Shostakovich’s first wife, Nina Vasilievna Varzar, was a distinguished scientist and a forceful character. She was the mother of his children Maxim and Galina and for many years a stabilising influence on him as the violent political and personal set-backs of the Stalinist era swirled around him. Her sudden death in 1954 was a shattering blow.
In 1956 the composer remarried but the new relationship did not last. In 1958 he and his second wife divorced, leaving the composer again lonely, and feeling creatively and personally isolated. In 1960 he composed the Seventh Quartet, one of the most beautiful in the entire cycle of 15, and dedicated it to Nina’s memory.
This is Shostakovich’s at his most compressed and subtle. This music lasts less than quarter of an hour and consists of three linked movements, which convey and impression of painful emotional intensity held in check by extreme laconicism. This a work of powerful and dignified intimacy and humanity.
Note by Gerard McBurney