Quartet no.15

String Quartet No. 15 in Eb minor, op. 144

  1. Elegy: Adagio
  2. Serenade: Adagio
  3. Intermezzo: Adagio
  4. Nocturne: Adagio
  5. Funeral March: Adagio molto
  6. Epilogue: Adagio

Shostakovich failed to realise his proposal to write 24 string quartets, one in each key, but his 15 works in the genre cover a period of more than thirty years and form the weightiest and most significant sequence of quartets since Beethoven. He composed his Fifteenth Quartet in May 1974, completing it during a period of hospitalisation in Moscow. 'I don't know if it's any good,’ he commented, ‘but I felt a certain pleasure when writing it.' The work, which (unusually) bears no dedication but whose profoundly moving, melancholic, passionate and almost tormented character has often caused it to be regarded as a requiem for the composer himself, was premiered in Leningrad by the Taneyev Quartet on 15 November 1974.

Often described as a 'meditation on mortality', Quartet No. 15 consists exclusively of slow movements - a linked sequence of six, all in E flat minor - and abounds in stark musical imagery. The extraordinary variety achieved within one tempo designation is especially striking - the metronome marking of crotchet = 80 changes only for the funeral march and sections of the epilogue and then to a slower crotchet pulse of 60. Emotionally, there is little to relieve the all-pervading gloom, a reflection of the composer’s poor health and the recent death of many close friends, yet there is throughout a consistent feeling of calm and serenity. This work brings the cycle to its conclusion, exploring the depths of the man who could so powerfully express the redemptive in suffering. (Note courtesy of Cardiff University)

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