Monday, June 1, 2009

S.Q. Daily #16: Shostakovich No. 1 (mvt. II), No. 2 (mvt. II)

S.Q. Daily: A Composer's Listening Journal

Day #16: Dmitry Shostakovich
String Quartet No. 1, Movement II, &
String Quartet No. 2, Movement II

Since recording Shostakovich's complete fifteen string quartets - and premiering his final three - the Fitzwilliam Quartet has laid strong claim as the definitive interpreters of these works.

Their complete set audio CD is still available on Amazon for under $1 per quartet.

For the past few weeks, I've been struggling with the second movement of my own quartet (the first movement I'm attempting). It's a slow ABA song form that experiments with multiple tempi and time signatures in the outer sections. I like the ideas I came up with, but not their implementation, so the writing has been crawling along quite slowly.

For inspiration, tonight I listened to the second movements of Shostakovich's first and second quartets. His first, in a moderate tempo but acting like the quartet's slow movement, didn't really light my fire in any particular way, beyond his typical solid craft and ear for melody.

The second quartet was a different story. Its ABA structure is immediately clear from a glance at the score: the outer A sections are "recitatives", framing an inner "romance" (whatever that is). The recitatives are really that: the lower three parts sustain very soft chords indefinitely while the first violin winds its way through a series of dramatic, unmetered phrases. The B section is more straightfoward. It's in tempo and gradually speeds up towards the end, just before the return to the free-meter A'.

This isn't exactly what my dual-tempo A sections do, but it's a nice model for slowly evolving, "timeless" material framing a more steady inner section. The only real problem is, Shostakovich's great second movement is 11 minutes long, while I'm only 30% of the way to my goal of 7 minutes! Well, we'll see if he inspires me before tomorrow afternoon's lesson...

Any suggestions? (generic or specific)

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