Symphony No. 7 (Shostakovich)

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Shostakovich in 1942 Kompozitor Dmitrii Dmitrievich Shostakovich.jpg
Shostakovich in 1942

Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 60, nicknamed the Leningrad, was begun in Leningrad, completed in the city of Samara (then known as Kuybyshev) in December 1941, and premiered in that city on March 5, 1942. At first dedicated to Lenin, it was eventually submitted in honor of the besieged city of Leningrad, where it was first played under dire circumstances on August 9, 1942, nearly a year into the siege by German and Finnish forces. [1] [2] The performance was broadcast by loudspeaker throughout the city and to the German forces in a show of resilience and defiance. The Leningrad soon became popular in both the Soviet Union and the West as a symbol of resistance to fascism and totalitarianism, thanks in part to the composer's microfilming of the score in Samara and its clandestine delivery, via Tehran and Cairo, to New York, where Arturo Toscanini led a broadcast performance (July 19, 1942) and Time magazine placed Shostakovich on its cover. [3] That popularity faded somewhat after 1945, but the work is still regarded as a major musical testament to the 27 million Soviet people who lost their lives in World War II, and it is often played at Leningrad Cemetery, where half a million victims of the 900-day Siege of Leningrad are buried. [4]


Length and form

Shostakovich's longest symphony typically takes approximately 80 minutes to perform. [5] The work has four movements. Shostakovich at first gave them titles [6] [7] —"War", "Reminiscence", "Home Expanses", and "Victory"—but he soon withdrew these and left the movements with their tempo markings alone.

I. Allegretto

This is in modified sonata form and lasts for around half an hour; there are the usual two contrasting subjects, but no development section, this being replaced by the 'invasion' theme. It begins with a rousing, majestic theme played by all the strings and later echoed by the woodwinds. The theme rises in pitch through the first moments of the piece, with octave-long runs in the strings. This is followed by a slower, more tranquil section driven by flutes and lower strings, which peters out only to be replaced by the "invasion" march: a 22-bar, snare-drum-led ostinato that will pervade much of the movement. It resembles Ravel's Boléro , but the march is derived from "Da geh' ich zu Maxim" from Franz Lehár's The Merry Widow for its latter half [8] [ better source needed ] and a theme from Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District , the work for which the composer suffered his first official denunciation in 1936. [9] The prominent sequence of six descending notes in the seventh bar, from Lehár, has been said by the musicologist Ian MacDonald to bear a "passing resemblance to the third bar of [the "Deutschlandlied"]. [8] [ better source needed ] The march is repeated twelve times, incrementally gaining in volume and orchestral mass. At the end of the twelfth repetition, the brass interject very loudly with a new, more frantic theme, announcing the arrival of the invaders.[ citation needed ] The passage has rising and falling scales, one after the other. The snare drum beats at an increased rate, and several exchanges between the brass occur, with dramatic minor sweeping movements in the trombones and horns resembling danger sirens. This climaxes in a somewhat slower, but loud and chaotic passage driven by competing blaring brass and frantic strings. A slower, two-part section follows: a very prominent bassoon solo (introduced by a solo clarinet), then a soft, moving recapitulation of the first theme played by the strings. The short coda presents the invasion theme one last time, played by a solo trumpet and percussion.

II. Moderato (poco allegretto)

This is the symphony's shortest movement. Shostakovich referred to it as both a scherzo and a lyric intermezzo. It begins in the latter vein with a quiet, playful theme in the strings. Some aspects of the interplay of the violins are evocative of a fugue. Moments later, a solo oboe plays a high variation on the tune. Other instruments continue with tunes of their own for several moments. Then, in the middle of the movement, woodwinds interject with a brash, shrill theme, followed by brass, then strings, then woodwinds. This eventually leads to a quick, majestic passage that is another ostinato, but different from the invasion theme in the first movement. The remaining third of the movement is much like the beginning of the second movement. [10]

III. Adagio

The third movement (15–20 minutes) is structured much like the second, with a slow initial theme, a faster middle section that evokes the first movement, and a recapitulation of the initial theme. Shostakovich stated elsewhere that he had hoped to portray Leningrad by twilight, its streets and the embankments of the Neva River suspended in stillness. Woodwinds begin with slow, sustained notes, accentuated by the horns. This simple theme cadences, and is followed by a declamatory theme played by violins. Winds and brass repeat the string theme, which the strings take over with another brief variation. This transitions directly into a faster and fiercer passage. The violins return with the opening theme of the movement. This builds into a somewhat frantic passage underlaid by an ostinato in the lower strings (a deliberately awkward "oomph-pah" motif). This leads into a loud development section evoking the first movement. However, the passage ends quickly, with the woodwinds bringing back the original theme, again echoed by the strings, just as in the beginning. The final third of the movement continues in this vein. [11]

