sound won't drive you crazy, the Beethoven is perhaps -- dare I say it? -- definitive! After all, these four gentlemen played this music when the ink was still wet, and the composer was sitting a few feet away...

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



Unknown said…
Wow Dad, well I'm so glad you analyzed this incredibly GORGEOUS quartet that the GENIUS Shostakovich created. It's funny how suddenly I fell completely in love with this when I heard it, and ever since, I simply can't stop listening to it. I'm not sure if you've noticed it coming from my room all the time. :P Well I just went over each and every movement that you did and man how cool! I really enjoyed looking at it and following along with parts of the music! I told Rachel this when she was here, but my DREAM is to play this one day. What a thrilling and incredible experience would that be. I know it's extremely difficult, but I really want to. :) I love you!