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London Month of the Dead: I Have Seen Into The Grave at Brompton Cemetery

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Time 19:30
Date 20/10/18
Price £12

A torchlit cemetery walk and Shostakovich candlelit concert with the Vanitas Quartet.

Dates: Sat 20 Oct & Sun 21 Oct.

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-75) was arguably the most morbid composer who ever lived. To be fair he had some justifications: he lived though Stalin’s terrors, the siege of Leningrad in World War Two, was declared an Enemy of the People by the Soviet regime and suffered from life-long ill health.

String Quartet No 8 in C minor, opus 110.
Even after his bête noire Stalin died in 1953 misery continued to dog Shostakovich’s life. His wife Nina died soon after Stalin. When he wrote this “autobiographical” quartet over three days in July 1960 in Dresden he had just got divorced from his second wife, was forced to join the Communist Party and begun to suffer from poliomyelitis. Little wonder then that the five movements of the piece reflect various shades of black. Friends said he had intended to commit suicide on his return to Russia.

String Quartet No 13 in B flat minor, opus 138.
He didn’t get round to committing suicide and ten years later he wrote this even more bleak and harrowing  one-movement “languid dance of death" while he was in hospital. In the quartet's central section (dubbed a "jam session from Hell" by violinist Eugene Drucker) the performers are instructed to rap on their instruments with their bows, creating an effect like nails being hammered down on a coffin lid. Shostakovich died of lung cancer in 1975.

Vanitas Quartet
The members of the Vanitas quartet met while studying for their Masters Degrees in performance at the Royal College of Music in London. Their name is inspired by the genre of still life artwork which contrasts objects of wealth with symbols of decay to depict the transience of life, the futility of pleasure and the certainty of death.