IV. Allegro non troppo

This begins with a quiet, searching melody in the strings that slowly rises in pitch. The high strings hold the high notes, and are joined briefly by woodwinds. The low strings suddenly begin a quick march-like tune that is answered by increasingly frantic violins and point-like interjections from the rest of the orchestra. This section gathers frenzy for several minutes. A brief break comes in the form of a transition passage with repetitive three-note figures played by high strings, accented by slap pizzicati in the cellos and basses. A slower and sharply accented section follows. Several minutes of quiet foreboding occur from this point, with themes from earlier movements, particularly the first. Woodwinds build on one of these until violins take over with another familiar theme that builds to the ferocious climax. The symphony ends in the key of C major, and by no means joyously. (The tremendous coda bears some resemblance to the equally colossal ending to Symphony No. 8 by Anton Bruckner, and the opening theme from that symphony is even quoted here.) Near the conclusion, there is a piercing interjection of repetitive statements. Previous themes return, only this time laboriously augmented, and the colossal C-major finish is ambiguous if not blatantly ironic, though triumphantly cathartic.


The work is written for a large orchestra consisting of:



"Music about terror"

There are conflicting accounts as to when Shostakovich began the symphony. Officially, he was said to have composed it in response to the German invasion. Others, such as Rostislav Dubinsky, say that he had already completed the first movement a year earlier. The composer stated, according to Testimony , that he had planned the symphony before the German attack and that he had "other enemies of humanity" in mind when he composed the "invasion theme" of the first movement. [12] He had no problem calling the work the "Leningrad" Symphony. "Which Leningrad?" became the question after the publication of Testimony in the West. The Leningrad that Shostakovich reportedly had in mind was not the one that withstood the German siege. Rather, it was the one "that Stalin destroyed and Hitler merely finished off." [13] However, the authenticity of the US-published book is very much disputed.

The Leningrad Symphony Orchestra announced the premiere of the Seventh Symphony for its 1941–1942 season. The fact this announcement was made before the German invasion would seem to confirm the statement in Testimony. Shostakovich did not like talking about what he called "creative plans," preferring to announce his works once they were completed. [14] He did like to say, "I think slowly but I write fast." In practice this meant that Shostakovich usually had a work completed in his head before he began writing it down. [15] The Leningrad Symphony would not have made its announcement without the composer's consent, so Shostakovich likely had a clear idea at that time of what his Seventh Symphony would portray. [14]

Soviet music critic Lev Lebedinsky, a friend of the composer's for many years, confirmed after the dawn of glasnost ("openness") under Mikhail Gorbachev that Shostakovich had conceived the Seventh Symphony before Hitler invaded Russia:

The famous theme in the first movement Shostakovich had first as the Stalin theme (which close friends of the composer knew). Right after the war started, the composer called it the anti-Hitler theme. Later Shostakovich referred to that "German" theme as the "theme of evil," which was absolutely true, since the theme was just as much anti-Hitler as it was anti-Stalin, even though the world music community fixed on only the first of the two definitions. [16]

Another important witness was the daughter-in-law of Maxim Litvinov, the man who served as Soviet foreign minister before the war, then was dismissed by Stalin. She heard Shostakovich play the Seventh Symphony on the piano in a private home during the war. The guests later discussed the music:

And then Shostakovich said meditatively: of course, it's about fascism, but music, real music is never literally tied to a theme. Fascism is not simply National Socialism, and this is music about terror, slavery, and oppression of the spirit. Later, when Shostakovich got used to me and came to trust me, he said openly that the Seventh (and the Fifth as well) was not only about fascism but about our country and generally about all tyranny and totalitarianism. [17]

While Shostakovich could speak like this only in a very narrow circle of friends, it did not stop him from hinting to the Soviet Press about a hidden agenda for the Seventh Symphony. [18] He insisted, for instance, that the "central place" of the first movement was not the "invasion section" (the part journalists usually asked about first). Rather, the movement's core was the tragic music which followed the invasion section, which the composer described as "a funeral march or, rather, a requiem." He continued, "After the requiem comes an even more tragic episode. I do not know how to characterize that music. Perhaps it is a mother's tears or even the feeling that the sorrow is so great that there are no more tears left." [19]

"Inquisition for blood"

Regardless of when Shostakovich initially conceived the symphony, the Nazi attack and consequent relaxing of Soviet censorship gave Shostakovich the hope of writing the work for a mass audience. A model on how to do this was Igor Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms. Stravinsky's compositions held considerable influence over Shostakovich [20] and he had been deeply impressed with this particular work. [21] Moreover, Stravinsky had initially set the Russian text of the Psalms, only later switching to Latin. [22] As soon as Shostakovich received the score, he transcribed it for piano four-hands. He often performed this arrangement with students in his composition class at Leningrad Conservatory. [20]

