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.