Book Club: Between string quartets and Shostakovich

From our moderator, Anthea Kreston:

The Fortnightly Music Book Club takes a final look at Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music. We also have a sneak-peek at the next club, with an exciting investigation into the life and sounds of Shostakovich. Fortnightly is designed for both in-depth readers and those simply interested in the topic at hand. The books are a jumping-off point for lively dialogue. So join us, in whichever manner you choose – it’s always great to hear from you all!

The British cellist Sally Pendlebury was a member of the Vellinger Quartet, the quartet which was studied by Vikram Seth during the writing of An Equal Music. The writing in An Equal Music is deeply personal, poetic, and the themes weave between lost/gained love, the struggle for musical fulfilment and the complex lives of a successful touring string quartet.

Reader Question:
Is it difficult for a quartet member to retain their individuality? How important is this, musically and personally?

Sally Pendlebury:
‘I think it’s quite hard to gauge how caught up ones identity becomes with a quartet. In the Vellingers we all did other things outside the quartet, each of us was in at least one other chamber group (although none of these met as regularly as the quartet) and we all had, either positions, or regular work with orchestras too. This was extremely important for all of us. I believe it served as outside nourishment and a source of interest and influence.

‘What I was totally unprepared for was the feeling of utter loss I felt when we gave our final concert and hung up our bows. I was bereft and felt strangely unsure of who I was anymore……in other words I had not understood quite how much my sense of ‘self’ was tied up with the identity of the quartet. I hadn’t bargained for that at all and the loss of belonging shocked me. I suppose it was an intense version of not knowing what one has until one has it no longer!

‘These days I’m playing Quartets again with the Fitzwilliam Quartet who are this year celebrating 50 years of playing together. They had already been at it for 48 years before I came along. It’s a very different feeling to step into a quartet with that extraordinarily legacy and who have tried and tested just about everything. One thing links these two very different quartet experiences though. It doesn’t matter how many years a Quartet has been together, once you start rehearsing some of the greatest music ever written, you are filled with awe and wonder and it can’t fail to be anything other than emotionally overwhelming and intense. I feel very fortunate to have a second chance to immerse myself in the repertoire and the quartet life.’

Thank you, Sally, for taking the time to speak with us.



Sneak Peek:
Shostakovich: the man, the culture, the music. We have an All-Star cast answering questions – from the author Elisabeth Wilson, to pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja, to Elisabeth von Leliwa, Vice President of the German Shostakovich Society. And other people not named Elisabeth! So get your kindles ready, or click on Amazon to get your hard copies. We will be reading 3 books – you choose which is your style, and submit questions according to your passions. In addition, the Artemis Quartet‘s CD release of the Shostakovich 5th and 7th Quartets, and Quintet with Leonskaja is due to be released next week. We will be investigating that audio as well.

Julian Barnes: The Noise of Time
Elisabeth Wilson: Shostakovich, A Life Remembered
Solomon Volkov: Testimony
Artemis Quartet: Shostakovich (Erato)

Questions can be left below in comments, or sent to

share this

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on google
  • Theatre de Complicite staged a collaboration with the Lindsays, which (I think?) was called either ‘The Noise of Sound’ or ‘The Sound of Noise’?

    It was an astonishing event which involved the quartet taking part as actors in the show, and ended with a complete performance of DSCH SQ 15. I caught the show on a rather rumbustious night at the Theatre Royal in Bath… it was so gripping, that even an audience fuelled by generous gin-and-tonics in the interval were rapt in silent amazement for the music which ended the show 🙂 I somewhat fear that Julian Barnes’s book (cited above) had rather stolen the thunder (putting it politely) from the McBurneys’ show (both S and G were credited as authors). This was all about 10+ years ago, and there’s sadly not a molecule of it to be found on YouTube, or even on Complicite’s own website either.

  • This all sounds fascinating, but why is Ms Kreston promoting a multinational company with a pricing model designed to squeeze others out of business and an unethical approach to minimising its tax liabilities (an approach simply not available to most companies). Is she (and/or Slipped Disc) being paid by Amazon for the two product placements (reference to Kindles and reference to the retail website)? If so, that should be made transparent.

    And, by the way, there are plenty of online book-selling platforms which are far more ethical than the one promoted by Ms Kreston, many of them with comparably good (or better) prices.

    • The answer to your question is, No. If you have conspiracy theories, please peddle them somewhere else.

    • Hi SVM –
      Thanks for your thoughts. Great idea to look wherever you want to for materials! I think I even saw a free pdf of the Testimony book online. In Germany, these are the easiest ways for me to get English language books. There really aren’t any libraries or book stores that would carry these specialty items. What are your suggestions? This is a great platform to share them – that’s kindof the whole point – we have ideas and thoughts to share. I haven’t ever actually had an e-reader (I sometimes check out books through my old library in Oregon, and they just come on to my phone). Please let us know other ways to find the materials.

  • >