On September 14th 1960, Shostakovich wrote the String Quartet no. 8 in C minor also known as the Dresden quartet, which to date is claimed to be one of the most performed string quartets1. Many musicologists considered this to be his epitaph which was his way to express the pain and depression he was feeling at the time. In my essay I will show how String Quartet came to be through some of Shostakovich’s important moments in his life such as the writing of Lady Macbeth and the Funeral March, as well as his struggle with the supremacy of communism.
Dmitry Shostakovich born on September 25th 1906. At a young age was considered a musical prodigy. At age 12 wrote his first piece, a funeral march for two cadet party leaders killed by Bolsheviks, this showed non communist ideology, so it can be seen that even at a young age his status as an anti communist was apparent and only grew with age. One year after enrolled for St. Petersburg college where he studied piano under Alexander Glazunov2.
In 1927, Shostakovich began work on his first opera, The Nose, based on a work by Nikolay Gogol. In 1930, when The Nose was finally performed, audiences enjoyed the work , but Shostakovich was the target of some of the harshest criticism he had so far received. For him this would've been heart crushing as it would lower his status in the composer community. Which only hindered him as an anti communist even further3.
From around the time of 1930 onwards the influence of communist Russia seemed to catch up with Shostakovich with the production of 'Lady Macbeth'. From 1934 onwards were so successful that the opera was quickly taken up internationally4. This gave him a huge in boost in popularity in Russia, and even gaining a higher status with the communists. In January 1936 Stalin visited a production of the opera in Moscow and, a few days later, a virulent and scurrilous official campaign was launched against the composer. It started with a world-notorious article headed 'Muddle instead of Music' which branded him as decadent and anti-soviet. Shostakovich's career was, at least temporarily, in ruins5.
In 1960 Shostakovich was sent to Dresden to compose for the film 'Five days-Five nights', a film concerned with the destruction of Dresden. Whilst working on this film score he started 'String Quartet'. It took him a mere 3 days from the 12th to 14th of July to compose this quartet.
In the USSR it became known as the Dresden Quartet6. The first movement starts with D, E-flat, C and B. In musical notation is Germany these notes are known as D,S,C and H. 7Of which occur in the German spelling of the composers name, Dmitry Shostakovich . He used this similar motive in his 10th symphony, 15th scherzo and in his first concerto8. Thus shows that Shostakovich wanted people to know this was his work as he so obviously stated his initials in the opening motif. Through doing so it helps to show that String Quartet can be considered as his epitaph.
The heartfelt anguish of the String Quartet may show Shostakovich's awareness that the memories of early triumphs, such as his first symphony, failed to compensate for the loneliness of age. In that fact his emotion poured into String Quartet could perhaps be from his first marriage or low self esteem. Shostakovich stated "I can't hear the quartet without breaking into tears"9. Although this may be an exaggeration it showed that Shostakovich put everything he had into this one piece, possibly thinking it was his last. 10
" I reflected that if I die someday then it's hardly like anyone will write a work dedicated to my memory"11 So I decided to write one myself. You could even write on the cover 'Dedicated to the memory of the composer of this quartet'. Shostakovich wrote on the 19th July 1960 to his friend Isaak Davidovich Glikman, the theatre historian and receiver of over three hundred letters from