Shostakovich's plan was for a single-movement symphony, including a chorus and a requiem-like passage for a vocal soloist, with a text taken from the Psalms of David. With the help of his best friend, critic Ivan Sollertinsky, who was knowledgeable about the Bible, he selected excerpts from the Ninth Psalm. The idea of individual suffering became interwoven in Shostakovich's mind with the Lord God's vengeance for the taking of innocent blood (Verse 12, New King James Version ). [21] The theme not only conveyed his outrage over Stalin's oppression, [23] but also may have inspired him to write the Seventh Symphony in the first place. [24] "I began writing it having been deeply moved by the Psalms of David; the symphony deals with more than that, but the Psalms were the impetus," the composer said. "David has some marvelous words on blood, that God takes revenge for blood, He doesn't forget the cries of victims, and so on. When I think of the Psalms, I become agitated." [24]

A public performance of a work with such a text would have been impossible before the German invasion. Now it was feasible, at least in theory, with the reference to "blood" applied at least officially to Hitler. With Stalin appealing to the Soviets' patriotic and religious sentiments, the authorities were no longer suppressing Orthodox themes or images. [25] Yet for all the importance he placed on them, Shostakovich may have been right in writing the symphony without a text, in view of the censorship that would eventually be reimposed. [21]

"Invasion" theme

Something else Shostakovich played for his composition students were the 12 variations of what later became known as the "invasion" theme. This has been taken historically, especially in the West, as portraying the invading Wehrmacht , and was listed as such in the official program. For many years this was considered irrefutable. New information now casts some doubt. For instance, musicologist Ludmila Mikheyeva (who is also Ivan Sollertinsky's daughter in law) maintains that Shostakovich played the theme and its variations for his students before the war with Germany began. [26]

While the word "invasion" was used by commentators in numerous articles and reviews, Shostakovich never used it to describe the episode or theme. He tried to evade the point in his author's note for the premiere. "I did not set myself the goal of a naturalistic depiction of military action (the roar of planes, the crash of tanks, cannon fire). I did not compose so-called battle music. I wanted to convey the context of grim events." [27] The only "grim events" which would be depicted in 1941 by a Soviet author other than the war would be the mass purges preceding it. [15]

According to Testimony, the composer expounded much later on what he meant:

Even before the war, there probably wasn't a single family who hadn't lost someone, a father, a brother, or if not a relative, then a close friend. Everyone had someone to cry over, but you had to cry silently, under the blanket, so no one would see. Everyone feared everyone else, and the sorrow oppressed and suffocated us. It suffocated me, too. I had to write about it, I felt it was my responsibility, my duty. I had to write a requiem for all those who died, who had suffered. I had to describe the horrible extermination machine and express protest against it. [28]

One very important point was that when Hitler attacked Russia, he did so with his entire military might. Practically everyone who lived through it remembered the event as an instantaneous shock of tremendous power. None of this comes out in the symphony. The "invasion" theme begins very softly in the strings, pianissimo . It eventually becomes a howling monster, but only gradually. If this music portrays an invasion, it is not depicting a sudden one. It is an incremental takeover, one which could easily seem to come from within. [29]

Neither does the theme itself sound threatening, at least at first. For its latter half, Shostakovich quotes Graf Danilo's entrance song, "Da geh' ich zu Maxim," from Franz Lehár's operetta The Merry Widow . The Merry Widow was also Hitler's favorite operetta, which played well with Soviet propagandists writing about the symphony. A version of this song may have already existed in Russia. Set to the words, "I'll go and see Maxim," it was reportedly sung jokingly in the Shostakovich household to the composer's son. [8] Arthur Lourié called the theme a "trite, intentionally silly motif," adding, "This tune can be whistled by any Soviet man on the street. ..." [30] (Coincidentally, Conductor Evgeny Mravinsky echoed Lourié when he called it a generalized image of spreading stupidity and triteness. [31] Added to this musical quotation was a prominent sequence of six descending notes in the seventh of the theme's 22 bars—a sequence in which MacDonald sees a passing resemblance to the third bar of Deutschland Über Alles . [8]

MacDonald maintains that the simplest explanation for Shostakovich using these two quotations, which could be heard interchangeably as Russian or German, is that they allow the march, "like the rest of the symphony, [to function as] two things at once: superficially an image of the Nazi invasion; more fundamentally a satirical picture of Stalinist society in the thirties." [32] A third, more personal quotation adds additional subtext. In the opening half of the march, Shostakovich inserts a theme from his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District , the work for which the composer suffered his first official denunciation in 1936. [9] The quotation itself was used in passages of the libretto that describe the way we suffer from tyranny. [9]

