Dmitri Shostakovich – Symphony No. 7 “Leningrad”


– Composer: Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (25 September 1906 — 9 August 1975)
– Orchestra: Chicago Symphony Orchestra
– Conductor: Leonard Bernstein
– Year of recording: 1988

Symphony No. 7 in C major (Leningrad), Op. 60, written in 1941.

00:00:00 – I. [War]. Allegretto
00:31:49 – II. [Memories]. Moderato (poco allegretto)
00:46:41 – III. [My Native Field]. Adagio
01:06:05 – IV. [Victory]. Allegro non troppo

It is impossible to deny the overwhelming impact Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 had on its listeners in 1942: The Leningrad première was performed by the surviving musicians of the Leningrad Radio Orchestra, supplemented with military performers. Most of the musicians were starving, which made rehearsing difficult: musicians frequently collapsed during rehearsals, and three died. The orchestra was able to play the symphony all the way through only once before the concert. Shostakovich was not present at the première, because he had been evacuated. Even so, the performance received an hour-long standing ovation.

Written by Shostakovich after he had been transported out of his besieged hometown of Leningrad, the Seventh is a patriotic hymn to his city and country and a rallying cry to the foes of fascism. Initially dedicated to the life and deeds of Vladimir Lenin, Shostakovich decided instead to dedicate the symphony to the city of Leningrad on its completion in December 1941.

Its premiere in the U.S.S.R. was world news, and the securing its first performance rights in the West was contested by Toscanini, Stokowski, and Koussevitzky. Toscanini won, and the work was rapturously received and repeatedly performed. But even before the war had ended, the exalted position of the “Leningrad” Symphony had slipped, and commentators in the West derided it as pompous and prosaic. The symphony, rehabilitated from being a patriotic piece to being a subversive piece based on the purported testimony of Shostakovich, only later received regular performances in the West. The truth is that Shostakovich’s Seventh is an enormous piece for a gargantuan orchestra set in four vast movements lasting more than 70-80 minutes in performances.

– Its opening Allegretto, about half an hour in length, has proud and determined C major themes at its start and close, and a central section that takes a theme from Offenbach and turns it into a massive ostinato that overwhelms the C major themes with its brutal banality.
– This is followed by a haunted Moderato of plucked strings and screeching woodwinds and by …
– a vast Adagio with stirring strings and bold brass.
– The closing Allegro non troppo returns to the monumental style of the opening movement with grand and glorious themes culminating in an interminable C major climax.

The truth is that the Seventh is a work of banal themes and bombastic climaxes, but Shostakovich’s imagination and discipline have fused the banal and bombastic into an overwhelming musical work.

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