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Name of Work

Shostakovich, Dmitri (1906-1975)
String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110

Allegro molto


Nov 03, 1997

Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Stefan Hersh, Violin
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Christopher Costanza, Cello

SHOSTAKOVICH - String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110

Since the Eighth Quartet bears the dedication "to the victims of fascism and war," it seems appropriate to begin this brief discussion with a quotation from Testimony, the memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich. "I feel eternal pain for those who were killed by Hitler, but I feel no less pain for those killed on Stalin's orders. I suffer for everyone who was tortured, shot, or starved to death. There were millions of them in our country before the war with Hitler began...The majority of my symphonies are tombstones. Too many of our people died and were buried in places unknown to anyone, not even their relatives. It happened to many of my friends. Where do you put the tombstones? Only music can do that for them. I'm willing to write a composition for each of the victims, but that's impossible and that's only why I dedicate my music to them all."

Known in the USSR as the "Dresden" Quartet, the Eighth was composed in three days during the composer's visit to the ruined city of Dresden in July, 1960. Sent there to provide a score for the East German war film Five Days, Five Nights, Shostakovich was shocked by the devastation he saw and poured out his feelings in the Quartet, Opus 110. This went down well with the Soviet authorities, who assured the piece a global publicity. Yet from the beginning, there was a clear distinction between the quartet's program and its music, which far from aiming for impersonal universality, consisted of the densest mass of self-quotation Shostakovich ever committed to paper.

The opening fugal movement, which is cast in the form of a rondo, bears a similarity to the first movement of Beethoven's Opus 131 String Quartet. The notes "D-E(flat)-C-B" which begin the work, when translated into German become "D-ES-C-H," a soggetto cavato for Shostakovich's name. The movement also contains quotations from both the First and Fifth symphonies, Op. 10 & 42. The second movement is in the toccata style and again contains not only the "D-E(flat)-C-B" motive, but also citations from the Fifth Symphony and the last movement of the Piano Trio, Opus 67. A waltz characterizes the third movement, which begins with Shostakovich's motto and contains material from the Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 107. The fourth movement is a free rondo with a lengthy quotation from the composer's opera Katerina Ismailova. The middle section is to connote the languishing of prisoners in their cells. Shostakovich returns to the fugal style for the final movement, with a prominent usage of the "D-E(flat)-C-B" motive.

Program notes by Dr. Thomas A. Brown

Performed on November 3, 1997 (CSQ)

Performance Audio

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