Two pieces for String Quartet
Sikorski Music Publishers, Score and Parts. 1984
Dmitri Shostakovich’s Archive, rec. gr. 1, section 1, f. 404, 13 pages
Two Pieces for String Quartet
The pieces are dedicated to the Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume String Quartet. The Elegy and Polka for String Quartet are author’s arrangements of earlier music:
No. 1 Elegy—Katerina’s aria from Scene 3 ‘The foal runs after the filly…’
No. 2 Polka—arrangement of the polka ‘Once in Geneva…’ from the ballet The Golden Age.
Derek Hulme writes that these arrangements were done during the night of 31 October/1 November 1931 in Batumi during Shostakovich’s brief stay there. At that time, the Vuillaume Quartet was touring in Batumi. The Quartet musicians were staying in the same hotel as Shostakovich, who was composing Act 1 of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.
He presented the quartet musicians with the score and parts of Elegy and Polka as a surprise gift the day before they departed from the city. On the first page of the hand-written score, the composer wrote:
‘To dear Mikhail Simkin, Aleksandr Staroselsky, Anselm Svirsky, Pyotr Kutvan and Nikolai Land-Fried, in
immense admiration of your splendid mastery.
In memory of the meeting in Batumi.
To a first-class quartet from D. Shostakovich.’
The composer also put the date these pieces were finished on the first page of the score ‘1/11 1931 Batum’ and ascribed it as Op. 36. However, later this number was given to the music for the film opera Tale of the Priest and His Worker Balda, and the pieces were left unnumbered.
The manuscript was kept in the personal archive of Aleksandr Staroselsky, the Quartet’s second violinist, and was transferred to Shostakovich’s Moscow archive in the 1980s. In 1984, the composition was published by Hans Sikorski.
The Elegy and Polka became part of the Borodin Quartet’s repertoire. On 20 September 1984, they were performed during the festival of chamber music in the city of Telavi in Georgia; on 25 September, in the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory; and on 26 February 1986, the pieces were performed in London in Queen Elizabeth Hall by the same quartet.
The first recordings of the pieces came out in 1988, and throughout the 1990s, the pieces were repeatedly recorded by different ensembles.
In 2000, both pieces came out on Deutsche Grammophon performed by the Emerson Quartet in their complete recording of Shostakovich’s string quartets. These recordings were awarded the Grammy Prize for the best performance of chamber music.
Not only was the original author’s version of the Elegy and Polka put out on discs, but also several arrangements.