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Leningrad premire of Shostakovichs

Symphony No. 7
The Leningrad premire of Shostakovichs Symphony No. 7 occurred on 9 August 1942 during the
Second World War, while the city of Leningrad (now St.
Petersburg) was under siege by Nazi German forces.
Dmitri Shostakovich had intended for the piece to be premired by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, but because of the siege that group was evacuated from the city,
as was the composer himself. The world premire of the
symphony was held in Kuibyshev with the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra. The Leningrad premire was performed
by the surviving musicians of the Leningrad Radio Orchestra, supplemented with military performers. Most of
the musicians were starving, which made rehearsing difcult: musicians frequently collapsed during rehearsals,
and three died. The orchestra was able to play the sym- The siege caused mass casualties via cold and starvation.
phony all the way through only once before the concert.
Despite the poor condition of the performers and many
of the audience members, the concert was highly successful, prompting an hour-long ovation. The concert
was supported by a Soviet military oensive, code-named
Squall, intended to silence German forces during the performance. The symphony was broadcast to the German
lines by loudspeaker as a form of psychological warfare.
The Leningrad premire was considered by music critics
to be one of the most important artistic performances of
the war because of its psychological and political eects.
The conductor concluded that in that moment, we triumphed over the soulless Nazi war machine.[1] Reunion
concerts featuring surviving musicians were convened in
1964 and 1992 to commemorate the event.

Samosud.[3] The Moscow premire was given by a combination of the Bolshoi and the All-Union Radio orchestras on 29 March in the Columned Hall of the House of
The microlmed score of the symphony was own to
Tehran in April to allow its promulgation to the West.[6]
It received its radio premire in Western Europe on 22
June, in a performance broadcast by Henry Wood and
the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and its concert premire at a Promenade concert at Londons Royal Albert
Hall on 29 June.[3] The North American premire was
broadcast from New York City on 19 July 1942 by the
NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini.[7]

2 Preparation


The Leningrad Radio Orchestra under Karl Eliasberg was

the only remaining symphonic ensemble in Leningrad after the Philharmonic was evacuated.[8] The Radio Orchestras last performance had taken place on 14 December 1941 and its nal broadcast on 1 January 1942.[9]
A log note from the next scheduled rehearsal reads Rehearsal did not take place. Srabian is dead. Petrov is sick.
Shostakovich wanted the Leningrad Philharmonic Or- Borishev is dead. Orchestra not working.
chestra to premire the symphony, but that group had On 2 April 1942, Boris Zagorsky and Yasha Babushkin
been evacuated to Novosibirsk as part of the government- of the Leningrad city arts department announced prepaled cultural exodus.[3] Instead, the world premire was rations for the symphonys performance.[11] The hiatus
held in Kuibyshev on 5 March 1942, performed by in musical broadcasts was quickly ended by Andrei Zhthe Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra under conductor Samuil danov, a Soviet politician involved in the defence of
Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich (190675) completed his Symphony No. 7 on 27 December 1941
and dedicated it to his native Leningrad. At the time
Leningrad was under a 900-day siege by Nazi German
forces, which would kill about a third of the citys prewar population.[2]

Leningrad, to allow for rehearsals and provide a morale
boost for the city.[11] Performing the symphony became
a matter of civic, even military, pride.[12] According to
an orchestra member, the Leningrad authorities wanted
to give the people some emotional stimulation so that
they could feel cared for.[13] It was considered an important political act because of its potential value as
Of the original 40-member Leningrad Radio Orchestra,
only 14 or 15 still lived in the city; the others had either starved to death or left to ght the enemy.[15][16][17]
Shostakovichs symphony required an expanded orchestra of 100 players, meaning the remaining personnel were
grossly insucient.[17] Eliasberg, at the time being treated
for dystrophy,[18] went door to door to seek out those
musicians who had not responded to the orchestras reassembly due to starvation or weakness.[9] My God, how
thin many of them were, one of the organizers remembered. How those people livened up when we started to
ferret them out of their dark apartments. We were moved
to tears when they brought out their concert clothes, their
violins and cellos and utes, and rehearsals began under
the icy canopy of the studio.[19] A plane carrying supplies from Kuibyshev airlifted the symphonys 252-page
conductors score into Leningrad.[20][21]
The rst rehearsal in March 1942 was intended to be three
hours long, but had to be stopped after 15 minutes because the 30 musicians present were too weak to play
their instruments.[11][18] They frequently collapsed during
rehearsals, especially those playing brass instruments.[16]
Eliasberg himself had to be dragged to rehearsals on a
sledge, and was eventually moved by Communist ocials
to an apartment nearby and given a bicycle for transport.
His rst attempts at conducting were like a wounded bird
with wings that are going to drop at any moment.[17][22]
A report by Babushkin noted that the rst violin is dying,
the drum died on his way to work, the French horn is at
deaths door ....[23] Orchestral players were given additional rations (donated by civilian music enthusiasts) in an
eort to combat starvation, and hot bricks were used to
radiate heat; nevertheless, three performers died during
rehearsals.[11][22][24][25] Posters went up around the city
requesting all musicians to report to the Radio Committee for incorporation into the orchestra. Performers were
also recalled from the front or reassigned from Soviet military bands with the support of the Soviet commander of
the Leningrad front, Leonid Govorov.[11]


