Movement 1: Allegretto
Movement 2: Andantino
Movement 3: Allegretto
Movement 4: Allegretto
This theme is given to the first violin, with gentle counterpoint on the second over an immense pedal D on viola and cello sustained for more than sixty bars. The theme meanders through D major and minor modes, expanding gloriously in a superb developmental restatement before the pulse changes to 3/4 and the key to B minor for a new theme—not unrelated to the first—now developed over another long pedal, this time on E. As this ends, the tonality falls, little by little, until the D pedal is reached again; but the music seems unable to regain its original freshness, and the movement is over.
The second movement, ‘Andantino’, sustains the folk-like atmosphere with a theme in F minor on first violin, accompanied by second violin and viola. This trio texture is sustained for over thirty bars, so when at last the cello enters, restating the theme, F minor is firmly established, and in this rich key the music flowers impressively, the melodic development coming at precisely the right psychological moment. The return of the elegiac first theme, con sordino, is particularly beautiful, the restoration of the trio-texture being notably apt. The long coda reveals fresh aspects of the theme, with all instruments muted, and cross-thematically quoting from the first movement.
The third movement, ‘Allegretto’, a delicate scherzando, is subtly related to the preceding movements in timbre—the mutes remain throughout—and in tonal inflexion, for the cello theme in C minor leans to D, the supertonic, the now distant region from which the work originally began. First violin tries to restore C minor by repeating the theme a seventh higher, but the cello’s fluctuations veer the key towards A major by way of a typical Shostakovich dactylic figure. The cello restores both theme and C minor—in a shape recalled in the finale of the Tenth Symphony—with which the dactylic figure is combined, before the music peters out, the viola taking centre stage to usher in the finale.
Up to now, on the surface the Quartet has behaved in a relatively straightforward manner, but behind the façade have been a number of factors—the uncertain mode of the ‘home’ tonality, a textural ebb and flow, recessed timbres, and a fluid thematicism—which, one by one, are now brought literally into play in the finale and which, implying more extended and wide-ranging treatment than hitherto, place the emphasis of the Quartet on to the finale.
Shostakovich’s resolution of these factors is particularly artful and logical, but achieved in such a manner that the work’s character is unchanged—the music speaks directly to us, with clarity, until finally the folk elements, over deep pedal points, bring this original and fascinatingly subtle work to its miraculous conclusion.
from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 2000