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Dennis Russell Davies. Photo: Philip Crebbin
Dennis Russell Davies. Photo: Philip Crebbin

Shostakovich originally composed the chamber symphony as a string quartet, over three days in 1960, during a rehab stay in Gohrisch near Dresden. During that time he confided to friends that he considered suicide, a plan he thankfully discarded later on. The work was to become his requiem, and his suicide note. Officially dedicated to the 'victims of war and fascism', the eighth is essentially also an autobiographical string quartet, about the sufferings of the oppressed as much as the composer's own sufferings.

'It quotes a song that is known to all Russians: Driven to the death by hard conditions of captivity,' Shostakovich wrote about his work. Throughout, he also quoted himself with his initials D-Es-C-H (as they relate to the German spelling of his name in the German notation) the English equivalent being the notes D, E flat, C and B.

These notes appear in all five movements, sometimes more, sometimes less apparent.

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Copyright © 14 August 2004 Tess Crebbin, Germany


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