sicians who missed rehearsals, were late, or did not perform to expectations lost their rations. One performer
lost rations because he had attended his wifes burial and
was late for rehearsal.[11] Although some sources suggest a team of copyists was employed, according to other
sources musicians were made to copy out their individual
parts by hand from the score.[11][12]
Rehearsals were held six days a week at the Pushkin Theatre, usually from 10 am to 1 pm. However, they were
frequently interrupted by air-raid sirens, and some musicians were required to undertake anti-aircraft or reghting duties. To enable them to attend rehearsals, performers were granted orchestral ID cards to show at checkpoints. Members of the military orchestra (and some ordinary troops) were dispatched to the rehearsals to supplement the performers. Rehearsals were moved to the
Philharmonic Hall in June, and in late July were increased
to 56 hours a day.[11][24][28] Instruments were in poor
condition and few repairmen were available; one oboist
was asked for a cat in exchange for a repair, as the starving repairman had already eaten several.[13][29]
The orchestra played the entire symphony all the way
through only once before the premire, at a dress rehearsal on 6 August.[11]

3 Performance

In addition to the Seventh Symphony, the makeshift

orchestra also rehearsed traditional symphonic works
by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov.
A concert of Tchaikovsky excerpts was held on 5
April.[18][26][27] Some players protested the decision to
perform Shostakovichs symphony, not wanting to expend
their little strength on an intricate and not very accessi- The modern stage of the Grand Philharmonia Hall where the
ble work. Eliasberg threatened to rescind the additional concert was performed
rations, quelling any dissent.[27] During the rehearsals,
Eliasberg was criticized for his harsh demeanour: mu- The concert was given on 9 August 1942. This was the

day Hitler had previously designated to celebrate the fall
of the city with a lavish banquet at Leningrads Astoria Hotel.[10] The performance was preceded by a prerecorded radio address by Eliasberg, aired at 6 pm:[11][30]
Comrades a great occurrence in the
cultural history of our city is about to take
place. In a few minutes, you will hear for
the rst time the Seventh Symphony of Dmitri
Shostakovich, our outstanding fellow citizen.
He wrote this great composition in the city during the days when the enemy was, insanely, trying to enter Leningrad. When the fascist swine
were bombing and shelling all Europe, and Europe believed the days of Leningrad were over.
But this performance is witness to our spirit,
courage and readiness to ght. Listen, Comrades!
Lieutenant-General Govorov ordered a bombardment of
German artillery positions in advance of the concert in a
special operation, code-named Squall.[19] Soviet intelligence personnel had located the German batteries and observation posts a few weeks before, in preparation for the
attack.[14] Three thousand high-caliber shells were lobbed
onto the enemy.[31] The purpose of the operation was
to prevent the Germans from targeting the concert hall
and to ensure that it would be quiet enough to hear the
music over speakers he ordered to be set up. He also
encouraged Soviet soldiers to listen to the concert via
radio.[32] Musicologist Andrei Krukov later praised Govorovs actions as providing the incentive for the concert,
adding that his choice to allow soldiers to participate was
a quite exceptional decision.[33] Govorov himself later
remarked to Eliasberg that we played our instrument in
the symphony, too, you know, in reference to the artillery re.[11] The military contribution to the aair was
not widely known until well after the war ended.[13]
There was a large audience for the concert, comprising party leaders, military personnel, and civilians.
Leningrad citizens who could not t into the hall gathered
around open windows and loudspeakers. The musicians
onstage were dressed like cabbages in multiple layers
to prevent starvation-induced shivering.[11][24] Shortly before the concert started, the electric lights above the stage
were turned on for the rst time since rehearsals had
commenced.[11] As the hall fell silent, Eliasberg began
conducting. The performance was of poor artistic quality,
but was notable for the emotions raised in the audience
and for its nale: when some musicians faltered due to
exhaustion, the audience stood up in a remarkable, spontaneous gesture ... willing them to keep going.[24][30]
The performance received an hour-long standing ovation, with Eliasberg being given a symbolic bouquet of
Leningrad-grown owers by a young girl.[11][22] Many in
the audience were in tears due to the emotional impact of
the concert, which was seen as a musical biography of

