The Leningrad Symphony

Ponder the Leningrad Symphony, an example of desperate action in the face of insurmountable odds,a template for the power of music. Why do warriors sing when charging into battle? Why does music transport us to a different time and place? Transcending political boundaries, music speaks to the heart of all that makes us human.

The siege of Leningrad lasted 872 days,  lost in the pages of history: nearly a million people would die before it finally ended. Hitler,  determined to erase it from memory was responsible for  the largest death toll suffered by any city in our history.

Conductor/composer Dmitri Shostakovich was working on his 7th symphony when the siege began in 1941. Despite a determination to stay in the city; several months later he became the last of his symphony  evacuated.  Continuing his work, nearly a year later it was performed in Kuibyshev, and then Moscow.  Stalin decided it would be good for Leningrad moral to play it within the city. A copy of the score was airlifted into the hands of Karl Eliasberg, conductor of the Leningrad Radio Orchestra. problem was – it was written for a large orchestra and of the 100 or so original members of the Radio orchestra, only 14 remained alive. Eliasberg scoured the city for anyone who could play an instrument.

On August 9, 1942, the now Leningrad symphony was performed in entirety for a full house at the Philharmonic Hall.  Musicians so weakened by starvation, had to be carried in on stretchers.  For 75 minutes they played, broadcast throughout the city, and to the German lines – witnesses reported German soldiers weeping. The barely living audience is said to have found the will to applaud for an hour.

For just over an hour time stopped, misery evaporated,  tortured souls found peace.

For The St. Petersburg Times

Dmitry Shostakovich pictured in the 1940s when he wrote the Seventh Symphony.

19 thoughts on “The Leningrad Symphony

  1. I admit that isn’t a religion I’ve ever heard of – will check it out. 🙂

    Another odd story – In my post a little while ago about weather (Call Me Crazy) I gave a revisionist snippet about an old Navajo man who spoke to us while watching a flash flood. I kept the actual events out of the story as lots of people already think I’m a bit of a “wing nut”

    There was a flash flood, it was a crazy day for thunderstorms. An hour or so later we were driving along a deserted secondary highway in the Navajo reservation. Another storm was about to unleash, we pulled off the road and got out to watch it. This is when the old man appeared and started explaining mother earth sending the storm. He spoke with reverence and conviction that sent chills up my spine. He spoke softly; his words came from his soul, yet sounded so sad and defeated. Our backs were to him, mesmerized by the sky, caught between his words and the storm. My husband and I both had tears streaming down our faces; the closest thing to spirituality I’ve ever felt. It was as if we were in a trance. He stopped talking and at the exact same time my husband and I turned to thank him. He was gone! I swear – he had vanished into thin air. We drove up and down that road searching for him. Our poor children were thinking WTF as both of us bawled our eyes out. We never found him, and had there not been my family to witness his appearance, I would have thought I had lost my mind.

    In hindsight – ground zero for my interest in ancient civilizations.

  2. Pingback: Regret Large Tomahawk Vanity in Leningrad | notestoponder

  3. What an incredible story. I’m listening to the symphony now. Yes, the power of music…is powerful. Thanks for bringing this one up again. It was before I started following your blog and is a real treasure.

    • Few people know about the siege of Leningrad. At the time, the last thing Germany wanted was for news of their long “stand off” to be made public. History is littered with hushed/swept under the carpet/revisionist accounts of horrific magnitude. I learned of this story a few years ago while driving and listening to CBC radio – it was told from the perspective of one musician. I had to pull of the road because I was weeping uncontrollably.Thank you for linking to and reading the post.

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