Dmitri Shostakovich - String Quartet No. 12, Op. 133 (1968)Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (Дми́трий Дми́триевич Шостако́вич, tr. Dmitriy Dmitrievich Shostakovich 25 September 1906 – 9 August 1975) was a Soviet composer and pianist, and a prominent figure of 20th-century music. String Quartet No. 12 in D flat major, Op. 133 (1968) 1. Moderato 2. Allegretto Fitzwilliam Quartet Description by Robert Cummings [-] Shostakovich's last four quartets are generally viewed as a related group. They share a certain creative boldness in their use of various advanced compositional techniques, such as the use, or partial use, of 12-tone rows. Regarding this latter aspect, there has been some controversy about the Quartet No. 12 in particular. Is it a composition rooted in tonality or atonality? For all its daring, especially coming from the pen of a Soviet composer from the late 1960s, it is not truly a 12-tone composition. Had it been written by a Western composer who had previously embraced serial techniques, it would have been greeted largely as a return to tonality. The work is divided into two movements, the latter running over 20 minutes. The first movement opens with a 12-tone row stated by the cello, and the mood immediately established is dark and mournful, typical of the music of this late stage in the composer's career. He was suffering from a serious heart ailment by now and endured considerable pain from arthritis. The main theme here has a nobility to its sadness, offering consolation but little hope. The second subject, played at a faster tempo, is emotionally cold and sounds slightly Schoenbergian. After some development the movement comes to a quiet close. The second movement opens with an angry, desperate scherzo in which tonality again becomes uncertain. Its main theme is a five-note idea -- four short and one long -- not far removed from the four-note motto of the Beethoven Fifth Symphony, though here the last two notes descend and the mood is decidedly darker. This motif dominates the first third of this long movement and serves as the stimulus, if not the agitator, behind the frantic and anxious atmosphere. There is also much colorful and virtuosic writing throughout the scherzo, including some rapid sul ponticello passages that are both chilling and thrilling. This section finally winds down on the cello, and the Adagio ensues. It is despairing in tone; even a colorful pizzicato section does not break the dark mood. A brief development section follows, wherein elements from the preceding sections and the first movement appear. Still, the mood remains rather bleak, despite the faster Moderato marking. The finale features quicker tempos and reprises material from both movements. Here the dominant motif from the scherzo section appears, but now less threateningly. Gradually it grows more exultant until it finally revels in total triumph, rejecting the implied atonality of its first appearance and settling into a very affirmative D flat. Curiously, the ending is rather Stravinsky-like; the closing chords sound similar to the ones at the end of the Dumbarton Oaks chamber concerto.