String Quartet No. 3 in F Op. 73 (1946)
Moderato con moto
Allegro non troppo
Adagio - attacca
Elizabeth Wilson writes in her book Shostakovich: A Life Remembered “In 1946 the Shostakovich family inaugurated a tradition of spending the summer months in the village of Komarovo outside Leningrad. Until 1950 they rented a State-owned dacha in the village, and thereafter they occupied the second floor of a two-storey dacha owned by V. V. Varzar, the composer's father-in-law.
Komarovo provided Shostakovich with a peaceful haven in which to compose. It was there that he completed his great five-movement Third String Quartet on 2 August 1946, which he had conceived in the early months of that year. Written on an almost symphonic scale, it follows the five-movement plan typical of Shostakovich's greatest and most serious compositions. The Quartet was premiered by its dedicatees, the Beethoven Quartet, in Moscow on 16 December.”
The third quartet was in fact the only work that Shostakovich produced that year and he considered the work one of his finest. At a rehearsal many years later Fyodor Druzhinin, the violist of the Beethoven Quartet, recalled: “Only once did we see Shostakovich visibly moved by his own music. We were rehearsing his Third Quartet. He'd promised to stop us when he had any remarks to make. Dmitri Dmitriyevich sat in an armchair with the score opened out. But after each movement ended he just waved us on, saying, 'Keep playing!' So we performed the whole quartet. When we finished playing he sat quite still in silence like a wounded bird, tears streaming down his face. This was the only time that I saw Shostakovich so open and defenceless.”
The innocence of the first movement’s Jewish-flavoured opening theme gives way to hints of much darker forces to come. The second movement is emotionally speaking the reverse of the first with its strident start surrounding one of the best effects in all string quartets, where the players delicately tap out a rhythmic unison of memorable stillness. The second Scherzo Allegro non troppo is a violent highly energetic movement effervescing with military mockery. The heart-rending Passacaglia combined with the funeral march that follows is a movement of extraordinary power and leads attacca into the finale. This fifth movement is a big structure that makes almost a complete quartet by itself; it is rounded off by a transcendent ending of magnificent beauty.
Following its composition and for the quartet’s premier, Shostakovich added titles to each of the five movements, presenting the work as a ‘war quartet’, but he retracted them immediately afterwards without explanation. Possibly the titles were created as a smokescreen to mask his on-going expression of fury at the Soviet authorities, or his anger about the recent cold reception to his Ninth Symphony? The withdrawn titles were: 1. “Calm unawareness of the future cataclysm” 2. “Rumblings of unrest and anticipation” 3. “The forces of war unleashed” 4. “Homage to the dead” 5. “The eternal question: Why? and for what?”
With thanks to Simon Rowland-Jones for these notes!