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String Quartet No. 8 (Shostakovich)

The String Quartet No. 8 by Dmitri Shostakovich was written in 1960. It is in the key of C minor.

The piece was written shortly after Shostakovich was diagnosed with myelitis. According to the score, it is dedicated "to the victims of fascism and war" but Shostakovich's daughter, Galina, stated that Shostakovich secretly dedicated it to himself. Shostakovich's friend, Lev Lebedinsky, said that Shostakovich thought of the work as his epitaph and that he planned to commit suicide around this time.

The work was written in Dresden, where Shostakovich he was to write music for the film Five Days, Five Nights. The quartet is in five movements:

  1. Largo
  2. Allegro molto
  3. Allegretto
  4. Largo
  5. Largo

The first movement opens with the D-E flat-C-B motif which appears in various other pieces by Shotakovich (the Symphony No. 10, for example). This was Shostakovich's musical signature - in German nomenclature, H is the name given to what in English is called B natural, and Es is E flat, and DSCH represent the initial and first letters of Shostakovich's surname as transliterated into German (D. Schostakowitsch).

The work is filled with quotes of other pieces by Shostakovich: the first movement quotes his Symphony No. 1 and Symphony No. 5; the second movement uses a Jewish theme first used by Shostakovich in his Piano Trio No. 2; the third movement quotes the Cello Concerto No. 1; and the fourth movement quotes a 19th century revolutionary song and Shostakovich's opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District.