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Views & Reviews Medical Classics

Shostakovich’s sonata for viola and piano

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 31 August 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e5860
  1. Desmond O’Neill, consultant physician in geriatric and stroke medicine, Dublin
  1. doneill{at}

The viola is an instrument dark in tone and portent. It adds an often underappreciated depth and timbre, but is rarely to the fore in the orchestra. However, in the last century the viola became the vehicle for the final expressions of many of the great composers, including Brahms, Bartok, Britten, Schnittke, and Shostakovich. No other instrument so tellingly combines such sweetness, depth, melancholy, and richness.

The final testaments of these composers offer insights into the last stages of life and approaching death that are pertinent to all doctors who work with the ageing and dying. This is particularly the …

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