Length: c. 25 minutes
About this Piece
The personal and the political are inextri- cably linked in a work begun only days after the death of Shostakovich’s friend, musi- cologist Ivan Sollertinsky, in February of 1944. “I owe him my entire development. You can’t imagine how difficult it will be for me to live without him,” lamented Shosta- kovich. Outside events were equally bleak, as Russians struggled valiantly against a long German occupation.
However dramatic the events that in- spired the work, it begins subtly, with a solo cello playing high harmonics. The effect of the unusual timbre persists as the violin en- ters in its low register; by the time the piano joins the canon, each instrument seems trapped in its own space, as if alienated.
The second movement is a kind of “black scherzo,” whose compulsive rhythms, cascading patterns, and pizzicato are always threatening to veer out of control.
The Largo begins with a piano chorale that establishes a passacaglia pattern; as it repeats, its hint of dissonance leads into a denser and more uncomfortable texture, though never abandoning a dark beauty. Its elegiac character, expressing the com- poser’s sorrow for his personal loss, leads directly into the agitated dance of the last movement. A Jewish tune, ever more fren- zied, is allegedly a response to the horror of the concentration camps. The return of material from previous movements brings us full circle, tying together the personal, the political, and the unknowable.