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Tonight we went to another Robert Kapilow What Makes it Great concert at Jordan Hall (see prior entry). This time it was the Shostakovich String Quartet No 8 in C Minor played by the Pacifica Quartet.

DSCHThe main theme in this quartet is the note sequence: D S C H, which are the German names of the notes D, Eb, C, B. The beginning of the first movement is a fugue based on these notes, and they appear throughout the piece in all movements. Now what is significant about D S C H? They are the german equivalent of his initials Д Ш (Дмитрий Дмитриевич Шостакович is his name in cyrillic) since the Ш is sch in German.

Shostakovich in Time MagazineIn the first half of What Makes it Great performances Kapilow explains and illustrates elements of the piece to be played with the help of his piano, and the string quartet. He gets the audience to sing little bits to help them get it. He also demonstrates with his simplified rewrites of parts of the music to make a point and then demonstrates the real thing to show how great it is. It is very entertaining and educational and really helps one understand the piece.

After the intermission the quartet played the piece. And after that there is a QandA session where the audience can ask questions to Kapilow or the musicians. Someone asked if this study made the musicians see new things and play differently and the first answer was that back stage they had just remarked that very statement.

Shostokovich's music is quite dark and full of dissonance. He lived a tough life in the Soviet Union and was first denounced by Stalin in 1936 who wrote an article entitled Muddle Instead of Music. Many people think he wrote this piece to prepare for his funeral (it died 15 years later) and we were told that the notes D S C H appear on his gravestone.

All in all it was an interesting evening.

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I would have enjoyed this concert. I'm a fan of Shostakovitch's and have recordings of all his quartets. I think I remember hearing that he did this sort of things with initials in other pieces as well.

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