String Quartet No.9 in d minor, Op.62
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.
String Quartet No.9 was composed in 1943 and was dedicated to "the glorious 20th anniversary of the Beethoven String Quartet, which was at the time, the most famous string quartet in the Soviet Union. The opening movement, Allegro inquieto, is restless and somewhat nervous. The excited main theme and the more lyrical second theme can be traced to folk melody though written here on an epic scale. The second movement is actually two movements in one, combining the functions of a slow movement and a scherzo. It begins with a lyrical and lilting Andante, leisurely proceeding but then it morphs into the second part, Allegro misterioso, a soaring, magical scherzo. The brilliant, orchestral finale, Allegro con brio, without doubt is meant as a solemn glorification as the opening theme recalls the Russian orthodox glorifying chant "Many Years". The second theme is based on a Russian military march from the First World War.
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.