twentieth-century music


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.

Robert Rival is a Canadian composer, music theorist, and writer. His music for chamber ensemble, voice, orchestra, and the stage has been broadcast on CBC radio and performed by the Gryphon Trio and other leading Canadian musicians and ensembles. He is resident composer of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Recent works include the song cycle Red Moon & Other Songs of War and his First Symphony ‘Maligne Range’. A Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council recipient, and the winner of the Canadian University Music Society's 2009 George Proctor Prize for best graduate student paper, he has focused his research on the analysis of the music of Shostakovich, informed by both Russian music theory and Western theories of narrative. He has presented papers at the Shostakovich International Centenary Conference (University of Bristol, 2006), the Canadian University Music Society Annual Conference (Carleton University, 2009), and the Sixth Biennial Conference on Music Since 1900 (Keele University, 2009). He graduated with the DMA from the University of Toronto in 2009.

I am grateful to Ryan McClelland, Patrick McCreless, Alexander Rapoport, and Leo Treitler for valuable advice and encouragement in response to earlier versions of this paper.