String Quartet No.6

Dmitry Shostakovich

String Quartet No.6 in G major

Op. 101

About this work

With the March 5, 1953, death of Josef Stalin came a relaxation of the stringent and vague guidelines outlined for Soviet artists by the dictator's lackey in the arts, Andrei Zhdanov. Strangely enough, Shostakovich, one of the earliest victims of Stalin's attacks, consistently turned out conservative compositions in the decade that followed, like the Festive Overture for orchestra (1954), the film score for The Gadfly (1955), and the Piano Concerto No. 2 (1957). He even criticized the avant-garde during this period and later joined the Communist Party on September 14, 1961. Beginning in 1962, however, he entered into disfavor with Soviet officials with his controversial Symphony No. 13 and subsequent works, like the Symphony No. 14.

The String Quartet No. 6 is a mostly tranquil composition that in many ways augurs the protest heard in the later symphonies and quartets. While it is a quite serious work, its expressive language is straightforward and relatively simple. Certainly, its direct style was in keeping with the composer's tendency at the time to turn out conservative, approachable music.

The String Quartet No. 6 is made up of four movements: Allegretto, Moderato con moto, Lento, and Lento - Allegretto. The first movement begins with an innocent, happy theme. Yet, as with so many of Shostakovich's melodies in this vein, there is a hint of regret or sadness hovering around the proceedings. As the movement progresses, the music intensifies, but never fully develops into a mood of tragedy or austerity. The reprise is subdued and a feeling of suppressed frustration or anger is conveyed overall. The Moderato con moto that follows is mysterious and haunting, as depicted by the wandering opening theme and the pizzicato workings of the cello. The third movement, Lento, is solemn and hymn-like, a moving expression of sadness in a somewhat light vein, or at least light for Shostakovich. The outset of the finale carries over the same grieving mood from the previous movement, then gradually emerges from the darkness, eventually arriving at brighter music. Still, it is hardly happy or triumphant. While the writing remains fairly transparent and light throughout, the music becomes wistful and subdued as the ending approaches. There is a harnessing of emotions conveyed here, as the serenity at the close sounds detached, if not disingenuous. A typical performance of this quartet lasts about 25 minutes.