Franzi on Music: Dmitri Shostakovich Chamber Symphony Op. 110a

By Emil Franzi / SoAzNewsX

SHOSTAKOVICH/BARSHAI – Chamber Symphony Op. 110a

Premiere as String Quartet #8, Dresden, 1960.

Dmitri Shostakovich (1910-1975) was a close friend of violist,conductor, and composer Rudolf Barshai (1924-2010). Barshai was a founding member of the illustrious Borodin Quartet in 1947 and played regularly with such great Russian performers as Oistrach, Rostropovich, Gilels and Richter. He founded the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, and is considered one of the great interpreters of Shostakovich as both conductor and performer, having recorded all 15 symphonies.

Barshai left Russia, and the same constrictions that repressed all Soviet era artists, in 1977 for Israel where he had a long and fruitful career as a major conductor and instrumentalist. He arranged five of Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets for chamber orchestra- numbers One, Three, Four, Eight and Ten. He did so with the approval and guidance of Shostakovich himself. He also personally validated the controversial book TESTIMONY attributed to Shostakovich.

The Eighth Quartet of Shostakovich was described by Daniel Jaffe as “one of his most personal works and one of the most ferocious”.  There are quotes within it from his First, Fifth, and Tenth Symphonies and the controversial (for Soviets) opera LADY MACBETH OF MZENSK. There is also his personal monogram D,Eb,C,B –  DSCH in German. Most telling is his quote from one of his songs “Exhausted by the Hardships of Prison”.

This arrangement is for strings only, but Barshai expanded to the use of winds in Number Ten.

The arrangement is powerful as is the original quartet. It is a testimony in itself to the survival of a great artist under an evil tyranny.


Emil Franzi is the Editor-in-Chief/Publisher of the Southern Arizona News-Examiner. He is also a classical music and opera aficionado.



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