Notes on Shostakovich’s 3rd String Quartet

by Mimi Morris-Kim

The String Quartet No. 3 in F major, opus 73, was the only work Dmitri Shostakovich composed in 1946. He was very pleased with it. He wrote to the second violinist and manager of the Beethoven Quartet, for whom he wrote the piece, that “it seems to me that I have never been as pleased with a composition as with this Quartet. Probably I am wrong, but that is exactly how I feel right now.”

His original plan was that the quartet would reflect the history of World War II in Russia and that each of its 5 movements would have a programmatic title.

Movement 1, Allegretto, was to be “Calm unawareness of future cataclysm”

Movement 2, Moderato con moto, was to be “Rumblings of unrest and anticipation”

Movement 3, Allegro non troppo, was “The forces of war unleashed”

Movement 4, Adagio, was “Homage to the dead”

Movement 5, Moderato, was entitled, “The eternal question- Why? And for what?’

After the initial performance, Shostakovich withdrew the titles, and no one is sure why. It may have been that he wanted to avoid political pressure. His previous work, the 9th Symphony, was widely criticized by the government and even Stalin himself.  Bruised by that experience, he may have wanted to lay low. It also may have been that he saw in the work a more universal experience and expression, one that perhaps he did not want to tie so distinctly to one time and one place.

As a performer it is helpful to have the titles. The opening of the 3rd movement with its alternating 2/4 and 3/4 measures sounds exactly like gunshots, and in the creepy second movement waltz, it is easy to see a metaphor for the unraveling of Russian and European society in the face of the horrors of war. And yet, as someone two generations removed from that war and a continent away, I can appreciate its universality. The eternal questions, Why? And for what? are as relevant in the churches where we are performing this in Chestnut Hill and Princeton as they were in 1946 Leningrad.

Public Performances

September 20, 2020 – 4:00 PM

In Search of America

The Fairmount String Quartet performs:

Haydn – String Quartet, Op. 77, #2
Dvorak – String Quartet, Op. 96, “The American”
Marquez – Danzon #2

The Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
8000 St. Martins Lane, Phila., PA 19118
Click here for more information and tickets:

Kind Words

Friday evening’s performance…by the members of the Fairmount String Quartet was splendid…the playing was expert to the point of perfection.

Michael Caruso, Chestnut Hill Local

From more classical music to fun contemporary songs, Fairmount Strings knocked it out of the park.

Alison F., bride

We are so grateful that Fairmount Strings made our wedding day vision come to life. 

Jocelyn G., bride

The quartet was magnificent and so very professional. One guest said the setting and the quartet made the ceremony storybook!

Joanne F., Bride

Last night the audience told you so well what I am trying to put into words now. Thank you for an unbelievably beautiful concert!

Alice Nugent, Candlelight Concerts at Laurel Hill

The beautiful sound of your music will stay with me always. It was simply stunning and made our day feel like a fairy tale.

Julie & Tom B., Bride and Groom

Adding to their laurels — professionalism, intuition and timeliness, we look forward to many future musical endeavors with the Fairmount Chamber Ensemble.

Kevin O’Malia, Director of Music, First United Methodist Church of Germantown

I made a point of standing off to the side in the back of the church to listen. It was….well….perfection.

Chris C., Mother of the Bride

It is such a privilege to work with musicians of their caliber who are so genuinely committed to supporting the growth and development of our students.

Stephen Kushner, Director of Choral Music, Germantown Friends School

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your beautiful performance, which helped to make the vision and dream I had for my daughter’s wedding day come true.

Jeanne B., Mother of the Bride

They are wonderful musicians, easy to work with, and deliver performances of consistently high quality.

Clair Rozier, Director of Music, St. David’s Episcopal Church

Sheet music background image.