Shostakovich saves what some would call his boldest stroke with the "invasion" theme for a point near the episode's climax. With the music at tremendous volume and following a six-bar trill across most of the woodwind section, the composer modulates the march into E-flat minor. The six-note descending figure that sounded from Deutschland Über Alles suddenly reveals itself as the six descending notes from the "motto" or "fate" theme of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. This is a delayed revelation along the lines of Richard Strauss's later use of the Eroica Symphony in his Metamorphosen . [33]

Tchaikovsky actually derived his "fate" theme from a passage in Glinka's opera A Life for the Tsar —significantly, a passage in the libretto using the words "turn not into sorrow." Shostakovich heightens its appearance by quoting it not in its initial tonality but in the key of its heroic triumph at the symphony's conclusion. This gesture shows the march, at the peak of hysteria, as Russian rather than German. It also shows Shostakovich has controlled the march's ambiguity all along. [33] [34]

Fire of anti-aircraft guns deployed in the neighborhood of St. Isaac's cathedral during the defense of Leningrad (now called St. Petersburg, its pre-Soviet name) in 1941. Anti aircraft Leningrad 1941.JPG
Fire of anti-aircraft guns deployed in the neighborhood of St. Isaac's cathedral during the defense of Leningrad (now called St. Petersburg, its pre-Soviet name) in 1941.

Tensions not resolved

Two weeks before he planned to complete the symphony-requiem, Shostakovich played what he had finished to date for Sollertinsky, who was being evacuated with the Leningrad Philharmonic. While playing the music, Shostakovich realized that what he had written was not a complete work in itself but actually the beginning of something much larger, since the tensions brought up in the symphony-requiem had not been resolved. [10] The question now became whether to stay in the city to continue working or to evacuate and resume the work after a long hiatus. By the time he decided to evacuate, it was too late—the Germans had cut off the rail link to the city. He and his family were trapped.

On 2 September, the day the Germans began bombarding the city, Shostakovich began the second movement. Working at high intensity in between sprints to the nearest bomb shelter, he completed it within two weeks. Within hours he accepted a request to speak on Radio Leningrad to address the city. Adopting a matter-of-fact tone, he attempted to assure his fellow Leningraders that for him it was business as usual:

An hour ago I finished the score of two movements of a large symphonic composition. If I succeed in carrying it off, if I manage to complete the third and fourth movements, then perhaps I'll be able to call it my Seventh Symphony. Why am I telling you this? So that the radio listeners who are listening to me now will know that life in our city is proceeding normally.

That evening he played what he had written so far to a small group of Leningrad musicians. After Shostakovich finished the first movement, there was a long silence. An air-raid warning sounded. No one moved. Everyone wanted to hear the piece again. The composer excused himself to take his family to the nearest air-raid shelter. When he returned, he repeated the first movement, which then was followed by the next movement for his guests. [35] Their reaction encouraged him to start that night on the Adagio. He completed this movement on 29 September in the city. Shostakovich and his family were then evacuated to Moscow on 1 October 1941. They moved to Kuybyshev (now Samara) on 22 October, where the symphony was finally completed.


The world première was held in Kuybyshev on 5 March 1942. The Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra, conducted by Samuil Samosud, gave a rousing performance that was broadcast across the Soviet Union and later in the West as well. The Moscow première took place on 29 March 1942 in the Columned Hall of the House of Unions, by a joined orchestra of the Bolshoi Orchestra and the All-Union Radio Orchestra.

The microfilmed score was flown to Tehran and travelled to the West in April 1942. The symphony received its broadcast première in Europe by Sir Henry J. Wood and the London Philharmonic Orchestra on 22 June 1942 in London, and concert première at a Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The première in North America took place in New York City on 19 July 1942, by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini in a concert broadcast nationwide on the NBC radio network. This performance was originally released on LP by RCA Victor in 1967.

