Movement 1: Moderato
Movement 2: Allegretto
Movement 3: Adagio
In consultations with Druzhinin during the process of composition, Shostakovich described the first movement of the Sonata as a ‘novella’, perhaps in recognition of its free-flowing three-part form. Here, as in many of his late works, atmosphere and tension are generated by the friction between twelve-note themes (as at the piano’s first entry) and images of pure diatonicism (such as the bare perfect fifths of the viola’s opening statement, which metastasize into perfect-fourth two-note chords at the end of the movement).
The scherzo-like second movement recycles the opening music from Shostakovich’s abandoned wartime opera on Gogol’s The Gamblers, a tale of card-sharps duped by their intended victim. In character this movement begins halfway between a polka and a quick march; the later stages are newly composed.
Most thought-provoking of all is the Adagio finale, which takes as its starting point the bleak viola lines from the middle of the second movement. As the finale gets under way Shostakovich paraphrases the famous opening movement of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, drawing attention to the kinship between its repeated-note motif and his own favourite funereal intonations. At the heart of this movement is a passage of extreme austerity built on note-for-note quotations, mainly found in the piano left-hand part, from Shostakovich’s Second Violin Concerto and all fifteen of his symphonies in sequence. There could scarcely be a clearer indication that he knew—or at least suspected—that this would be his last work. On the last page the clouds clear, allowing yet another self-quotation to come through; this is the main theme of the early Suite for two pianos, Op 6, a work dedicated by its sixteen-year-old composer to the memory of his recently deceased father. The ‘radiance’ (the composer’s own description) of this transfigured C major, with its strong autobiographical associations, recalls the conclusion of Andrey Tarkovsky’s famous science-fiction film Solyaris (1972), where the main character is reunited with his dead father on the mysterious inter-planetary entity that has the power to realize the subconscious desires of those who contemplate it.
from notes by David Fanning © 2012