Nikolai Myaskovsky

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String Quartet No.1 in a minor, Op.33 No.1

Although this Quartet carries the moniker of No.1, it is not Myaskovsky's first string quartet. Nos.3, 4 and 10 were all composed before No.1, roughly between 1907 and 1911. No.1, which is in actuality his fourth quartet, dates from 1929. Tonally speaking, this quartet and No.2 are the most modern-sounding and in some ways the most astringent. The main theme to the opening movement, Poco rubato ed agitato, is highly chromatic and enigmatic. It is followed by a kind of lullaby subject expressed in the pentatonic scale. The second movement, Allegro tenebroso, is a kind of modern scherzo combining a whirling motif with a mechanical like quality produced by its rhythm. The following Andante sostenuto is quite daring in that it clearly shows the influence of jazz and the blues--hardly extraordinary for the times in the West, but in the Soviet Union, jazz and the blues were anathema. Shostakovich, during this period, was forced to publicly apologize for producing an arrangement of Tea for Two. The finale,  Assai allegro, features a lopsided rhythmic, thrusting dance which moves forward by lurches.


Despite the fact that Nikolai Myaskovsky (1881-1950) wrote some 27 symphonies and 13 string quartets, he and his music are barely known. This is virtually impossible to explain, especially when you play or listen to his innovative, original and appealing music. We feel his quartets deserve to be ranked alongside those of Shostakovich and Prokofiev and hope professionals and amateurs alike will take the opportunity to get to know them. Myaskovsky was born in Congress (i.e. Russian) Poland near Warsaw, where his father, a military engineer was then serving. He took piano and violin lessons as a boy but followed in his father's footsteps, entering the military academy and graduating as an engineer. When he was posted to Moscow, he studied composition with Reinhold Gliere. Upon transfer to St. Petersburg, he finally decided to become a composer and entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory where he studied with Rimsky-Korsakov and Liadov. It was there he met Prokofiev with whom he became close friends.  He served in WWI and was severely wounded on the Austrian front. After the war, he taught for most of  his life at the Moscow Conservatory. Among his many students were Kabalevsky, Khatchaturian, Shebalin and Shchedrin.



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