Shostakovich: the string quartets
October 29, 2011 12:33 PM   Subscribe

Shostakovich: the string quartets (previously and way previously )

If you find the famous 8th too cheerful, try the 15th.
posted by Trurl (22 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
What a perfect thing for a stormy day in New York! Amazon has 85 options for MP3 albums of the Shostakovich string quartets; I chose the Fitzwilliam version. I adore Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues; looking forward to learning about the quartets.
posted by Nelson at 12:52 PM on October 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

You don't ask Frenchmen to play rock and roll. And you don't ask non-Soviets to play the Shostakovich quartets.
What sets the Borodins [first cycle] apart is their uncanny attention to detail, their ability to impart breathing room and nuance to almost every phrase of the music without losing its essential spontaneity, inner tension or architectural solidity. ... In their hands, everything seems to fall into the right place - and at the right time. They are thoroughly immersed in the various moods and attitudes of the music, and convey, in a natural, unselfconscious way, its idiosyncratic, often contradictory, overlays of emotion.
posted by Trurl at 1:09 PM on October 29, 2011

The Borodin version of the Shostakovich quartet cycle is so consistently excellent, so full of feeling, and so epic in power that it feels like an achievement of a whole civilization. The first few minutes of the 4th quartet sound as if a dozen musicians are playing. I can't find that on youtube, but someone did post the Borodin version of Quartet #6.

The 15 quartets are so remarkable, because no piece is weak. People may have their preferences for one quartet or another, but nothing is worth skipping. For those who prefer their music with a little extra tonal "sugar," the first quartet is wonderful. I love the 4th, 6th, 14th, 15th . . . or more accurately, all of them.

For those who stumbled into the thread despite themselves, I hope you'll sample and seek out more. This is music I discovered when I was mostly interested in post-punk. It's meant for everyone who wants to listen.
posted by ferdydurke at 2:00 PM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

LOL Play the first movement so that flies drop dead in mid-air...

I think they must have lifted that line from the Schoenberg fan page.

Oh wait, there is no Schoenberg fan page.
posted by Twang at 4:15 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fact: Anyone who likes punk or noise will easily relate to the Shostakovich string quartets. There are insanely brain-punching moments in all of them.

Dang, I wish I had time to fully respond to this but I've got to bike to the symphony in the next 30 minutes. Nelson: I bought the Fitzwilliam, too, after reading a bunch of reviews, and it's fantastic; one of my favorite music objects ever. You've made a great choice.

People may have their preferences for one quartet or another, but nothing is worth skipping.

That is so completely true. I was once stunned to overhear a local reviewer say he didn't like a Shostakovich quartet I attended because "it was too depressing." Good lord. If you can't hear the striving, aching and courageous assertion of humanity in the face of despair in the man's "depressing" string quartets, you have no business doing music reviews. And if you can't handle his fearless depiction of the bleakest moments we all share, well, shit, you have no business listending to music, period. And, you know, there are so many gorgeous, ultimately affirming moments in the quartets; you don't have to listen far to encounter pure beauty in the traditional sense as well.

Anyway, thanks a lot, Trurl; now I'm gonna have to pedal faster. But hearing the Harlem String Quartet do the 8th in a black church in downtown Raleigh was the musical highlight of last year. Thanks for the post; I'm sure I'll pop one of the Fitzwilliam cds in before heading to bed tonight.
posted by mediareport at 4:19 PM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

My favorite other composer to mix into my Shostakovich playlist is Gorecki. I'm not technical enough to know why, but I find the intensity of his quartets well matched by the slow emotional build-up of something like Gorecki's Symphony No. 3.

I made a ringtone from a part of String quartet #8 in c minor. Makes everyone jump when it goes off.

thanks for the links and the Fitzwilliam recommendation.
posted by th3ph17 at 5:03 PM on October 29, 2011

I've been listening to Shostakovich quartets all evening and just came across this post -- what serendipity! Thanks for the link.
posted by cbrody at 5:08 PM on October 29, 2011

I am sadly non-Soviet, but have been playing and enjoying his music for years. It is time to spread the word about the wonderful music that he wrote and is never played enough. In my mind, he is the top composer of the 20th Century.
posted by Nackt at 6:03 PM on October 29, 2011

I know, I just know, some day, I'm going to fall down the classical music hole, and never be seen from again. It appeals to the geek urges in so many ways - endless categorization and ranking, technical and artistic aspects, an entire mathematically-derived language to reproduce the music, and special subsets of that language for special purposes, and excuse to buy expensive headphones and pre-amps... it will probably be someone like Shostakovich or Orff who drags me in, too.

It's destiny.

