String Quartet No.3 in d minor, Op.33 No.3
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.
String Quartet No.3 was composed in 1910 while Myaskovsky was still at the Petersburg Conservatory. Given that it appeared before the beginning of the Russian Revolution, it is in part strikingly modern though clearly building on existing traditions. The dark, brooding Lento introduction of the first movements leads to the main section, Allegro ma non troppo malinconico, which is restless. The music shifts from harsh angularity to lyricism and back again, always with a persistent undercurrent of unrest. The second movement is Theme and set of 8 variations. Myaskovsky was not fond of Liadov, his composition professor. Liadov was known to dislike the music of Edvard Grieg and this almost certainly led to Myaskovsky selecting Grieg's Op.66 Cradle Song as the subject for his theme. The variations which follow display an impressive command of technique and fertility of invention.