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Movement I (Largo) – overall comment
This movement is an important introduction to the string quartet, as it is a collage type structure presenting a number of musical
ideas which have an important bearing on the rest of the work. Indeed, it is very similar to a prelude in character.
STRUCTURE: The movement does not conform exactly to any conventional formal pattern, but it is possible to identify an overall
ABA structure, in that the outer sections bear obvious resemblances in key, style and thematic content. These outer sections flank a
contrasting central section which consists of three arioso-type passages. On closer inspection, even the central section is based on
an arch-type ABA form. The structure has therefore been analysed according to the following outline:
Section A (A1+A2)
Section B1
Section B2
Section B1a
Section A2
THEMES: The germinal idea is the DSCH motif. Because of the way in which the structure depends on this motif, as well as on
quotations from and allusions to other works (both from Shostakovich’s own and other composers’ music), the analysis
concentrates mainly on melodic matters.
MOOD: As explained in the accompanying background notes, the mood is very intense.
TONALITY: All of the movements are in a minor key, and this first movement is in the key of C minor. The composer never loses
sight of this underlying tonality, though he freely uses incidental dissonances and extended false relations.
HARMONY: Apart from some chromatic intensity toward the end of the central section, this movement is rather static harmonically.
The chromatic opening and subsequent stabilisation by triadic harmonies with a chordal closing restatement is typical of
Shostakovich’s mature compositional style. He interchanges major and minor 3rds over the root of a chord, and the contrapuntal
and harmonic language exists comfortably side by side.
Structure: ‘Fluid ternary’ / ‘an incomplete arch’ - A1+2 B1 B2 B1a A2
Section A
Theme a1 =
 DSCH (from the 10th
symphony - the year that
Stalin died)
Theme a2 =
 Quotation from opening of
Symphony no.1 (bar 16)
This first section may be divided into two parts:
A1 = the opening fugato section (bars 02 – 16)
A2 = the section which presents the quotation from the first symphony (bars 16-27)
TEXTURE: The opening texture is contrapuntal in style. The quartet starts with the
cello playing the motif, followed by a series of canonical entries on this motif.
In fugato style, the initial cello idea is imitated by:
 viola (bar 2), which enters a 5th above (on the dominant - G minor)
 violin 2 (bar 3), octave higher than the original pitch (tonic -C minor)
 violin 1 (bar 4), which enters a 4th above (on the subdominant – F minor).
However, because each statement is not allowed to run its full course, this is really
more like a stretto than a fugal exposition. After the second attempt at this entry in
viola part in bar 8, we reach the end of the fugato. This opening feels incomplete, but
must have been intentional, as Shostakovich knew quite well how to write a fugue!
Texturally, the fugato is soon displaced by various quotations and allusions, and the
passage-work in the rest of this section includes some attempt at interplay between
violin 1 and viola, before the opening section concludes with a chorale-like cadential
figure (bar 233).
THEMES: The music begins with a self quotation – the DSCH motif (2317). [See general
background notes]
At bar 11, note the DSCH motif on both violins and cello in octaves against an inner
dominant pedal in viola. At bar 16, Shostakovich includes the first quotation used in
this work. It is taken from the opening bars of his first symphony (though its inclusion
here is much slower than the original). At bar 193, the violin actually plays the exact
intervallic pattern of the first three notes of the DSCH theme. Two bars later this is
heard in sequence, played a tone lower, in fact at its original pitch….though the final
note Bª is delayed and actually placed in the second violin, a bar and half later(bar
233). The rising semitones and falling minor 3rds in violin 2 clearly link with the first
two intervals of the DSCH motif –and this originally was the counterpoint played by
the bassoons to the original trumpet theme in the symphony. The final statement of
the DSCH motif in violin 1, bar 233 is harmonized by the lower three parts. Note the
motif/tetrachord played in violin 2 (beginning with the Bª in bar 233) is a variation of
the DSCH motif, as it uses four different pitches from the C minor scale,(7-1-6-5:
leading note-tonic-submediant-dominant). In doing so, the outer interval (middle C 
lower G) has been changed to perfect 4th, and not a diminished 4th as in the DSCH
TONALITY: The entries of the fugato opening are clearly linked to C minor, though a
feeling of tonal ambiguity is quickly established as the opening motifs in the cello,
viola and violin actually cover all twelve semitones of the octave with exception of the
Db, which is delayed until the bass of the cello in bar 6. Shostakovich attempts to
provide a conventional resolution to the fugato section in bar 10, but the unison
statement of the DSCH motif (bar 113) seemingly establishes C minor, only to be
quickly shifted to E min/major at fig 1. The mock counterpoint of the first symphony
quotation soon dissolves into rather ambiguous tonality, but the final DSCH cadential
statement reverts quite strongly back to C minor.
HARMONY: The melodic lines follow certain aspects of fugal convention, but we have
already noted that the entries are not all at conventional pitches and they are not reinforced
by conventional harmonies. From bar 3, the cello plays the descending form of the C
melodic minor scale with the A¨ (bar 43) supporting an Italian augmented 6th chord
which resolves to the dominant in bar 5. The first phrase ends in the tonic via the
chord of the flattened supertonic (bar 6). There are further dissonances, e.g.:
 The initial viola entry forms a 7th above bass;
 There are false relationships formed by the interplay of B¨s and Bªs in
the texture.