For right now, tho, I'ma gonna listen to the new Roxette album, because it's jaw-droppingly good pop from 50-something-y.o. Swedes.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:03 PM on October 29, 2011

Excellent! Weeks might go by and I don't see anything of real interest on Metafilter, but it always happens that brilliant posts come in trios or quartets. When it rains, it pours!

(Or, more aptly, when it snows...)
posted by Mael Oui at 8:24 PM on October 29, 2011

I've always loved his quartets, but even more so I adore the Allegro non troppo from his Symphony No. 5. Perhaps one of the most epic and evocative pieces ever written.
posted by Quasimike at 9:33 PM on October 29, 2011

In my mind, he is the top composer of the 20th Century.
If it weren't for the fact that Gustav Mahler composed his 5th symphony and Das Lied von der Erde in the 20th Century as well, I'd have to agree with you.

And yes, Shostakovich's 5th symphony is sublime as well.
posted by clorox at 11:36 PM on October 29, 2011

Well now, clorox, that's an interesting argument for a couple of beers - Mahler or Shosta 5? I adore the Mahler, but the Shosta compares well at first glance.
posted by coriolisdave at 11:46 PM on October 29, 2011

I'd have to go with Mahler's 5th over Shotstakovich's 5th. That pseudo-cold stop in the final movement . . . IMHO it's the greatest finale in music history.
posted by clorox at 1:28 AM on October 30, 2011

You don't ask Frenchmen to play rock and roll

I refute you thus.

Shostakovich is easily my favourite orchestral composer; I went to a concert years ago knowing nothing about him, and the satire from some of his pieces was a wonderful undertone; it hooked me.
posted by rodgerd at 1:56 AM on October 30, 2011

Some will insist on their Shostakovich being Soviet, their Chopin Polish, and their Debussy French. Authenticity and closeness to the composer must count for something, but oughtn't be the deciding factor: I have the Borodin cycle of the Shostakovich quartets & would certainly vouch for them, but, as a counterexample, the composer's own performances of his Piano Concertos, while valuable and interesting (and frenetic), wouldn't be many listeners' first choice renditions of those works.

I'm not one of those who appreciates all fifteen quartets equally: I have four (a quartet!) which are firm favourites, and seldom listen to the rest. If this means I'm unequal to the demands of the composer's genius, then so be it. For me, the 15th communicated anguish and suffering so effectively I could find no solace in it, only distress and discomfort, and I'm in no hurry to seek it out again...
posted by misteraitch at 6:18 AM on October 30, 2011

Some will insist on their Shostakovich being Soviet, their Chopin Polish, and their Debussy French

Yeah, the absurdly essentialist nationalism that seems taken for granted in most mainstream discussion of classical music traditions has always rubbed me the wrong way. Polish make music like *this* Germans make music like *this* French make music like *this* nauseum.

There's a there there, I'm sure, but the way sometimes obvious national trends in composition get reified into Ways Of Making Music For Those People In That Land Over There stinks more than a little. Sorry, Trurl, but "you don't ask non-Soviets to play the Shostakovich quartets" is kinda pathetic.
posted by mediareport at 8:26 AM on October 30, 2011

Sorry, Trurl, but "you don't ask non-Soviets to play the Shostakovich quartets" is kinda pathetic.

I cite Charlie Parker - surely more knowlegeable on the subject of music making than either of us - who said, "If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn."

The quartets are steeped in the experience of Soviet terror. As victims of that terror, the Borodin Quartet has an interpretive advantage in this music over, say, the Emerson Quartet - an advantage that can't simply be argued (or insulted) away.
posted by Trurl at 8:51 AM on October 30, 2011

See, I disagree completely. The experience of political terror is fairly universal, and certainly the terror of mortality is something you don't have to be from one given country at one given time.

If you'd couched it slightly differently - the "interpretive advantage" you mention in your second version would be only one among many that we could use in choosing among performances - I wouldn't have used that particular word. But yeah, I've long considered the idea (not the person presenting it, of course) pathetic that only people born in a certain nation can play certain music the way it deserves to be played.

That seems horrible to me.
posted by mediareport at 8:59 AM on October 30, 2011

certainly the terror of mortality is something you don't have to be from one given country at one given time to understand and interpret deeply.
posted by mediareport at 9:00 AM on October 30, 2011

The only copy of the quartets I have is the Emerson quartet's interpretation. To my untrained ear it sound incredible but I have heard from others more versed in the subject than me that their approach is too "aggressive".
posted by Ber at 8:32 PM on October 30, 2011

I love Shostakovich's quartets, but his 24 Preludes and Fugues for piano are, I think, my very favorite musical work of any kind.

I'm really only familiar with the Fitzwilliam recordings and a few of the ones done by the Eder Quartet. Someday perhaps I'll get a chance to sit down and listen to the Borodin cycle.
posted by straight at 9:09 PM on October 30, 2011

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