suering Leningrad.[34] The musicians were invited to a

banquet with Party ocials to celebrate.[11]
Loudspeakers broadcast the performance throughout the
city as well as to the German forces in a move of psychological warfare, a tactical strike against German
morale.[12][35] One German soldier recalled how his
squadron listened to the symphony of heroes.[36] Eliasberg later met with some of the Germans who camped
outside Leningrad during the performance, who told him
that it had made them believe they would never capture the city: Who are we bombing? We will never
be able to take Leningrad because the people here are

4 Reception and legacy

Shostakovich scholar Laurel Fay suggests that this concert
was an event of legendary import all by itself.[6] Journalist Michael Tumely calls it a legendary moment in Soviet political and military history.[17] Critic U.S. Dhuga
suggests that this performance was popularly and, of
course, ocially recognized as the prelude to actual victory over the Germans.[38] The blockade was breached
in early 1943 and ended in 1944. Eliasberg concurred
with Dhugas assessment, saying that the whole city had
found its humanity ... in that moment, we triumphed over
the soulless Nazi war machine.[1] There was no ocial
recognition of the signicance of the concert: one musician noted that afterwards there was no feedback, nothing until 1945.[11]
Shostakovichs Symphony No. 7 enjoyed a measure of
popularity throughout the Western world during the war,
but from 1945 it largely stopped being performed outside the Soviet Union. It became a point of controversy in the 1980s after Solomon Volkov's Testimony suggested it was a critique not of the Nazis, but of the Soviet
government.[34] The veracity of Volkovs account, which
he claims is rooted in interviews with Shostakovich, has
been debated.[39] Other issues of contention about the
symphony include whether it was inspired by the attack on Leningrad (as Soviet authorities and ocial accounts had asserted) or planned earlier and repurposed
for propaganda, as well as its artistic merit in reference
to Shostakovichs other works.[39][40]
The premire made Eliasberg a hero of the city. Shortly
after the concert, he married Nina Bronnikova, who had
played the piano part. But once the siege ended and the
Philharmonic returned to Leningrad, he fell from favour.
The conductor of the Philharmonic, Yevgeny Mravinsky, had him red in 1950 because he envied Eliasbergs popular acclaim. Eliasberg was a poor and largely
forgotten travelling conductor when he died in 1978.
However, at the fty-year anniversary of the premire
his remains were moved to the prestigious Volkovskoye
or Alexander Nevsky Cemetery, the result of a cam-


paign by orchestra archivist Galina Retrovskaya, conduc- [17] Tumelty, Michael (7 October 2009). The musical monster that deed Nazi invaders. Glasgow Herald. p. 16.
tor Yuri Temirkanov, and St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly
Sobchak.[11][41] Sarah Quigley ctionalized Eliasbergs
[18] Salisbury 2003, p. 512.
wartime career in her historical novel The Conductor.[16]
Surviving performers participated in reunion concerts in
1964 and 1992, playing from the same seats in the same
hall.[10] Shostakovich attended the rst reunion concert on 27 January 1964.[11] Twenty-two musicians and
Eliasberg performed the symphony, and instruments were
placed on the other chairs to represent those participants
who had died since the premire.[41] The 1992 performance featured the 14 remaining survivors.[10] The 1942
concert was also commemorated in the 1997 lm The
War Symphonies: Shostakovich Against Stalin.[42] There is
a small museum dedicated to the event at School No. 235
in St. Petersburg, which includes a statue of Shostakovich
and artifacts from the performance.[43]

[19] Sollertinsky 1980, p. 108.

[20] Trudeau, Noah Andre (Spring 2005). A Symphony of
War. Quarterly Journal of Military History 17 (3): 24
[21] Lincoln 2009, p. 293.
[22] Viktorova, Natalia (9 August 2012). Victory day in wartorn Leningrad. Voice of Russia. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
[23] Axell 2002, p. 94.
[24] Robinson 1995, p. 70.
[25] Jones 2008, p. 257.


[26] Reid 2011, p. 361.

[27] Volkov 2004, pp. 179180.

[1] Jones 2008, p. 261.