Much had to be done before the Leningrad première could take place. The Leningrad Radio Orchestra under Karl Eliasberg was the only remaining symphonic ensemble. The orchestra had survived—barely—but it had not been playing and musical broadcasts had ceased. Music was not considered a priority by Party officials. Political appeals took a significant part of the broadcast time. Even then, there were hours of silence because of the lack of agitators. [36] As for the city itself, Leningrad surrounded by the Nazis had become a living hell, with eyewitness reports of people who had died of cold and starvation lying in doorways in stairwells. [37] [38] "They lay there because people dropped them there, the way newborn infants used to be left. Janitors swept them away in the morning like rubbish. Funerals, graves, coffins were long forgotten. It was a flood of death that could not be managed. Entire families vanished, entire apartments with their collective families. Houses, streets and neighborhoods vanished." [39]

The official hiatus on musical broadcasts had to end before the symphony could be performed. This happened quickly, with a complete about-face by Party authorities. Next was reforming the orchestra. Only 15 members were still available; the others had either starved to death or left to fight the enemy. [40] Posters went up, requesting all Leningrad musicians to report to the Radio Committee. Efforts were also made to seek out those musicians who could not come. "My God, how thin many of them were," one of the organizers of the performance remembered. "How those people livened up when we started to ferret them out of their dark apartments. We were moved to tears when they brought out their concert clothes, their violins and cellos and flutes, and rehearsals began under the icy canopy of the studio." [41] Orchestral players were given additional rations. [15]

Before they tackled Shostakovich's work, Eliasberg had the players go through pieces from the standard repertoire—Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov—which they also performed for broadcast. Because the city was still blockaded at the time, the score was flown by night in early July for rehearsal. A team of copyists worked for days to prepare the parts despite shortages of materials. [42] At rehearsal, some musicians protested, not wanting to waste their little strength on an intricate and not very accessible work. Eliasberg threatened to hold back the additional rations, quelling any dissent. [43]

The concert was given on 9 August 1942. Whether this date was chosen intentionally, it was the day Hitler had chosen previously to celebrate the fall of Leningrad with a lavish banquet at the Astoria Hotel. [44] Loudspeakers broadcast the performance throughout the city as well as to the German forces in a move of psychological warfare. [42] The Soviet commander of the Leningrad front, General Govorov, ordered a bombardment of German artillery positions in advance to ensure their silence during the performance of the symphony; a special operation, code-named "Squall," was executed for precisely this purpose. [41] Three thousand high-caliber shells were lobbed onto the enemy. [45]

Unsurprisingly, the work was not premiered in Germany until after the war. It took place in Berlin on 22 December 1946, with Sergiu Celibidache conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker. [46]


Alexei Tolstoy's Pravda article became instrumental in the life of the symphony, especially with Stalin. ANTolstoy.jpg
Alexei Tolstoy's Pravda article became instrumental in the life of the symphony, especially with Stalin.

In the Soviet Union

At the first hearings of the Seventh, most listeners wept. [47] This was true even when Shostakovich played the piece on the piano for friends. The requiem pages of the first movement made a special impression, much as the Largo of his Fifth Symphony had done. Some scholars[ who? ] believe that, as he had done in the Fifth, Shostakovich gave his audience a chance to express thoughts and suffering that, in the context of the Great Purges, had remained hidden and accumulated over many years. Because these previously hidden emotions were expressed with such power and passion, the Seventh became a major public event. Alexei Tolstoy, who played a pivotal role in the life of the Fifth Symphony, was the first to note the significance of the spontaneous reaction to the Seventh. After hearing an orchestral rehearsal of it, Tolstoy wrote a highly positive review of the work for Pravda . [48]

Tolstoy's actions became instrumental in the life of the Seventh. Stalin read Pravda closely and he generally trusted Tolstoy's comments.[ citation needed ] He remained highly suspicious of spontaneous outpourings of mass enthusiasm both before and after the war, seeing them as veiled instances of oppositionist feelings.[ citation needed ] However, he also realized squelching such mass expressions in wartime could be unwise[ citation needed ], and he had Tolstoy's comments to give them credence in the case of the Seventh Symphony. Tolstoy's interpretation of the Seventh, in fact, lined up with Stalin's stated support of nationalism and patriotism. [49] At least as important was that without the help of the United States and the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union would not overcome Nazi Germany. The Soviets had been seen not long ago in the Western press as godless villains and barbarians. Now the Americans and British had to believe that the Soviet Union was helping protect the values those countries cherished from fascism for the Soviets to continue receiving those countries' support. [45]

Stalin therefore took the approach of, "If you can't beat them, join them" when it came to the Seventh Symphony, approving a propaganda campaign centered around the work.[ citation needed ] It was performed and broadcast all over the Soviet Union. Magazines and newspapers continued printing stories about it. The piece continued having enormous success. People still wept at concerts. They often rose from their seats during the finale and applauded thunderously afterwards. The difference now was that they were now aiding a potent propaganda campaign. [50]

Virgil Thomson called the symphony "written for the slow-witted, the not very musical and the distracted". Virgil Thomson by Carl Van Vechten.jpg
Virgil Thomson called the symphony "written for the slow-witted, the not very musical and the distracted".

