Quartet no.7

String Quartet No.7 in F# minor, op.108
1. Allegretto
2. Lento
3. Allegro
4. Allegretto

Quartet no.7 was composed in 1960 and is headed 'In memory of Nina Shostakovich', his first wife who had died six years earlier. It is certainly not a programmatic work or even a portrait of Nina, but it does draw strategically on musical techniques associated with sadness and memory.

Each of Shostakovich's quartets is placed in a different key and, apparently, Shostakovich once said that he was aiming to write a quartet in each of the twenty-four keys. F sharp minor for the seventh quartet may have been prompted by the composer's awareness of the association of the key in the Classical Period with melancholy and longing, as in Haydn's Farewell symphony and the slow movements of Mozart's A major piano concerto (K488) and Beethoven's Hammerklavier sonata.

The starting point for the quartet is highly typical of the composer, a deliberately paired down simplicity of texture and of structure. The first movement presents two themes (one in the violin, the other in the cello) with two very different supporting accompanying patterns. The two themes are then repeated with new sonorities, pizzicato and triple time for the first theme and with mutes for the second theme. The music moves with a minimum break into the Lento, a ternary structure in which the main theme of the outer sections is an expressively elongated version of the very opening of the work and the middle section is underpinned by an insistent rhythm associated with funeral marches. Again the players are instructed to move on immediately to the next movement, a moment of abrupt aggression that initiates an Allegro of unremitting energy. The musical material itself constantly alludes to the two earlier movements, but simplicity of texture and harmony is now replaced by complex fugal textures. The aggression unwinds as the Allegretto returns to a stable F sharp minor before turning to the major key. One could easily write 'the solace of the major key', and maybe that is what Shostakovich had in mind.
(Note courtesy of Cardiff university)

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