At fig 1, the cello is unable to continue with the DSCH motif down to Bª (as it is
outside its range), so the move up to Eª brings the totally unexpected E minor (then
major) chord in bar 13.
However, the held Bª in violin 1 (bars 13-16) serves as an inverted pedal point and the
lower 3 parts descend chromatically. This soon brings us back to C minor, and yet
another pedal point on E¨ initially in the cellos at bar 16, then joined by the violins
(bar 17/18).
Bars 232-27 present a conventional cadential figure (V-i6-iv-V9-8 –I).
Generally, much of the harmonic flow in this opening section consists of 7ths, 9ths,
six-fours, passing notes and neighbour-note chords (both diatonic and chromatic).
Section B1 28-49
 Allusion to Tchaikovsky
Symphony no.6
 Allusion to Shostakovich
5th symphony in the
 Ideas are also linked with
DSCH by the falling
TEXTURE: A single melodic line, supported by held tonic and dominant notes. This is a
thin texture, with an almost ‘confessional’ quality, in the style of an arioso.
THEMES: This first arioso is very chromatic in shape. Note that the first 5 notes
include the pitches of the DSCH in descending order, plus the D¨ – the flattened
supertonic. The 9-8 suspension heard in violin 2 at bar 25 in the previous section feels
as if it is being thematically developed here (i.e. the last two notes of the 7165 motif) and the idea is repeated at various pitches in the violin 1 part throughout this section.
At bar 44, note the variant of 3217 – except that the flattened supertonic of D¨ is
again used. This feature is becoming common and remains a characteristic throughout
the rest of this movement and indeed, later movements. The Bª at fig 3 in violin 1 is
also the first note of 7123, forming a countermelody against the cello’s DSCH motif,
which returns at the original pitch half way through the same bar.
This arioso falls into 5 clearly cut phrases: 3+3+5+5 (1+4) – plus the last three bars:
 Phrase 1 (bar 28-30): taken from the descending semitones from the DSCH
fugato and the first quotation. Ends with a semitone ‘sigh’, in violin 1, bar 30.
 Phrase 2 (bar 31-33): this reverses the melodic shape – it is an ascending
chromatic line initially, and ends with a little cadential motif that is worth
noting – a rising diminished 4th followed by the falling semitone sigh (bar 324-
33, violin 1).
Phrase 3 (bar 34-38): this begins with a little development of the cadential
motif, before another descending line (cf the contour of Tchaikovsky’s second
subject theme, S2, from the Pathetique). The final 4 notes of this phrase echo
the first four, but they are a fifth lower.
Phrase 4 (bar 39 -43): this elaborates the sigh by repeating the opening falling
motif. The remainder of the phrase then follows the general shape of the third
phrase, but ends lower, and finishes with a sigh of falling minor third
(reminiscent of the middle two notes of the initial DSCH motif).
Phrase 5: the minor 3rdalternation continues for one bar before the melodic
line leads to another counterpoint of the DSCH motif.
TONALITY: C minor, as seen in the double pedal notes heard in all three lower parts.
HARMONY: Very little of interest here, really! However, note that the 2nd, 4th and
even 8th degrees are flattened, which is quite modal in style. Previously the interplay
between E¨ and Eª has been mentioned, so harmonically, we must question whether
the F¨ in violin 1 at bar 42 is actually the major 3rd of the chord, falling to the minor 3rd
of the chord (i.e. Eª –E¨); or is it a flattened appoggiatura to the third of the chord?
Section B2 50-85
 Allusion to Shostakovich
symphony no.5, both in the
rhythms and intervallic
 figure x =
TEXTURE: This section begins with simple imitation, and the counterpoint which
follows between the two violins from bar 55 onwards demonstrates Shostakovich’s
skill in manipulating his basic melodic material. Sequential movement continues in
violin 2.
THEMES: Lots of motivic manipulation here! Violin 1 starts with a short linking figure
in bar 50 (figure x). Two bars later, violin 2 answers with a version of figure x
extended to 3 bars, in which the last falling semitone (the ‘sigh’) is repeated. From Fig.
4, figure x is treated as a free rhythmic ostinato with changing pitch contours, always
in violin 2. This underpins the entire second arioso (and eventually forms the crucial
link between the first two movements!).
 Both Fig. 1 and 4 melodies
(as well as the 3217 variant
of DSCH) derive from a
melody from the 1st
movement from the
composer’s fifth
symphony, which had
actually been written in
response to the damning
review of his Lady
The phrasing of the 2nd arioso is quite regular and falls into 3x 8 bars.
 Phrase 1 (bar 55/Fig. 4): the melody in violin 1 is extremely plaintive and
closely resembles that heard at Fig. 2, this time it outlines a tritone (Eª down
to B¨). The Eª brings the welcome flavour of a major tonality, however brief; it
is also a semitone higher than at Fig. 2. The stepwise descent of the violin 1
part has now been expanded from semitones to tones, and the final resting
‘sigh’, the A¨ to G, is repeated.
