Movement 1: Allegro non troppo
Movement 2: Andante
Movement 3: Moderato – Allegretto
Despite such overtly and covertly symphonic elements, the Fifth Quartet is arguably Shostakovich’s most private chamber work, stemming from the concentrated development of its motivic, even cellular, intense thematicism. This is reinforced by the work’s three movements’, although distinct, being joined together—not merely played attacca—in the manner of some of Shostakovich’s later works. In this aspect we find the complete integration of the composition, a fulfilment of the joining of movements in his earlier quartets. Finally, the structure of the quartet’s first movement adheres to classical precedent in having an exposition double bar and repeat, as in the Second and Third Quartets.
The first two bars constitute the motto for the entire composition, dominated in the second bar by the viola ‘theme’ (itself derived from DSCH) and, naturally, containing within it the three intervals from which the work grows: ascending minor second, major second, and minor third. Indeed, it can justly be claimed that the quartet grows wholly from the interval of a second. What might be termed a bridge is wholly developmental, bringing in its wake fragments of new material before the second subject, in complete contrast to the first, enters. This is a simple diatonic theme in G major, but in 3/4 time, its diatonicism based on the interval of a third. Such disparate material implies a lengthy movement, and the music embarks upon an absorbing discussion, full of cross-rhythms and cross-tonalities, alongside attempts to achieve a synthesis between such disparate ideas. The synthesis is achieved through the interval of a third before a high F natural on first violin joins the second movement to the first; in this movement, based eventually upon D, the lyrical aspects of the material are more fully explored—for the ideas are but transformations of those from the first movement. The instruments are muted throughout, and the texture alternates between trio- and quartet-writing. But even when four instruments are used, Shostakovich is not above creating the illusion of a fifth, with the cello arco and pizzicato at the same time. Once more the differentiation of duple and triple time adds an underlying oscillation to the basic pulse.
As before, the second movement and finale are joined, this time by a D–F sharp third, and the finale begins ‘Moderato’, with the second violin musing over aspects of the basic material, in 2/4, leading to 3/4 when a gentle dance begins. The dance grows in intensity before subsiding as a final reconciliation of the disparate elements, now transformed into a folk-like theme. This masterpiece ends quietly, gently musing over the fertile intervals which began it.
from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 2001