String Quartet No.12 in G Major, Op.77
Nikolai Myaskovsky (1881-1950) has to be one of the most underrated composers of the 20th century. Most who come to his music for the first time are amazed that it is not better known. He wrote some 27 symphonies and 13 string quartets. 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.
Myaskovsky’s 12th String Quartet is dedicated to his friend and former student Dmitri Kabalevsky, It was composed in 1947 and is certainly one of his most substantial quartets, written on a large scale. The first movement begins with a slow Andante introduction which leads to the main part of the movement, an Allegro moderato. (our soundbite starts here) The thematic material is related to the prototypes of earlier of Russian epic folk music and in parts has an archaic quality. The second movement, Allegro fantastico, is an unusual quick scherzo, somewhat mysterious, with a more melodious slower trio section sandwiched between the quicker outer parts. In the third movement, Andante con espressione, we hear the themes from the opening movement presented as a four part fugue. The finale, Allegro moderato, opens jovially with definite folkloric peasant dance features which are often interrupted by more serious and severe thematic episodes.
While we know the quartets of Shostakovich and Prokofiev, those of Myaskovsky are every bit as deserving of our attention. Here is yet another fine work which belongs in the concert hall and which should be of interest to professional groups everywhere and which is well within the ability of amateurs.