[2] 1944: Leningrad siege ends after 900 days. BBC. 2008.
Retrieved 13 December 2012.
[3] Programme notes: Saturday 18th May 2002. London
Shostakovich Orchestra. May 2002. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
[4] Fay 1989, p. 131.
[5] Robinson 1995, p. 69.
[6] Fay 1989, p. 132.
[7] von Rein, John (31 October 1993). Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 1, 5 and 7. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 14
December 2012.
[8] Ford 2011, p. 103.
[9] Reid 2011, pp. 360361.
[10] Vulliamy, Ed (25 November 2001). Orchestral manoeuvres (part 1)". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 December
[11] Vulliamy, Ed (25 November 2001). Orchestral manoeuvres (part 2)". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 December
[12] Fay 1989, p. 133.

[28] Simmons & Perlina 2005, pp. 148149.

[29] Simmons & Perlina 2005, p. 147.
[30] Jones 2008, p. 260.
[31] Volkov 2004, p. 180.
[32] Jones 2008, pp. 265266.
[33] Jones 2008, p. 295.
[34] Robinson 1995, p. 71.
[35] Ross 2008, p. 269.
[36] Dimbleby 2010, Siege of Leningrad.
[37] Colley, Rupert (9 August 2011). The Leningrad Symphony. History in an Hour. Retrieved 13 December
[38] Dhuga, U. S. (2004). Music Chronicle. The Hudson
Review 57 (1): 125132.
[39] Fay, Laurel (1980).
Shostakovich versus Volkov:
Whose Testimony?". Russian Review 39 (40): 484493.
doi:10.2307/128813. JSTOR 128813.
[40] Fairclough, P (May 2007). The 'Old Shostakovich': Reception in the British Press. Music and Letters 88 (2):
266296. doi:10.1093/ml/gcm002.

[13] Stolyarova, Galina (23 January 2004). Music played on

as artists died. The St. Petersburg Times 937 (5). Retrieved 15 December 2012.

[41] Colley, Rupert (10 June 2012). Karl Eliasberg. History

in an Hour. Retrieved 13 December 2012.

[14] Volkov 1997, p. 440.

[42] McCannon, John (1999).

The War Symphonies:
Shostakovich Against Stalin. Journal for Multimedia History 2.

[15] Sollertinsky 1980, p. 107.

[16] Bathurst, Bella (15 July 2012). "The Conductor by Sarah
Quigley review. The Observer. Retrieved 18 December

[43] Jones 2008, p. 7.


Axell, Albert (2002). Russias heroes. Carrol &
Graf. ISBN 978-0-7867-1011-9.
Dimbleby, Jonathan (2010). Russia: A Journey to
the Heart of a Land and Its People. Random House.
ISBN 978-1-4090-7346-8.
Fay, Laurel (1989). Shostakovich: A Life. Oxford
University Press. ISBN 0-19-513438-9.
Ford, Andrew (2011). Illegal harmonies: music in
the modern age (3rd ed.). Black Inc. ISBN 978-186395-528-7.
Jones, Michael (2008). Leningrad: State of Siege.
Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-01153-7.
Lincoln, Bruce (2009). Sunlight at Midnight. Basic
Books. ISBN 978-0-7867-3089-6.
Reid, Anna (2011). Leningrad. Penguin Canada.
ISBN 978-0-14-318574-1.
Robinson, Harlow (1995). Composing for Victory. In Stites, Richard. Culture and Entertainment
in Wartime Russia. Indiana University Press. pp.
6276. ISBN 0-253-20949-8.
Ross, Alex (2008). The Rest is Noise: Listening to
the Twentieth Century. Picador. ISBN 978-0-31242771-9.
Salisbury, Harrison (2003). The 900 Days: the siege
of Leningrad. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-78673024-7.
Simmons, Cynthia; Perlina, Nina, eds. (2005).
Writing the Siege of Leningrad. University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 978-0-8229-7274-7.
Sollertinsky, Dmitri & Ludmilla (1980). Hobbs,
Graham; Midgley, Charles, eds. Pages from the Life
of Dmitri Shostakovich. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
ISBN 0-15-170730-8.
Volkov, Solomon (1997). St. Petersburg: a cultural
history. Free Press Paperbacks. ISBN 978-0-68483296-8.
Volkov, Solomon (2004). Shostakovich and Stalin:
The Extraordinary Relationship Between the Great
Composer and the Brutal Dictator. Knopf. ISBN 0375-41082-1.

External links
Shostakovich Against Stalin segment on concert begins at 35 minutes
1941 Toscanini performance


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