Fireman Shostakovich

ShostroofAnna Aslanyan at The London Review of Books:

On 20 July 1942, Time magazine led with a story on ‘Fireman Shostakovich’. ‘Amid bombs bursting in Leningrad he heard the chords of victory,’ the caption on the cover said, under a picture based on a Soviet propaganda photo taken on the roof of the Leningrad Conservatoire in September 1941. Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, dedicated to the besieged city of Leningrad, had received its American premiere on 19 July 1942, played by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini. On 22 June, the first anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, it was broadcast live by the BBC: the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Henry Wood raced through the score, finishing four minutes earlier than the scheduled time, to the studio manager’s dismay.

Shostakovich began work on the piece in July 1941 and finished it in December, in the city of Kuibyshev. The symphony was first performed there on 5 March 1942. Meanwhile in Leningrad, the most devastating winter of the siege was drawing to an end, with the daily bread ration going down to 250 grams for workers and 125 grams for white collars and their dependants, and yet there was music in the city.

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