Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

YouYoung Kang

Reader 2

Gayle Blankenburg

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© 2015 Ariane C. Gushue


As a little boy, Dmitriĭ Dmitrievich Shostakovich pressed his ear against the wall to hear his neighbors play chamber music. He matured into one of the most prominent Soviet era composers. While the majority of academic interest Shostakovich centers on his symphonic works, his string quartets provide a window into a more intimate facet of Shostakovich’s life. This thesis explores first, why Shostakovich turned to the string quartet after some of the most fearful years of his life: his demise and rise after the scathing Pravda letter that all but threatened his life. Second, this thesis analyzes three of Shostakovich’s String Quartets: No. 1, No. 8, and No. 15. String Quartet No. 1, despite its simplicity, illuminates tender expressivity. Following years of intense artistic and personal scrutiny, Shostakovich sought an escape into an aural world of innocence. However, the quartet proves more complex than its surface suggests. Obscured harmonic complexities, intimate dialogue between instruments, and subtle recollection of prior movements lend the quartet a deeper meaning than its aural simplicity suggests.

Decades later, amidst personal crisis, Shostakovich turned to the quartet, again. Composed in 1960, the year of his invocation into the communist party, String Quartet No. 8 demonstrates how Shostakovich utilized the string quartet as an avenue for personal self-expression. The intertwining of his musical signature with constant self-quotations and allusions confirms the deep, personal reflection the quartet provided Shostakovich. This study recounts the quotations previously uncovered by David Fanning, but goes beyond identification and relates the content of the quotations to Shostakovich’s emotional turmoil at the time of his party invocation. Finally, enduring anguishing physical pain and facing death, Shostakovich turned to the string quartet at the end of his life. String Quartet No. 15 provided Shostakovich an external outlet for his internal dialogue on death. Sentiments of meditation, fury, resistance, anguish, and resignation musically intertwine during Shostakovich’s longest and most painful string quartet. This study demonstrates how Shostakovich used the string quartet as a medium for deeper self-expression.