String Quartet No.5 in e minor, Op.47
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.5 was composed in 1938 and was dedicated to his friend and former student Vissarion Shebalin, who became a well-known composer, at least inside of the Soviet Union, in his own right. The opening movement, Allegro tranquillo, has for its main theme, a lovely but sad Russian melody. The second subject is just as ingratiating. The second movement, Molto vivo, bursts forth with an exciting, nervous scherzo, full of wild chromatic scale passages. Eventually, a gorgeous second theme, which recalls Borodin, is interspersed. A slow movement, Andantino semplice, as the has a simple melody for the main theme. However, it is written on a large scale and moves leisurely across a wide musical landscape . The finale, Allegro molto e con brio, is dominated by is pulsating rhythm which creates a mood of dynamism.
While we know the quartets of Shostakovich and Prokofiev, those of Myaskovsky are every bit as deserving of our attention. Here is another fine work which belongs in the concert hall and which should be of interest to professional groups everywhere, but which is well within the ability of amateurs.