Author Topic: Shostakovich String Quartets  (Read 80562 times)

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Offline JBS

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Re: Shostakovich String Quartets
« Reply #760 on: October 11, 2018, 08:22:28 AM »
Did I have any preferences as to the performers?
I don't know all recordings. Of the ones I have I tend to prefer the ca 1980 Borodin Qt; certainly in the really intense and dramatic pieces, nr 13 and nr 15, which one should really witness live, they get closest to the required dramatic intensity.

However the Pacifica is very good across the board, and sometimes the Beethoven Qt is very good too (nr 14). I like the Emersons, too, who recorded the entire cycle live. I am somewhat underwhelmed by the Fitzwilliam. It was a brave effort, but they just don't have what it takes. Same for either Brodsky.
Thank you Herman for an interesting read.
I was also underwhelmed by the Fitzwilliams. My favorite is the 80s Borodin cycle, followed by the Emerson SQ. I know a lot of people are not impressed by the latter, but I think they do the music justice. Close after that the Pacifica and Shostakovich cycles. The Jerusalem Qt semi-cycle is a must have.

Offline Herman

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Re: Shostakovich String Quartets
« Reply #761 on: October 11, 2018, 09:12:51 AM »
The last five quartets are kind of a group in that they share an extreme simplification of both the material & the instrumental writing, very often reduced to one or two real parts, but at the same time this extremely stripped down material can be dissonant or highly chromatic and strips away many of the more "accessible" features of his earlier work, eg melodies that aren't dodecaphonic, any kind of normal musical rhetoric (apart from funeral marches), and anything resembling climaxes or narrative continuity. We also see this in a few of the other late works eg the Symphony No. 14, the Alexander Blok songs Op. 127, the Michelangelo songs Op. 144, the violin & viola sonatas. I think this tends to make even the "happy" music (eg the 12th and 14th quartets) sound austere and difficult.

This is true, but on the other hand I think DSCH wasn't doing this in order to be difficult, but as a way to increase the musical drama. For instance, the very bare bones opening of the viola sonata, just like the minimal material in the opening pages of quartet nr 15, when you're in the audience, this is very very dramatic.

Maybe it's the same thing as in Bach's solo violin sonatas, where the listener's inner ear has to provide the harmonies one four-string instrument can't produce. In this very bare-bones music DSCH was composing in his final years the listener is sucked into the music because there are so many open spots.
« Last Edit: October 11, 2018, 09:16:15 AM by Herman »

Offline Herman

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Re: Shostakovich String Quartets
« Reply #762 on: October 11, 2018, 09:35:33 AM »
Anyway...your comments on #13 were interesting, because for years I heard this as a surreal nightmare. I was influenced by the notes to the Fitzwilliam performance, which pointed out how bad DSCH's health was at the time he composed it, stuffed full of pills and medications. Maybe it's time for me to listen to it as pure music and see how it holds up.

Same applies to #15. I hear the quartets 12-15 as a group, because they came after his heart attack when his health was declining and death was in sight. So I've always seen them as very gloomy, haunted works.

IMO this is a real problem in DSCH-exegesis. There is too much a sense that things should be decoded. I read a piece in which a musicologist is counting the taps in nr 13, trying to figure out whether they relate to the nr of years DSCh was with his various wives. The emphasis is always on the Soviet-repression, the anxiety and, for the final dozen years, the physical suffering. Obviously these are absolutely there, but it's why I thought the Borodin's blowing out the candles was just a little too much. Krystof Meyer's DCH book is an eyeopener in that respect. He was a younger Polish composer seeking DSCH's blessing or friendship. The first time he visits DSCH at home he cannot help but notice how large DSCH's home is. His life was not bereft of luxury.

Meyer also notes that DSCH has a hard time recognizing him every time he visits. DSCH lived in a very small circle of men and women he had known for decades, nearly all of them musicians, like the members of the Beethoven Quartet. I'm not saying he was "close" to them in the sense they swapped intimate stories (I have no idea; there was a lot of drinking). But these were the people he liked, and with whom he worked.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jun/22/shostakovich-quartets-wendy-lesser-review
« Last Edit: October 11, 2018, 09:37:54 AM by Herman »

Offline amw

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Re: Shostakovich String Quartets
« Reply #763 on: October 11, 2018, 09:17:22 PM »
This is true, but on the other hand I think DSCH wasn't doing this in order to be difficult, but as a way to increase the musical drama.
I generally agree. I think by this point he was a sufficiently beloved and well-known figure in Soviet musical life that people still had great reverence for his music even if it may have been seen as difficult. He had a lot more artistic freedom in the later years.