In the West

Shostakovich had been known in the West before the war. When news of the Seventh quickly spread in the British and American press, the composer's popularity soared. [51] During the war, the work was very popular both in the West and in the Soviet Union as the embodiment of the fighting Russian spirit. The American premiere, in July 1942, was by the NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arturo Toscanini, broadcast on radio by NBC and preserved on transcription discs; RCA issued the recording on LP in 1967 and later reissued it on CD. The symphony was played 62 times in the United States in the 1942–43 season.

Shostakovich's contemporaries were dismayed, even angered by its lack of subtlety, crudity, and overblown dramatics. Virgil Thomson wrote that, "It seems to have been written for the slow-witted, the not very musical and the distracted," adding that if Shostakovich continued writing in this manner, it might "eventually disqualify him for consideration as a serious composer. [52] Sergei Rachmaninoff's only comment after hearing the American premiere on the radio was a grim "Well, and now let's have some tea." [53]

Disdainful remarks about the symphony being nothing more than a bombastic accompaniment for a bad war movie were voiced immediately after the London and New York premieres. However, in the cultural and political ear of the period, they had no effect. The American public-relations machine had joined the Soviet propaganda arm in portraying the Seventh as a symbol of cooperation and spiritual unity of both peoples in their fight against the Nazis. [54]

Decline in appreciation

Once the novelty of the Seventh Symphony had worn away, audience interest in the West quickly dissipated. One reason may have been the work's length. At about 70 minutes, it was longer than any previous Shostakovich symphony. While it could be argued that he could have made the symphony 30 minutes shorter by condensing his message, the long passages of sparsely accompanied solos for wind instruments present listeners with the opportunity to study them, appreciate the inner character of the music as each instrument soliloquises on a given mood. To utilize this to the extent that Shostakovich did, combined with a wordless narrative style of mood-painting, necessitated an expansive time frame. Even so, this extended time span may have seemed excessive to some critics, especially since Western critics were unaware of the anti-Stalinist subtext hidden in the work.[ citation needed ] Hearing it only in the context of wartime propaganda, Western critics dismissed the symphony as a series of bombastic platitudes, and as such not worth serious consideration. [55] The critic Ernest Newman famously remarked that, to find its place on the musical map, one should look along the seventieth degree of longitude and the last degree of platitude. [56]

The Seventh Symphony was actually a convenient target from the start for Western critics. It was considered a strange, ungainly hybrid of Mahler and Stravinsky—too long, too broad-gestured in narrative and overly emotional in tone. [54] Shostakovich placed the work's emphasis on the effect of musical images rather than on symphonic coherence. Those images—stylized fanfares, march rhythms, ostinati, folkloric themes and pastoral episodes—could easily be considered[ by whom? ] models of socialist realism. Because of his emphasis on these images, Shostakovich can be said to have allowed the work's message to outweigh its craftsmanship. [57] For all these reasons, the music was considered both naïve and calculated in the West. [54]

Soviet audiences did not come to the music with the same expectations as Western listeners. What mattered to Soviet listeners was the message and its serious moral content. The Seventh maintained its position with that audience because its content was so momentous. [58] Nevertheless, as early as 1943 Soviet critics claimed the "exultation" of the Seventh's finale was unconvincing, pointing out that the part of the symphony they found most effective—the march in the opening movement—represented not the defending Red Army but the Nazi invaders. They believed that Shostakovich's pessimism had short-circuited what might have otherwise been a masterpiece in the vein of the 1812 Overture . The tragic mood of Shostakovich's next symphony, the Eighth, intensified the critical discord. [59] Later, negative views from the West prejudiced the thinking of the Soviet elite toward the Seventh. [60]


When Testimony was published in the West in 1979, Shostakovich's overall anti-Stalinist tone and specific comments about the anti-totalitarian content hidden in the Fifth, Seventh and Eleventh Symphonies were held suspect initially. They were in some ways a complete about-face from the comments the West had received over the years, many times in the composer's words. Questions also arose over Solomon Volkov's role—to what degree he was a compiler of previously written material, a transcriber of the composer's actual words from interviews, or an author essentially putting words into the composer's mouth.

Two things happened. First was the composer's son Maxim's view on the accuracy of Testimony. He initially stated to the Sunday Times, after his defection to the West in 1981, that it was a book "about my father, not by him". [61] Later, though, he reversed his position. In a BBC television interview with composer Michael Berkeley on 27 September 1986, Maxim admitted, "It's true. It's accurate. ... The basis of the book is correct." [62] Second, with the dawning of glasnost, those who were still alive and had known Shostakovich when he had written the Leningrad Symphony could now share their own stories with impunity. By doing so, they helped corroborate what had appeared in Testimony, allowing the West to reevaluate the symphony in light of their statements.