 Phrase 2 (bar 63): the first 3 bars repeat the opening of phrase 1, but then
ascends using the notes of the DSCH motif, with the falling semitone ‘sighs’
taken over in violin 2 as ascending sequences. Note the use of sequence again
to extend the falling semitones in violin 2 (bars 68-70). Note also how violin 1
utilises the rising and falling tetrachord at bar 67 -70.
 Phrase 3 (bar 71): violin 1 echoes the first phrase of arioso 2, though violin 2 is
different as it continues the sequential movement. Note both the enharmonic
F¨ in bar 76 and the very subtle held D¨ in violin 2 join together two
statements of the rhythmic ostinato. The pitches are 2317 in D¨ minor (i.e. E¨F¨-D¨-C).
The concluding phrase at Fig. 6 is very similar to the phrase that concluded section A,
but it is extended and with different and more dissonant harmonies.
TONALITY: C minor, with the motives supported by a tonic pedal, though there is brief
interruption with a dominant pedal for four bars at bar 67 -71.
HARMONY: The modal degrees of arioso 2 are the same as arioso 1, but in some cases
they have been used in slightly different ways. The manipulation of the semitone is
noteworthy here, and the D¨ is once again an appoggiatura semitone ‘sigh’ to D, at
times decorated. The F¨ notes, for the most part are written as Eªs – but this time the
figure is inverted, with E¨s rising the semitone to Eªs, (e.g. bar 61-62). The exception is
in bar 76 where the Eª becomes F¨ again. Likewise, note the B¨s rising to Bªs.
The final harmonic phrase of this section is: V – iii (unrelated)-IV-V in bar 82, (with a
min 9th above the bass in vln 2 and a diminished 7th above the bass in the viola).
‘a tempo’
 Elaboration of arioso 1 –
like an arch idea in the
middle section. It re-works
arioso one and provides a
frame for arioso 2.
STRUCTURE: The function of this section is to re-work arioso 1; but it also leads back
to a return of the opening section A.
TEXTURE: The texture becomes increasingly complex and contrapuntal as we move
from the homophonic style of the middle ariosos. Note the inverted pedal points;
during the first 3 phrases, the upper voices gradually gain individuality, and move
away from the sustained chords.
THEMES: Like arioso 1, this has 5 phrases - 3+3+2+5+4:
 Phrase 1 (bar 87): below the opening pedal points in violins and viola,
the cello paraphrases the first phrase from arioso 1 – but it is lower
and now in C major.
 Phrase 2 (bar 90): this has the same intervallic shape as phrase 2 of
arioso 1, but again in cello and this time a 3rd lower; the ending of this
phrase is therefore slightly adapted for harmonic reasons.
 Phrase 3 (bar 93): this begins as phrase 3 of arioso 1, but is cut off after
just 2 bars.
 Phrase 4 (bar 95): the violin now leads and refers back to arioso 2,
almost like another little development of the earlier idea. This C major
violin 1 melody, (derived from bars 55-58) is underlined by the 3217
version of the tetrachord heard in the viola in A minor (bar 95-99).
 Phrase 5 (bar 100): once more the chromatic descent in cello echoes
the first phrase of arioso 1, and the violin inverts the 3-note sigh from
the end of the first arioso section i.e. bars 39-40.
HARMONY: The music feels increasingly chromatic. It starts with an A minor chord at
Fig. 7, then moves to an F# minor chord (again with a flattened supertonic) at bar 913.
This phrase ends briefly in C major (944), only to begin the next phrase at Fig. 8 - again
diatonic and in C major. This soon becomes very chromatic, however, and almost feels
atonal (bars 99-104). Slides chromatically to a D in violins and cello, with the sustained
G continued in the viola part, bar 104. This prepares us for the return of the final
section in C minor.
Section A2 1042126
 Quotation from the first
STRUCTURE: Begins with a repeat of 113 -211 (except for slight decoration in the viola
part, at bar 106). The fugal section (A1) has been omitted, so this concluding section A
is shorter than the first section A.
TEXTURE: Homophonic with equality of parts (bar 104-109), followed by a return to
the contrapuntal texture of the first quotation (bar 109 -118), though the work at the
end of the phrase is altered and extended. The final phrase again concludes with a
chorale-like cadential figure.
THEMES: DSCH until bar 109, which links to a return of the first symphony quotation.
Note the brief reference to figure x from the central section in bars 122-126. With the
pedal notes reminiscent of the mid section textures (i.e. the ariosos), it almost feels as
if another arioso section is to follow: but the repeat of this motif is interrupted in bar
125 by the held G# in the lower three parts. This is the enharmonic equivalent of A¨,
(the flattened submediant of C) and serves as the link to movement 2, which is in the
apparently unrelated key of G# minor.
TONALITY: C minor.
HARMONY: This section connects the harmonic parallel thirds of the quotation
extension to the final DSCH cadential figure, providing sufficient closure in the
absence of the fugato re-statement. At bar 118, the harmony of the final phrase may
be compared with that found at the end of section B2, but with the violin parts
(C) Copyright 1960 by Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd.
Reproduced by permission of Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd.