Vissarion Shebalin, String Quartet No.9 in b minor, Op.58

Vissarion Shebalin Despite the fact that in 1960, while completing his Eighth String Quartet, Shebalin was told by his doctors that he had but minutes to live, he nonetheless managed to survive for another three years. Thus it was that in 1963, two months before his death, he completed his String Quartet No.9 in b minor, Op.58 which was not an easy task given that he had suffered a stroke in 1953 which had paralyzed right side. Not to be deterred, he taught himself to write with his left hand. The Quartet begins with a lengthy, brooding, somewhat astringent Largo. The main section is a lighter, restless Allegro. The middle movement, Andante, alternates between rhythmic pizzicato episodes and more lyrical arco interludes. The finale, Allegro molto, after a short dissonant, chordal introduction, features a nervous theme which is contrasted by a slower, questing, lyrical subject.

Vissarion Shebalin (1902-63) was born in Omsk, Siberia where he began his musical studies. Later at the Moscow Conservatory, he studied under Myaskovsky. During the 1920’s he was attracted by modernism, but during the 1930’s he was drawn to traditionalism with its attachment to folkloric melodies. By 1942, he was appointed director of the Moscow Conservatory. When Stalin came to power, Shebalin was forced, as were all of the other major Soviet composers, to find some sort of modus vivendi with Socialist Realism. Although his music is well-known within Russia, it is virtually never heard outside of it. Chamber music always interested Shebalin and constitutes a sizable part of his output. His nine string quartets span the length of his entire career from student right up until his death. They are an important body of work which deserves to be better known and to be performed.

This is another important Soviet string quartet. Within Russia the quartets of Shebalin are held in the highest regard. It surprising that they have never made a mark abroad. This quartet deserves to be heard in concert but can be managed by amateurs as well.

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