The quartet consists of Simin Ganatra and Sibbi Bernhardsson on violins, Masumi Per Rostad on viola and Brandon Vamos on cello.
I’m going to quote a ton from the NPR blurb because they know from what they speak. But I’m going to chime in that these pieces are really cool. I like Shostakovich, but haven’t really devoted a lot of time to him. His music seems at times playful and at other times very dark.
In the first piece I love how that three note motif recurs in different places and then the piece turns into a delicate pizzicato section.
The second piece is so light-hearted as it starts–pastoral and lovely. But there hangs a slightly menacing version of that pastoral riff. I especially enjoyed watching the cellist bow aggressively. It goes a little crazy towards the end but somehow remains upbeat.
The final piece plays off of the notes of Shostakovich’s initials (they explain all about this in the intro and what the S and H are in terms of musical notes). It’s amazing to think that these different parts play with those four notes in a different way. It’s an intense piece and reminds me a bit of Psycho.
From the blurb [with my comments in brackets]:
With the arguable exception of Béla Bartók’s six string quartets, it’s generally accepted that the 15 by Dmitri Shostakovich are the strongest body of quartets since Beethoven…. The Shostakovich quartets are intense, like page-turning thrillers, as they pull you into his world. They are dark and introspective, witty and sarcastic, and stained with the Soviet-era violence and hardship the composer lived through.
Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp minor, Op. 108 (1960) Allegretto
Eerie pizzicato and piercing stabs in the violins help color the twitchy, even sinister, opening movement of the Seventh Quartet. Stalin might have been dead since 1953, but hard-line Soviet politics (including the violent suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising) were still in place. The music’s lightness and transparency create a crepuscular feel.
Quartet No. 3 in F major, Op. 73 (1946) Allegretto
The Third Quartet’s first movement looks back to a slightly more pleasant time before World War II. At one point Shostakovich considered a subtitle: “Calm unawareness of the future cataclysm.” The jaunty opening theme, like Haydn after a few beers [now that is a hilarious line], is among the most lighthearted in the 15 quartets. But the mood sobers with an intense double fugue before returning to the opening music and a flashy final page.
Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110 (1960) Allegro molto
The Eighth Quartet is Shostakovich’s most popular — and one of his most hair-raising. He dedicated it to victims of fascism and war while at the same time creating his own epitaph. The entire quartet is built on a foundation of four notes that spell out his first initial and the first three letters of his last name [watch in the beginning of the piece as they demonstrate these notes]. The second movement juxtaposes violent energy with a tweaked version of a Jewish folk theme from an earlier work.
[READ: February 27, 2016] “The Full Glass”
I never understand how the New Yorker selects what it will publish each week. Sometimes authors can go for years without a piece and sometimes they can go just a couple of months. Such is the case with 2008 where there have been many duplicate authors in the span of a few months. Updike’s last story in the magazine was in January of 2008–that’s barely five months.
Anyway, this story is written from the point of view of a man turning eighty.
He talks about retiring from his job as a wood floor re finisher in Connecticut. He’s admitting he is his age and is taking a ton of pills every day and what not.
And he reflects on a many things in his life. Like the bliss of a cold glass of water. He hates the thought of drinking 8 glasses a day, but a cold glass at night is wonderful [I concur].
He thinks about his childhood and drinking very cold water from a bubbler (I had to look this up and it is very regional usage–my friend from Wisconsin said it recently and I had never heard it before). He also talks about country visits when he was kid and how he didn’t like the water from the river there–it wasn’t as cold as at his grandfather’s automobile shop.
Then he reflects on what is more or less the main part of the story. He talks about a moment of bliss that he experienced in Passaic, New Jersey (where we definitely did not say “bubbler”). He was out with a woman who wasn’t his wife (she was also married, as was he). He was driving a rented car and was in such a happy mood that he drifted across the empty street and parked the wrong way at the curb. A cop saw him and gave him a hard time immediately. But everything seemed like it was good that day and the cop let them go.
He talks a lot about that woman and their dalliances, and then reveals that they were caught (of course).
The woman divorced her husband, but he stayed with his wife. They lived in the same town and frequented the same parties and the woman became known as flirt–her reputation grew, so she took full advantage of it.
Another full moment came when he asked the prettiest girl in school to a barn dance and she agreed.
Then he talks about turning off Christmas lights and imagining he will be able to see the nanosecond it switches to darkness–but he never does.
As a child he imagined that getting old would be too difficult to bear but he doesn’t mind it now. There’s nothing terribly profound here, but it is nice to read that some seemingly mundane moments can be shared by everyone.
Incidentally, Updike died in 2009.