Dmitri Shostakovich


String Quartet #8 by Dmitri Shostakovich


Excerpt from Danse Macabre by Gerald Elias

"She began to talk about the Markner’s compelling performance of the affecting Shostakovich Eighth String Quartet in which, to her delight, Shostakovich included extended use of his “signature” motive that they had talked about at the café. 
            “But Jake,” she said, “I’m still not sure how he got D-E-flat-C-B out of the name Shostakovich.”
            Jacobus, considering Yumi’s unsettled state, explained with uncharacteristic patience.  “D is for his first name, Dmitri.  That’s easy enough, isn’t it?   E-flat represents the S at the beginning of his last name, C replaces K—it’s Russian spelling, after all—and the B is for the H at the end of the name.  Shostakovich conveniently for us, skipped over the other letters. "




Music from Danse Macabre
Shostakovich String Quartet #8

Dmitri Shostakovich - String Quartet #8
performed by the Abramyan String Quartet
  String Quartet #8 by Dmitri Shostakovich    

The eighth string quartet by Dmitri Shostakovich provides an example of a composer using his own name to create a melodic theme for the music, a tool employed by composers from Bach to Schoenberg.  In this case, the notes Shostakovich used are D, E-flat, C, and B. . . You’re now probably scratching your head, asking “How does E-flat, C, and B spell Shostakovich?”  Here’s how it works: D stands for Dmitri; that’s simple enough.  E-flat in Europe is called S, C is considered in its K sound, and B-natural in Europe is called H.  So now, we have S-K-H, and you can see how this forms the outline of his last name.

Shostakovich was fond of using this four note motive in his music.  In fact, he was obsessed with it.  Throughout the eighth quartet you’ll hear it over and over again in endless variation.  But that was not the only thing he was obsessed with.  The oppressive tyranny of Stalin’s regime, of which Shostakovich was a recurring victim, represents the death of human spirit in many of his works, perhaps no more so than in this quartet.

This hauntingly powerful music, performed by the Abramyan String Quartet on January 28, 2003, appropriately provides Daniel Jacobus with a revelatory clue in his search for the murderer of Rene Allard in “Danse Macabre.”