Shostakovich immediately followed the composition of his Ninth Quartet in the early summer of 1964 with this Tenth Quartet which was written in July in the creative retreat of Dilizhan in Armenia. The composer dedicated the piece to his friend the distinguished composer Moisey Vainberg. Vainberg, like Shostakovich, had written nine quartets so far and Shostakovich joked that he had won the race to get to number 10 first.
Although the Tenth was written immediately after the Ninth, it is strikingly different. After the lyricism and meditation of the earlier piece, this is far more classical, less confessional and personal, more hieratic and noble. A whimsical, harmonically elusive first movement is followed by a ferocious scherzo, like a speeded up march and one of the most rhythmically intense of all of Shostakovich’s quartet compositions. A slow movement follows which is actually a finely wrought passacaglia but has something of the feeling of a beautifully harmonised chorale. This leads without a break into the long loose-limbed last movement, which weaves fragments and echoes of the earlier movements between endless returns of the dance-like refrain of its main idea.
Note by Gerard McBurney