String Quartet No. 1
Leningrad. Glazunov Quartet. Ilya Lukashevsky, Aleksandr Pechnikov, Aleksandr Ryvkin, David Mogilevsky
Leningrad. “Muzgiz” Publishers № 1054
RNMM, piano score. Manuscript lost.
Premiere: October 10, 1938. Leningrad. Glazunov Quartet.
First Edition: The score of the quartet was published by “Muzgiz” Publishers in 1939.
Score. Moscow, SSK, 1947, “Steklograf”.
D. Shostakovich, Quartets, “Muzyka” Publishers, Moscow, 1964..
“When writing my first quartet, I tried to convey images of childhood - slightly naive and filled with light and moods of springtime”
“I began writing it (First String Quartet) without any particular thoughts and feelings, thinking that nothing would come out of it, for the quartet is one of the most demanding musical genres. The first page I wrote as a kind of unusual exercise in quartet form, without imagining I should ever finish it. Later the work on it became truly absorbing and I wrote it incredibly quickly...”
“There is no point in looking for any special depth in this, my first quartet...”
String Quartet No.1 in C Major
III. Allegro molto
Quartet No. 1, written at a relatively favourable time for Shostakovich, was the first in what we might call a unique cycle of fifteen musical self-portraits that portrayed the composer in different life circumstances and moods. According to the dates on the sketches, work on Quartet No. 1 began on 30 May 1938 (twenty days after the birth of Shostakovich’s son Maxim) in Leningrad and continued until 17 July 1938. On 16 August 1938, Vechernyaya Moskva announced that Shostakovich had finished his string quartet.
This is one of the Shostakovich’s shortest quartets: it takes no more than quarter of an hour to perform.
On 10 October 1938, at the Leningrad branch of the Union of Soviet Composers, a hearing was held of Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 1 performed by the Glazunov Quartet: Ilya Lukashevsky, Grigory Ginzburg, Alexander Ryvkin and David Mogilevsky. Around the same time (before 16 October), the composer sent his manuscript to the musicians of the State Beethoven Quartet with comments about the nature of the move- ments and performance instructions. As early as 22 October, Shostakovich was in Moscow at a rehearsal of the Beethoven Quartet: Dmitri Tsyganov, Vasily Shirinsky, Vadim Borisovsky, and Sergei Shirinsky.
The official premiere of Quartet No. 1 was held during the Ten-Day Festival of Soviet Music in the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on 16 November 1938. It was performed by the Beethoven Quartet, which Shostakovich later entrusted with the first performances of all his quartets, apart from No. 15. The concert programme also included Sergey Prokofiev’s Quartet, Op. 50 and Nikolay Myaskovsky’s Quartet in F Minor. On the evening of the Moscow premiere, Shostakovich’s new opus was encored in its entirety.
A report about the premiere appeared in Pravda the next day. The concert was called ‘the central event of the Ten-Day Festival of Soviet Music’, noting that ‘Dmitri Shostakovich’s Quartet performed for the first time from the manuscript enjoyed the greatest success. The audience called for an encore of all four movements of the Quartet in their entirety’.
On 19 November 1938, Quartet No. 1 was performed again at the Moscow Conservatory at the All-Union Competition of Quartets by the Auer String Quartet, and on 21 November was performed on the radio by the Beethoven Quartet.
Quartet No. 1 continued to enjoy success. Immediately after it appeared, it gained the reputation among Soviet critics as ‘a masterpiece of Soviet chamber literature’. In the first monograph about the composer, it was given a detailed analysis and compared with ‘the best pages of Schubert’s romantic music’. It held a permanent place in the performance repertoire. In 1939, the score and parts of the Quartet were published by the Leningrad Branch of Muzgiz.
France became acquainted with this work as early as November 1938 during a radio broadcast from Moscow. The following year, it was performed for American radio listeners (7 January), for Leningraders (26 January), for a Soviet audience (2 December), and for Lithuanians (22 December with performance of the second and fourth movements); while in 1941, it was heard in Hungary (23 March). The British premiere was held on 13 December 1941 (London, Aeolian Hall, Hirsch Quartet). On 3 August 1942, the Beethoven Quartet performed it on Moscow radio for American listeners, and on 3 September on KYA radio (San Francisco) performed by the San Francisco String Quartet (Naoum Blinder, Frank Houser, Ferenc Molnar, and Boris Blinder) in an all-Shostakovich programme.
Quartet No. 1 was first recorded in New York by Columbia in July 1942 (on 78 rpm records). It was performed by the Stuyvesant Quartet featuring Sylvan Shulman, Maurice Wilk, Emanuel Vardi, Alan Shulman. Melodiya put out the first recording of this work in the Soviet Union in 1947 (also on 78 rpm records) performed by the Beethoven Quartet.
The second movement of the Quartet (Moderato) was used to replace the previous sound accompaniment of captions when restoring in 1965 the film The Girlfriends (1935) by Leo Arnshtam, featuring Shostakovich’s music.
Quartet No. 1 is one of Shostakovich’s five string quartets arranged by Rudolf Barshai for chamber orchestra and named in his versions “Chamber Symphonies” (transcription of Quartet No. 1 is designated as Op. 49a and has the subtitle of “Little Symphony”).
- Borodin Quartet: Dubinsky R.D., Aleksandrov Y.P., Shebalin D.V., Berlinsky V.A. 1967 // Melodiya Seraphim SIC-6034, 1967-1968
- Borodin Quartet: Dubinsky R.D., Aleksandrov Y.P., Shebalin D.V., Berlinsky V.A. 1967 // Melodia Eurodisc 76 649 XK, 76 639,
- Borodin Quartet: Dubinsky R.D., Aleksandrov Y.P., Shebalin D.V., Berlinsky V.A. 1967 // Melody MG 087129, D-019277, 1967
- Borodin Quartet: Kopelman M., Abramenkov A., Shebalin D.V., Berlinsky V.A. 1978 // Melody C 10-11757-8, 1979
- Borodin Quartet: Kopelman M., Abramenkov A., Shebalin D.V., Berlinsky V.A. 1978 // HMV Melodiya EX 270339 E2703401, 1986
- Shostakovich Quartet: Shishlov A.A., Pishchugin S., Galkovsky A.V., Korchagin A.A. 1981 // OLYMPIA OCD 531, 1994
- Brodsky Quartet: Thomas M., Belton I., Cassidy P., Thomas J. 1989 // TELDEC 9031-71702-2, 1990
- Beethoven Quartet: Tsyganov D.M., Zabavnikov N., Druzhinin F.S., Shirinsky S.P. 1960 // TRITON MECC-26018, 1995
- Borodin Quartet: Kopelman M., Abramenkov A., Shebalin D.V., Berlinsky V.A. 1995 // TELDEC 4509-98417-2, 1996
- Talich Quartet: Messierur P., Kvapil J., Talich J., Rattay E. 1976 // PRAGA PR 254 042, 1994
- Fitzwilliam Quartet: C. Rowland, J. Spary, A. George, I. Davis. 1979 // LONDON 455 777-2 (Set 455 776-2), 1998