Biography of Shostakovich Dmitri:
After 1960, which saw the appearance of his Seventh and Eighth String Quartets, chamber music came to play a more important part in Shostakovich's output. Between that year and 1968 he composed six string quartets as well as his Violin Sonata. From 1968 until his death, music for voices dominated his work, although three further string quartets and his Viola Sonata (his last completed composition) were also written. In his final years, the texts that he chose to set, from the 14th Symphony onwards, are preoccupied by death. In 1965, a heart condition was diagnosed, aggravated by his chain-smoking, his health - never very robust, thereafter began to deteriorate. Such events must have prompted his preoccupation with his own mortality, so much so that he turned more and more to the intimate forms of song-cycle and string quartet, and within those works we can discern a starker, more directly tragic utterance than hitherto. Nowhere is this more clearly to be found than in his final string quartet, the Fifteenth, in the deeply morbid key of E flat minor. Shostakovich's contribution to the string quartet repertoire is one of the most important of any 20th Century composer - not purely in the number of his works but in the quality of them. A curious aspect of many of his later quartets is that many musicians have felt that their power seems at times fit to burst the confines of the string quartet medium. This, and the feeling of symphonic unity that informs them, led to several suggestions that these works be transcribed for larger forces. There was nothing new or startling in such suggestions - from Bach's time, string consort music has been played either by solo or orchestral groups. Works such as Mozart's Adagio and Fugue, quartets by Schubert, Beethoven's Grosse Fuge, his opus 131 and 135 quartets and works by Smetana, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Schoenberg and Berg are amongst the most famous pieces which are heard in both quartet and orchestral guises. The essential difference, however, is that whereas in a string quartet each player has to be aware of the other three parts to a unified degree unknown to the orchestral player, an orchestra version demands a conductor to whom each player has to become subservient. If the transcription is well-made, the addition of double-basses and the flexibility of the use of solo instruments (occasionally recalling the original texture), naturally affords a new perspective to the original quite apart from opening up the work to a new audience.