The Leningrad Symphony

Russians can write some awesomely violent classical music. Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” for example, is scored for cannon.

Dmitri Shostakovich beats that.

His seventh symphony was dedicated to his home city, Leningrad. Unfortunately, the debut there happened while the city was surrounded by Nazis and filled with death because it was World War II and the Siege of Leningrad was on.

The local Soviet commander therefore launched Operation Squall – a massive Soviet bombardment of Nazi artillery positions with three thousand high-caliber shells in the most unsubtle (and effective) “Shhh!” in history.

Seriously – the Russians blew away Nazi siege artillery so they could listen to this symphony without interruption.

And then they wept as it was played by their fellow besiegees.


Selling tickets for the Leningrad premiere. Шостакович means “Shostakovich.” (Source)

Symphony No. 7 can still rip a 21st century heart to pieces without firing a single cannon shot.

The 1942 Leningrad premiere of an already extreme work was so intense, it has its own Wikipedia page today. (Ordinarily one doesn’t have to warn people about images of corpses at a link to a classical concert unless Loki’s in the neighborhood, but there are such images at that link.)

Dmitri Shostakovitch himself was complex, and he lived in difficult times. Discussions about him tend to resemble those nesting dolls, because it’s one thing after another on down into infinity.

Setting all that aside, I tend to agree with those who believe the Seventh was also meant to secretly protest Stalin’s changes in Saint Petersburg/Petrograd/Leningrad/Saint Petersburg as well as Hitler’s invasion, for no other reason than that in it I can hear the themes from his Fifth Symphony, the musical embodiment of fear, paranoia and hope in a totalitarian world.

Shostakovich embellishes those themes in the Seventh only to then tear them apart, bleed them out and build a new and yet old ending. It’s amazing (and very Russian).

Enough words. Here’s Symphony No. 7: just listen to it. It’s not easy…but if it grabs you like it did me, try not to cry.


Categories: Random thoughts

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