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Boosey & Hawkes / Sikorski

This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes / Sikorski for the UK, British Commonwealth (excluding Canada), Republic of Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Israel.


World Premiere
Glinka Concert Hall, Leningrad
Beethoven Quartet
Repertoire Note

Shostakovich composed his Thirteenth Quartet in the summer of 1970 as a 70th birthday present for Vadim Borisovsky, the retired violist of the Beethoven Quartet with whom Shostakovich had been so closely associated for so many years. He had already dedicated the Eleventh Quartet to the memory of Vasily Shirinsky, the first violinist of the Beethovens and the Twelfth Quartet to Dmitri Tsyganov, the Beethoven Quartet’s second violinist. It was now becoming clear that he wanted to write four quartets, one each in honour of the four Beethoven players, his old colleagues and friends.

There was also another pattern emerging in Shostakovich’s quartets at this time: the use of unusual numbers of movements. The Eleventh had 7 movements, the Twelfth only 2 and now this Thirteenth was cast as one long single movement. Within this single span however there are five sections arranged in the form of an arch. The quartet begins with intensely elegiac music, led by a prominent viola part, a tribute to Borisovsky’s powerfully expressive playing. This is followed by a fiercer faster section full of strange stabbing chords and fragments of tick-tock tunes, and then comes the work’s central and most extended section, an eeriely jazzy dance, driven forward on skipping rhythms and including the hollow sound of the wood of the bows being tapped against belly of the instruments. After a transitional passage when the music seems almost to evaporate into ghostly trills, the earlier music of stabbing chords and tick-tock fragments return briefly, before the viola finally guides the other three players back towards the elegiac opening music, now stretched out as though reaching towards the horizon.

This is perhaps the most otherworldly of Shostakovich’s late quartets, and this quality is made all the stronger by the constant presence of 12-note rows which give the tonal harmony of this music a shifting and ambiguous quality, a feeling of deep mystery.

Note by Gerard McBurney

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