String Quartet No.6 in G major, op.101
- Moderato con moto
String Quartet no.6 was wriitten in 1956 (August 7th-31st) and was first performed at a concert of Shostakovich's music, held on the occasion of his 50th birthday at the Glinka Small Hall, Leningrad on October 7th of that year.
On the surface, the choice of the key of G major implies a happy, lighter mood to this work, and certainly the quartet seems surprisingly carefree and laid-back at times.
In 1956 Shostakovich married his 2nd wife Margarita Kainova and they were on honeymoon when this quartet was mostly written. There was also a sense of political and cultural thaw after Stalin's death in 1953.
In the first movement however we always notice that when the initial carefree theme returns, it is always different, with either 'wrong notes' in the melody or in the accompanying harmony. We can't help but think back to the Zhadanov decree in which Shostakovich was openly criticised for his use of 'atonality, dissonance and disharmony'!
There are hints of a darker side then in this work, especially considering the loss of his 1st wife Nina in 1954 and his mother in 1955. In the beautiful 3rd movement 'Passacaglia', Shostakovich seems to be able to express both peace and contentment alongside a deeper sense of loss. He also quotes a theme by Prokofiev (who had died on the same day as Stalin) perhaps as a way of memorialising him and the countless other close friends who had suffered or been killed on Stalin's orders.