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Shostakovich: Breaking Down Silence Saint Paul Sunday Shostakovich home Feature

The Shostakovich String Quartets

The Holy Fool | Chaos Instead of Music | Rehabilitation and Denunciation
The Shostakovich String Quartets | The Emerson String Quartet

Dmitri Shostakovich, (O. Makarov), from Dmitri & Ludmilla Sollertinsky, Pages from the Life of Dmitri Shostakovich, trans. Graham Hobbs & Charles Midgley (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979).

In contrast with the broad acceptance of Shostakovich's larger-scale works, such as his film scores and symphonies, which found immediate response worldwide from the 1920s through to the 1970s, public acceptance of his string quartets has come much slower. At the time of Shostakovich's death in the early 1970s, I know of no string quartet, at least in the West, which had played a complete cycle of all fifteen string quartets. Slowly though, starting in the early 1980s, quartets all over the world began to learn the quartets and even perform them as a cycle.

The complete cycle is a tremendous journey; not only are many of its works long, they are also extremely difficult to learn. And it has taken some time for audiences to begin to hear, on a broader scale, some of what Shostakovich's expresses in his string quartets, and to accept and experience these pieces as music of our own time. (The Emerson String Quartet's recording of Shostakovich's quartet cycle has just now been released, nearly a quarter century after the composer's death.) Audiences of the 1980s did not flock to hear Shostakovich's string quartets, but they do in 2000.

The Emerson Quartet discuss current interest in Shostakovich

The Emerson Quartet talk about performing Shostakovich

The Emerson String Quartet has a visceral understanding of this music. Many say you need to be Russian in order to communicate Shostakovich's meanings, but here are four American lads who have somehow penetrated the code and grasped the essence of this music. Their performances radiate passion, commitment, and brilliance; their intonation is impeccable. But you don't listen to Shostakovich quartets just to hear four people, however illustrious, play together and in tune: you listen to get to the heart of the message. That is what so moves me in the Emerson String Quartet's interpretations of these intense and fascinating works.

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