In recent years the Seventh Symphony has again become more popular, along with the rest of Shostakovich's work.


It has been alleged[ by whom? ] that Béla Bartók quoted the march theme of the first movement in the "Intermezzo Interotto" of his Concerto for Orchestra in response to the Hungarian composer's frustration about the positive reception of the piece. The quotation is clearly the "invasion" theme, and Bartók interjects his very romantic and lyrical melody in the movement with a much slower interpretation of Shostakovich's invasion ostinato. The resemblance has been variously interpreted by later commentators as an accusation of tastelessness, as a commentary on the symphony's over-popularity in Bartók's eyes, and as an acknowledgement of the position of the artist in a totalitarian society. However, it is much more likely that Bartók (as his pianist friend György Sándor has said) [63] was, like Shostakovich, parodying the very popular Lehár theme directly. This view has been confirmed by Bartók's son Peter, in his book "My father": Bartók had respect and admiration for Shostakovich's works, and was mocking Lehár's music and behind it the Nazis.

Janet Sobel's painting "Music" was inspired by the symphony. She told Sidney Janis that the painting was her impression of the music that Shostakovich created in wartime: "Shostakovich has captured the power of the Russian people and by his music has given them strength. His music has so stimulated me, and I have tried to present these feelings in my picture." [64]

In the Ken Russell film Billion Dollar Brain (1967), music from the Leningrad Symphony accompanies the failed military invasion of the then Latvian Soviet Republic by Texas millionaire Midwinter (a pivotal scene reflecting the Battle of the Neva from Aleksandr Nevsky). Incidentally, earlier on, Michael Caine as Harry Palmer attends the end of a concert of what is claimed to be the Leningrad Symphony, whereas in fact the finale from Shostakovich's Eleventh Symphony is heard.

American rock band Fall Out Boy also used elements of Symphony No. 7 in their song "The Phoenix" from their 2013 album Save Rock and Roll . The same sample had been used by the German hip hop artist Peter Fox in his song "Alles neu" in 2008, and by Plan B in "Ill Manors" in 2012.

Film version

On 31 January 2005 a film version of the Symphony was premiered in St. Petersburg, with the St. Petersburg Academic Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Shostakovich's son Maxim Shostakovich accompanying a film directed by Georgy Paradzhanov, constructed from documentary materials, including film of the siege of Leningrad. Many survivors of the siege were guests at the performance. The composer's widow Irina acted as script consultant to the project, and its musical advisors included Rudolf Barshai and Boris Tishchenko. The film and performance were repeated, with the same artists, in London on 9 May 2005 at the Royal Albert Hall.

Notable recordings

Recordings of this symphony include:

OrchestraConductorRecord CompanyYear of RecordingFormat
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra Yevgeny Mravinsky Melodiya 1953LP
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra Kirill Kondrashin Melodiya 1976LP
London Philharmonic Orchestra Bernard Haitink Decca 1979LP/CD
Chicago Symphony Orchestra Leonard Bernstein DG 1989CD
Concertgebouw Orchestra Mariss Jansons RCO Live2006 (live recording)SACD