Offline SurprisedByBeauty

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Re: Shostakovich String Quartets
« Reply #764 on: October 12, 2018, 12:27:53 AM »
I generally agree. I think by this point he was a sufficiently beloved and well-known figure in Soviet musical life that people still had great reverence for his music even if it may have been seen as difficult. He had a lot more artistic freedom in the later years.

Apart from the natural trajectory a composer takes (think Beethoven, whose late string quartets are nearly as forbidding (and certainly must have seemd so, at the time), there are two main reasons for DSCH to feel like he could alter his style towards hitherto undesirable realms:

1.) Stalin was dead.
2.) DSCH knew he was dying soon. (At some point; at the latest after he visited the NIH in D.C.)

A Survey of Shostakovich String Quartet Cycles

Offline Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich String Quartets
« Reply #765 on: October 12, 2018, 01:50:28 AM »
I wish people would stop saying they're underwhelmed by the Fitzwilliams. I'm perfectly happy with them and you all make me wonder if there's something wrong with that.

Also, an emphatic yes to de-emphasising the "decoding" of Shostakovich. No other composer suffers so much of that kind of analysis, ever since Testimony. Sometimes it's enough to just appreciate the man's control of form and personally I think he's also one of the best composers ever when it comes to endings.
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Offline Ghost of Baron Scarpia

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Re: Shostakovich String Quartets
« Reply #766 on: October 12, 2018, 06:48:43 AM »
Apart from the natural trajectory a composer takes (think Beethoven, whose late string quartets are nearly as forbidding (and certainly must have seemd so, at the time), there are two main reasons for DSCH to feel like he could alter his style towards hitherto undesirable realms:

1.) Stalin was dead.
2.) DSCH knew he was dying soon. (At some point; at the latest after he visited the NIH in D.C.)

A Survey of Shostakovich String Quartet Cycles

What do you mean?

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Shostakovich String Quartets
« Reply #767 on: October 12, 2018, 07:28:53 AM »
followed by the Emerson SQ. I know a lot of people are not impressed by the latter, but I think they do the music justice.

I've liked pretty much everything I've heard from the Emersons. I recently compared their Bartok to the classic Juilliard/1963 and there was no clear winner. I guess that makes me weird.

I wish people would stop saying they're underwhelmed by the Fitzwilliams. I'm perfectly happy with them and you all make me wonder if there's something wrong with that.

I had them for years and was perfectly happy with them too. Every DSCH set I've heard has something to offer.

Quote
Also, an emphatic yes to de-emphasising the "decoding" of Shostakovich. No other composer suffers so much of that kind of analysis, ever since Testimony.

Ain't it the truth. Ironically, in painting him as a closet dissident, one you need a secret decoder ring to understand, it traps him in a kind of totalitarianism of meaning. As Vaughan Williams said (referring to his 4th Sym.), sometimes a man just wants to write a piece of music; but the DSCH decoders wouldn't let him do that.
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Offline Ghost of Baron Scarpia

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Re: Shostakovich String Quartets
« Reply #768 on: October 12, 2018, 07:34:13 AM »
I wish people would stop saying they're underwhelmed by the Fitzwilliams. I'm perfectly happy with them and you all make me wonder if there's something wrong with that.

Mainly they don't get much mention. I like them a lot because they seem to find humor and jauntiness in Shostakovich that others typically miss.

Offline amw

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Re: Shostakovich String Quartets
« Reply #769 on: October 12, 2018, 01:15:51 PM »
The Fitzwilliams also come recommended by Shostakovich himself as far as I recall.

Offline Herman

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Re: Shostakovich String Quartets
« Reply #770 on: October 12, 2018, 11:05:20 PM »
The Fitzwilliams also come recommended by Shostakovich himself as far as I recall.

Of course DSCH was very pleased with the Fitzwilliam recording his complete SQs on a western label! It was a beach head. Up till then people from the West had to buy melodia LPs in Eastern Europe and take them back home, at least that's what my parents did.

