When people think of chamber music, they sometimes assume that it was all written long, long ago in France, Italy, or Germany. But that simply isn’t true. Chamber music has been around in various forms since the 1600s – and is still being created today. And it has been and still is written in many locations around the world.
Born in 1906, Shostakovich was a Soviet Russian composer and pianist. Shostakovich was a child prodigy, playing the piano since the age of 9, displaying an amazing talent to be able to recall what he had heard played previously, and composing by the age of 12. At 13, he entered the Conservatory in Saint Petersburg.
He started his career as both a pianist and a composer. Along with concerts and competitions, he played piano in a movie house to earn money to pay his way in life. In his early 20s, he shifted more to composition. Over the course of the next 48 years of his life he composed quite a variety of classical work including 15 symphonies, 15 string quartets, 2 piano trios, numerous preludes and fugues, 3 operas, and the list goes on.
Shostakovich received awards, praise, and disfavour from the government over the course of his career. Early on he had a favourable relationship with the government. However, in 1936 he fell out of favour with Stalin. Bad reviews followed, and his income dropped. Those who had supported him publicly distanced themselves from him. During the Great Purge (1936-1939), Shostakovich lost many friends and family members. Difficulties continued off and on for Shostakovich until Stalin’s death in 1953. Throughout it all though, he continued to compose and, as many artists do, he allowed those trials to shape his wonderful work.
In 2013 we heard the Jerusalem Quartet perform Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 11 in F Minor, Op. 122 and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble perform Prelude and Scherzo for String Octet, Op. 11, one of 2 pieces that Shostakovich wrote for string octets. The St. Petersburg Quartet treated us to Quartet No. 8 in October 2014.
We will hear Shostakovich twice on our stage this coming season. The Carducci Quartet will perform Quartet No. 4 in D Major, Op. 83 on November 16, 2017 and the Schumann Quartet bring us Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 108 on April 12, 2018.