Quartet No.9 in Eb
Moderato con moto - Adagio - Allegretto - Adagio - Allegro
Stalin’s death in 1953 lifted a burden from Shostakovich's shoulders, but the relative liberalisation which followed led to increased administrative demands as the composer was drawn into the state system. The culmination of this process came in 1960 when, after many years of resisted pressure, Shostakovich was prevailed upon to join the Communist Party. The eighth quartet stands in many ways as a memorial to what he had been. From that time on, he became seen more as an establishment figure. It was in the string quartet though that Shostakovich could remain himself, and it seems that the last nine quartets from 1960 to 1974 reveal more of the man than do the symphonies and concertos.
The ninth quartet dates from 1964 and is dedicated to his new (3rd) wife, Irina. There's definitely a sense of resurgent creative energy in this work. The five movements are played without a break, but the transition to each new movement is easily heard as a new mood is instantly established. In the generally good natured first movement, short motifs are contrasted with an undulating thread of accompaniment. The intense second movement is the expressive heart of the work. The allegretto scherzo re-establishes a more light hearted mood, introducing William Tell 'galloping' figures, but after its climax, gives way to a more lyrical passage. The reprise of the scherzo never returns to the jaunty style of its opening and eventually collapses into the fourth movement where strange, savage pizzicato chords and passionate declamations interrupt the dark mood. The finale is by far the longest movement, and its rhythmic vitality at times verges on the anarchic. Elements from earlier movements are quoted and integrated into the onward surge of the music. It is interesting and perhaps significant that Shostakovich also wrote the score for a new film of Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' in 1964. There is a sense in which the complexity of emotion and almost Shakespearean juxtaposition of tragedy and dark comedy, also pervade this string quartet.