Offline SurprisedByBeauty

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Re: Shostakovich String Quartets
« Reply #771 on: October 13, 2018, 03:24:05 AM »
What do you mean?

When he was notably sick, he visited the National Institute of Health in Washington DC to have himself checked out and, if necessary/possible, treated. (Hush-hushed at the time, I've been given to understand.) But apparently they (presumably) cut him open [took a good look at him], took a good look at the lung, and said: "Sorry, there's nothing we can realistically do at this point..." and he went back to live out the remainder of his soon-to-be-ending life in Moscow.

Offline Herman

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Re: Shostakovich String Quartets
« Reply #772 on: October 13, 2018, 10:12:35 AM »
In the summer of 1973 DSCH visited the USA because he had been awarded an honorary degree from Northwestern.

While he was there he went to a NY Philharmonic concert with Boulez conducting and a Met performance of Aida. On their way back from Illinois they made a detour to the NIH, where he was examined for two days, and diagnosed with heart trouble and and a progressive neurological disorder. My guess is they could not help but notice he was going to die of lung cancer three years later by just making a chest x-ray.

I'm pretty sure they did not "cut him open" since that would have imperilled his life instantly. Opening the thorax of an old and frail man was a very dicey business at the time, and still is something medics prefer to avoid. The Cold War was not as cold as it used to be, but still no one was eager for the scenario of "Most Famous USSR Composer dying at the hands of American Doctors."

The poignant thing is that even at this time DSCH was positive he had many years to live; this is a belief that keeps many old people going especially when they're married to a much younger person, as DSCH was. When he got Back in the USSR  he attended the rehearsal of SQ 14 in which he played the 2nd violin part  -  on the piano.
« Last Edit: October 13, 2018, 10:16:43 AM by Herman »

Offline JBS

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Re: Shostakovich String Quartets
« Reply #773 on: October 13, 2018, 12:10:33 PM »
Bronchoscopes were already in use for decades, and would have been the obvious followup for pulmonary exams.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronchoscopy

Offline Ghost of Baron Scarpia

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Re: Shostakovich String Quartets
« Reply #774 on: October 13, 2018, 10:50:53 PM »
It struck me that something was off in the story because there is no NIH facility where a person could be seen by a doctor in DC. There is a clinical research center in Bethesda, Maryland. I guess someone could have seen him there, but is the sort of place you get referred to for a clinical trial, not so much for an examination.

Offline Madiel

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Re: Shostakovich String Quartets
« Reply #775 on: October 13, 2018, 11:11:55 PM »
It struck me that something was off in the story because there is no NIH facility where a person could be seen by a doctor in DC.

What about in the 1970s? We're not talking recent history here.
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Offline SurprisedByBeauty

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Re: Shostakovich String Quartets
« Reply #776 on: October 14, 2018, 01:33:52 AM »
It struck me that something was off in the story because there is no NIH facility where a person could be seen by a doctor in DC. There is a clinical research center in Bethesda, Maryland. I guess someone could have seen him there, but is the sort of place you get referred to for a clinical trial, not so much for an examination.

Presumably the Bethesda campus, which had been around for a long time. I would consider Bethesda "DC"... although I hadn't even thought that far. (Curious aside, I've got my account with the NIH Credit Union. Sometimes people think I'm a research-doctor when they see my CC.)

Offline Herman

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Re: Shostakovich String Quartets
« Reply #777 on: October 14, 2018, 03:00:48 AM »
Laurel Fay mentions Bethesda, MD as the place where DSCH was examined for two days.

From the recent SCOTUS confirmation hearings we know that in common parlance Bethesda is considered to be a part of the DC-area.

Also I could imagine exceptions were made in the case of DSCH's visit (it doesn't sound like he had made a doctor's appointment two months in advance) so as to accommodate him quietly without the media knowing. Up to and including the ceremony at Northwestern his visit had been covered extensively (including his comments on the "rug concert*" by Boulez and the NY Phil he attended) but the trip back to the East coast was no news.

*At a rug concert the audience gets a pillow or a rug and people are encouraged to lie on the hall floor. It was a weird way to lure the Woodstock generation into the symphonic concert hall.
« Last Edit: October 14, 2018, 03:12:05 AM by Herman »

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Shostakovich String Quartets
« Reply #778 on: October 14, 2018, 03:18:33 AM »
Weird often worked with the Woodstock generation . . . .
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