About this work
Shostakovich's Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 67, is remarkable for a number of reasons. It was written in 1944, just after his Symphony No. 8, with which it shares its overall structure; it is a lamentation for both Shostakovich's close friend, musicologist Ivan Sollertinsky, and the victims of the Holocaust, the news of which horror did not reach the U.S.S.R. until the liberation of the camps began; and it is his first work to employ a "Jewish theme," a musical tribute that used the scales and rhythms of Jewish folk music as Shostakovich knew it. Shostakovich began composing the trio in December 1943. He had only completed sketches, which he was able to share with Sollertinsky before Sollertinsky's death in February 1944. Shostakovich performed the piano part in the premiere, on November 14, 1944, in Leningrad, with violinist Dmitri Tsyganov and cellist Sergei Shirinsky, both members of the Beethoven String Quartet. The first movement begins with an Andante canon, the melody played first by the cello in harmonics, which makes it the top voice, then the violin, which becomes the lower string voice, followed by the piano in the lowest register. This then breaks into a slightly faster Moderato, where the same melody is developed into a second one, and the use of canon continues. This movement is followed by a scherzo, but one with bitter humor in the key of F sharp major. It is a fast, waltz-like whirl of a movement. The B flat minor Largo third movement opens with large block chords from the piano. This chorale theme becomes the ostinato bass of a passacaglia, repeated a total of six times, while the violin and cello are again in canon with a sombre, lamenting melody full of anguished, minor second dissonances between the two parts. This moves immediately into the final Allegretto, again in E minor. Here the Jewish figurations -- the Dorian mode with an augmented fourth and the iambic rhythms -- are used in a macabre dance that is contrasted against a stern march and five-beat climbs up and down the scale. The strings frequently play pizzicato to add to the sharpness of the dance. The movement ends as the dance gives way to the chorale of the Largo, but this time ending in the more comforting key of E major.