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The Comfort of Denial: Metre, Cyclic Form, and Narrative in Shostakovich's Seventh String Quartet


Recent scholarship has taken the leap from documenting cyclic form in Shostakovich's Seventh String Quartet to its interpretation. David Fanning, Judith Kuhn, and Sarah Reichardt, for instance, endorse a belief in the quartet's satisfactory closure. I propose an alternative reading that qualifies such resolution as merely apparent. I posit a musical ‘persona’ (Edward T. Cone) that achieves comfort in denial. I support my claim by analysing shifting hypermetre, metrical insertions, motif, and cyclic form, then weave my observations into a narrative interpretation. While acknowledging the limitations of the narrative analogy (following Carolyn Abbate, Lawrence Kramer, and Jean-Jacques Nattiez), I rely on its principal strength: the ability to help construct a compelling interpretation of the elusive ‘meaning’ of a piece of absolute music (Cone, Fred Maus, Anthony Newcomb, Leo Treitler). I conclude that the peculiar arrangement of shifting metrical identities and the DSCH-motto-related fragments tell a psychological story: of a musical persona's thwarted search for self.

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Peter Child . ‘Voice-Leading Patterns and Interval Collections in Late Shostakovich: Symphony No. 15’. Music Analysis 12/1 (1993), 7188.

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Jonathan D Kramer . ‘Multiple and Non-Linear Time in Beethoven's Opus 135’. Perspectives of New Music 11 (1973), 122145.

Colin Mason . ‘Form in Shostakovich's Quartets’. The Musical Times 103 (1962), 531533.

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Fred E Maus . ‘Narrative, Drama, and Emotion in Instrumental Music’. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 55/3 (1997), 293303.

Fred E Maus . ‘Classical Instrumental Music and Narrative’, in A Companion to Narrative Theory, ed. James Phelan and Peter J. Rabinowitz . Oxford: Blackwell, 2005. 466483.

Ryan McClelland . ‘Brahms and the Principle of Destabilised Beginnings’. Music Analysis 28/1 (2009), 361.

Jean-Jacques Nattiez . ‘Can One Speak of Narrativity in Music?’ Journal of the Royal Musical Association 115/2 (1990), 240257.

Anthony Newcomb . ‘Once More “Between Absolute and Program Music”: Schumann's Second Symphony’. 19th-Century Music 7/3 (1984), 233250.

Anthony Newcomb . ‘Schumann and Late Eighteenth-Century Narrative Strategies’. 19th-Century Music 11/2 (1987), 164174.

Niall O'Loughlin . ‘Shostakovich's String Quartets’. Musical Times 115 (1974), 744746.

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Twentieth-Century Music
  • ISSN: 1478-5722
  • EISSN: 1478-5730
  • URL: /core/journals/twentieth-century-music
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