String Quartet No.2 in c minor, Op.33 No.2
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.
Although this Quartet is known as No.2, it is not Myaskovsky's second string quartet. Nos.3, 4 and 10 were all composed before Nos.1 and 2, roughly between 1907 and 1911. No.2, which is in actuality his fifth quartet, dates from 1930. Tonally speaking, this quartet and No.1 are the most modern-sounding and in some ways the most astringent. The opening to the first movement, Allegro pesante, begins disjointedly with a series of thrusting chords followed by soft pizzicati. The main theme is a restless, searching chromatic subject. The middle movement, Andante, is darkly introspective tinged with a strong sense of sadness. Only in the finale, Vivace, is the heavy cloud lifted by a bright but highly nervous theme which races along frantically. A more lyrical second theme provides fine contrast.