  1. Galina Ustvolskaya's interview in the book by Olga Gladkova "Music as Bewitchment" (1999).
  2. "Dmitri Shostakovich o vremeni i o sebe – Dmitri Shostakovich: on his time and himself. Moscow: Sovetskiy kompozitor, 1980, page 75.
  3. "TIME Magazine Cover: Dmitri Shostakovich - July 20, 1942". Retrieved 2021-05-20.
  4. "The Piskariovskoye Memorial Cemetery in St. Petersburg, Russia". Retrieved 2018-05-18.
  5. Sikorski (2011). Dmitri Shostakovich (PDF). Hamburg: Sikorski Musikverlage Hamburg. p. 113. Archived (PDF) from the original on August 2, 2020. Retrieved October 9, 2022.
  6. Iakubov, Manashir. "Dmitri Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony, How It Was Composed", in Iakubov, Manashir (ed.) Dmitri Shostakovich New Collected Works, 1st Series, Vol. 7, 'Symphony No 7 Op. 60 Score', (Moscow: DSCH Publishers, 2010), 260
  7. "Symphony No. 7. Op. 60. Score". 2010.
  8. 1 2 3 4 MacDonald, 159–160.
  9. 1 2 3 Geiger, 5.
  10. 1 2 Steinberg, 557.
  11. Steinberg, 557–558.
  12. Volkov, Testimony, 155.
  13. Volkov, Testimony, 156.
  14. 1 2 Volkov, St. Petersburg, 427.
  15. 1 2 3 Volkov, Shostakovich and Stalin, 171.
  16. Novyi mir [New World], 3 (1990), 267.
  17. Sovietskaia muzyka [Soviet Music], 5 (1991), 31–32.
  18. Volkov, St. Petersburg, 430.
  19. Sovietskoe iskusstvo [Soviet Art], October 9, 1941.
  20. 1 2 Volkov, St. Petersburg, 428.
  21. 1 2 3 Volkov, Shostakovich and Stalin, 175.
  22. Volkov, Shostakovich and Stalin, 174.
  23. Volkov, St. Petersburg,427.
  24. 1 2 Volkov, Testimony, 184.
  25. Volkov, St. Petersburg, 427–428.
  26. See 111 sinfonii: spravochnik-putevoditel' (St. Petersburg, 2000), 618.
  27. Quoted in D. Shostakovich o vremeni i o sebe 1926–1975 (Moscow, 1980), 96.
  28. Volkov, Testimony 135.
  29. Volkov, Shostakovich and Stalin, 172–173.
  30. Novyi zhurnal, 4 (1943), 371.
  31. Mravinsky, in conversations with Solomon Volkov, Leningrad, 1969.
  32. MacDonald, 159.
  33. 1 2 MacDonald, 160.
  34. This moment occurs seven bars after figure 49 in the score.
  35. Solertinsky, 102–103.
  36. Fadayev, Alexander, Lenningrad v dni blokady (Moscow, 1944), 40.
  37. Volkov, Shostakovich and Stalin, 179.
  38. Vulliamy, Ed (24 November 2001). "Orchestral manoeuvres". The Observer. Retrieved 20 October 2011.
  39. Minuvshee, issue 3 (Paris, 1987), 20–21.
  40. Sollertinsky, 107.
  41. 1 2 Sollertinsky, 108.
  42. 1 2 Fay, 133.
  43. Volkov, Shostakovich and Stalin, 179–180
  44. Figes, 493.
  45. 1 2 Volkov, Shostakovich and Stalin, 180.
  46. Hulme, Derek (2010) Dmitri Shostakovich Catalogue: The First Hundred Years and Beyond, Scarecrow Press, p.231
  47. Lincoln, Bruce (2002). Sunlight at Midnight: St. Petersburg and the Rise of Modern Russia. New York: Basic Books. pp. 293–294. ISBN   0-465-08324-2.
  48. Volkov, Shostakovich and Stalin, 176.
  49. Volkov, Shostakovich and Stalin, 176–177.
  50. Volkov, Shostakovich and Stalin, 177.
  51. Volkov, St. Petersburg, 434.
  52. Virgil Thomson in New York Herald Tribune 18 October 1942.
  53. Volkov, Shostakovich and Stalin, 181.
  54. 1 2 3 Volkov, Shostakovich and Stalin, 182.
  55. MacDonald, 154.
  56. Much quoted, more or less accurately, e.g. by Robert Layton (2010), "Leningrad Shostakovich Symphony No 7 - St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra". Archived from the original on 2012-06-01. Retrieved 2011-12-05..
  57. Maes, 356–357.
  58. Maes, 357.
  59. MacDonald, 156.
  60. Volkov, Shostakovich and Stalin, 182 ft. 1.
  61. MacDonald, 4.
  62. MacDonald, 7.
  63. "BBC - Home".
  64. Levin, Gail (2005). "Janet Sobel: Primitivist, Surrealist, and Abstract Expressionist". Woman's Art Journal. 26 (1): 8–14. doi:10.2307/3566528. JSTOR   3566528.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dmitri Shostakovich</span> Soviet composer and pianist (1906–1975)

Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich was a Soviet-era Russian composer and pianist who became internationally known after the premiere of his First Symphony in 1926 and was regarded throughout his life as a major composer.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Symphony No. 13 (Shostakovich)</span> 1962 solo vocal and choral symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich

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Solomon Moiseyevich Volkov is a Russian journalist and musicologist. He is best known for Testimony, which was published in 1979 following his emigration from the Soviet Union in 1976. He claimed that the book was the memoir of Dmitri Shostakovich, as related to him by the composer.

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Muddle Instead of Music: On the Opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District is an editorial that appeared in the Soviet newspaper Pravda on January 28, 1936. The unsigned article condemned Dmitri Shostakovich's popular opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District as, among other labels, "formalist", "bourgeois", "coarse" and "vulgar". Immediately after publication rumors began to circulate that Stalin had written the opinion. While this is unlikely, it is almost certain that Stalin was aware of and agreed with the article. "Muddle Instead of Music" was a turning point in Shostakovich's career. The article has since become a well-known example of Soviet censorship of the arts.