Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Shostakovich and His String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110

A laughing Dmitri Shostakovich in London, September 21, 1960
A laughing Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (1906-1975) in London, September 21, 1960

I’m doing something today that I have never done before in Music History Monday and which, I hope, I will never have to do again.

November 2 is not a day bereft of musical events. For example, November 2, 1739 saw the birth, in Vienna, of the composer and violinist Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, who was a friend of Beethoven’s and who went on to become the concertmaster of the Esterhazy Orchestra. November 2, 1752 saw the birth of Count Andrey Kirillovich Razumovsky in St. Petersburg. In 1792, Count Razumovsky became the Russian Ambassador to the Austrian Court in Vienna. It was as a resident of Vienna that he formed his own house string quartet and commissioned Beethoven to compose three quartets for his “Razumovsky String Quartet” (those quartets would be Op. 59, nos. 1, 2, and 3). Beethoven further immortalized Razumovsky by dedicating both his Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6 to the Count.

On this day in 1984, the Reverend Marvin Gaye Sr. was given a suspended six-year sentence and probation for shooting and killing his son, the singer and songwriter Marvin Gaye (1939-1984). Initially charged with first degree murder, the charges were reduced to voluntary manslaughter when it was discovered that the good reverend had a brain tumor.

On this day in 2002, police busted an international gang that was plotting to kidnap former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham (born 1974) and her two young children. The plan was to ransom Ms. Beckham and her kids for £5 million.

With all due respect to Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, Count Andrey Razumovsky, Victoria Beckham, and Marvin Gaye Sr., not one of their stories comes close to resonating with the gut-searing emotions we’re likely all presently feeling in anticipation of tomorrow’s election. As my long-term readers are aware, despite my own deeply held political beliefs, I have never discussed electoral politics on these pages: I want my site to be a safe haven for everyone. But I cannot pretend that the next few days will not change the world as we know it, and thus I cannot offer up escapist fluff about, say, Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf (beyond observing that his name is really fun to say).

So, for this once, I’m going outside the usual purview of Music History Monday to discuss a work that captures all the angst I (we?) are feeling today: Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor of 1960.…

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