String Quartet No.6 in g minor, Op.49
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.6 was composed during 1939-1940. The work is characterized by its clarity of expression and plasticity of musical ideas. The opening movement, Moderato con anima, is interesting in that the main theme gives birth to the others. They grow organically out of the first theme. The use of polyphone and along with the brilliant energy are typically Russian. The second movement, Allegro vivo e giocoso, is subtitled Burlesca. It is a tiny scherzo, the theme is a puppet-like march which is whimsically embroidered in the accompanying figures. The contrasting trio section is broad and lyrical. A slow movement, marked Andante lugubre, follows. Again there is a subtitle--Malinconia. The music is both lugubrious and emotionally powerful. The finale, Allegro energico e con fuoco, combines thrusting rhythmic themes with more lyrical episodes, largely written in 3-3-2 time, typical of Russian folk melodies.
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.