Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a (1960)
(String quartet No. 8, arranged by R. Barshai)
Allegro molto

Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony, Op. 110 bis, holds the honors of being one of the most frequently performed works in its original version, as String Quartet No. 8, and in Barshai's arrangement for string orchestra, approved by Shostakovich.

Written in Dresden, in just three days in October of 1960, this quartet bears a dedication "In memory of victims of fascism and war ". While the character of the composition well tends itself to this dedication, even without knowing Shostakovich's privately made statements (his daughter, Galina, recounted that after completing the quartet Shostakovich said: "I dedicated this work to myself", and the same is found in the recently published Shostakovich's letter to his friend, Isaak Glikman), it is very clear from the music itself, that this work is autobiographical. Thematic material of all five movements is based on Shostakovich's monogram -- musical signature DSCH (D, E flat, C, B in German notation), and there are numerous quotations from his symphonies, and other works.

This composition is a testimony to Shostakovich's incredible ability in just a few bars to create a complete emotional world. The opening movement is full of anticipation of tragedy, yet with moments of relief and hope. Then comes the brutal force and agony of the second movement, and the waltz-like third movement, full of typical Shostakovich's bitter-sweetness. The fourth movement is introduced by a repetitive three-chord phrase, in which some hear gun shots, and others, including myself, the notorious KGB knocks on the door, followed by a quote from the revolutionary song "Tormented by Hard Bondage" and the emotional culmination - an aria from his opera Katerina Izmailova. The fifth movement returns the material of the opening movement, but this time there is no more hope, just total acceptance of the tragic fate.

For many years I always follow this work with the performance of Bach's First Contrapunctus from the Art of the Fugue. Years ago, when I began performing this work, it struck me how unsettling it felt to hear the applause after this composition. My experiments to ask the audience to refrain from applause produced no less unsettling result, especially when this composition was performed right before the intermission, which is usually the case. The only other solution was to go back to music immediately after this work. The moment I thought of Bach's First Contrapunctus, it just felt right. Starting in the similar emotional atmosphere as the opening of the Chamber Symphony (on the rare occasions when we play this Contrapunctus on its own, it is played totally differently), it then takes a drastically different road, becoming a majestic hymn to the human spirit.

I would like to stress, that by performing the Bach immediately after the Shostakovich I am not suggesting that anything needs to be added to what Shostakovich has said in his composition. On the contrary, this work is one of the most powerful and complete statements ever expressed in music. In fact, so much so, that for me, my colleagues and, hopefully you, the listener, another powerful statement is needed to restore the inner balance.