Composing the modern subject: four string quartets by Dmitri Shostakovich

Access full-text files




Reichardt, Sarah Jane

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The music of Dmitri Shostakovich is full of ironic gestures, musical enigmas that call for nuanced hermeneutic understanding. While the ambiguities in the music have been traditionally been viewed as emanating from Soviet culture, I argue that they are actually characteristics of the modern subject in general. My study views Shostakovich’s String Quartets through the lens of Slavoj Žižek’s Lacanian influenced critical theory where the concept of the real—the empty center around which we construct reality, is vital. I focus on the Sixth through Eighth Quartets, as each of these quartets reveals one of the three forms of the pathological manifestation of the real within constructed reality. With each quartet I begin with a close reading of the score in order to find the tears in the musical fabric in which a pathological encounter of the real can be discerned. The Ninth quartet is then discussed as an example of a shift in perspective with respect to the real, in which the means of engaging with the ruptures of the real are less pathological and more constructive.