Leningrad première of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7

Dmitri Shostakovich in 1950

The Leningrad première of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 took place 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 the piece to be premièred by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, but because of the siege, that group was evacuated from the city, as was the composer himself. The world première of the symphony was held on 5 March in Kuybyshev with the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra. The Leningrad première was performed by the surviving musicians of the Leningrad Radio Orchestra, supplemented with military performers. Most of the musicians were suffering from starvation, 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.

Despite the poor condition of the performers, the concert was highly successful, prompting an hour-long ovation. The concert was supported by a Soviet military offensive, 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 première was considered by music critics to be one of the most important artistic performances of the war because of its psychological and political effects. 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.

Background

The siege caused mass casualties from cold and starvation.

Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975) completed his Symphony No. 7 on 27 December 1941 and dedicated it to his native Leningrad. At the time the city was about 16 weeks into its 900-day siege by Nazi German forces, which would kill about a third of the city's pre-war population. [2]

Shostakovich wanted the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra to première the symphony, but that group had been evacuated to Novosibirsk as part of the government-led cultural exodus. [3] The world première was instead held in Kuybyshev on 5 March 1942, performed by the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra under conductor Samuil Samosud. [3] The Moscow première 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 Unions. [4] [5]

The microfilmed score of the symphony was flown to Tehran in April to allow its promulgation to the West. [6] It received its radio première in Western Europe on 22 June, in a performance broadcast by Henry Wood and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and its concert première at a Promenade concert at London's Royal Albert Hall on 29 June. [3] The North American première was broadcast from New York City on 19 July 1942 by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini. [7]