8 Jan 2019

SHOSTAKOVICH: String Quartet No 9 in E flat Major Op 117

From Music Alive, 7:35 pm on 8 January 2019

A deeply personal quartet dedicated to the composer's third wife Irina.

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Played by the Borodin Quartet at their Chamber Music New Zealand concert in Auckland Town Hall, 16 September 2018.

Borodin Quartet

Borodin Quartet Photo: CMNZ

Dmitri Shostakovich is a composer who is personally linked to the Borodin Quartet, having supervised the ensemble's study of his works.

For Shostakovich, revisions and rewrites were rare as he had such facility that he generally wrote full pieces in his head before committing them to manuscript. The 9th Quartet however was a work written twice.

The first version was finished in 1961 and destroyed shortly after when, according to the composer, 'in an attack of healthy self-criticism, I burnt it in the stove. This is the second such case in my creative practice. I once did a similar trick of burning my manuscripts in 1926.'

According to the first violinist of the the Beethoven Quartet, which had exclusive rights to perform all of the composer's works for that configuration, Shostakovich said that the first 9th Quartet was based on 'themes from childhood'.

The 9th Quartet comes midway through an intended cycle of 24 works which ended at number 15 with the composer's death. Each work of the cycle was to be in a different key, with a system of key selection that was, typically of Shostakovich, cryptic and complex – leaving much for analysts to chew over.

This work is often bundled with the 7th and the 8th Quartets as 'personal' ones – No. 7 was dedicated to his first wife, Nina; No. 8 confidentially to himself; and this one to his third wife Irina, whom he married the year after destroying the initial iteration of his 9th Quartet.

These three share an attacca style construction – each movement flowing into the next, and yet No. 9 stands as a stylistic fulcrum between the first 8 quartets and what was to come. The texture of the quartet gradually erodes, becoming sparer. Instruments drop out, cadenzas jut from the texture and spacious silences yawn.

Recorded in Auckland Town Hall, 16 September 2018 by RNZ Concert
Producer: Tim Dodd; Engineer: Adrian Hollay