June 22 marks the tragic anniversary of the beginning of the World War II, and it also marks the 80th anniversary of two premieres of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony. The first one took place in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan (a former republic of the Soviet Union). The second premiere was the first world premiere of the Symphony and was held in London, UK.
The London performance was conducted by Sir Henry Wood, one of the creators of the famous series of popular concerts BBC Proms. Wood wrote an article The Leningrad Symphony which was translated into Russian and published on September 6, 1942 in The Britansky Soyuznik (British Ally) newspaper which was issued in Kuybyshev, USSR in 1942-1943 by the British Ministry of Information. In the article he writes that in London on June 22, 1942 he "had the honor of conducting the performance of the Leningrad Symphony by your famous Shostakovich which was performed here for the first time and broadcast on radio all over the world." In conclusion Wood salutes the Russian musicians and expresses a wish that "your strength of spirit may lead your people to the victorious end in their great fight against fascism." Wood's belief in victory must be duly noted considering it was only September of 1942.
A unique exhibit in the Philharmonic library, a concert booklet issued in June 1942, sheds light on the Tashkent premiere. The performance was organized by the professors and students of the Leningrad Conservatory evacuated to Tashkent. According to the handwritten note on the first page of the booklet, this copy was donated by the Conservatory to the Leningrad Philharmonia on March 1, 1947. Also found there is the list of the Symphony movements. Interestingly enough, each movement's tonality is given there, which is quite unusual in contemporary practice. At the same time, there is no now customary comment that the third and fourth movements are to be performed without interruption.
The list of the performers is as follows: the Symphony Orchestra of the Leningrad Conservatory, conducted by Prof. Ilya Musin – an outstanding music teacher, one of the founders of the world-renowned Leningrad school of conducting.
The list of premieres, the so-called Memory Map, appeared from the very start. That is, page four of the booklet introduces the list of the Symphony's premieres in chronological order: Kuybyshev, Moscow, and Tashkent. This information is followed by various texts: a short biographical note about Dmitry Shostakovich, a copy of his article published in The Pravda (Truth) newspaper on February 29, 1942, a copy of Yemelyan Yaroslavsky's article "The Symphony of All-Conquering Courage" first published in The Pravda on March 30, 1942, and a copy of Aleksey Tolstoy's note "At the rehearsal of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony" first published in The Pravda Vostoka (Truth of the East) newspaper on February 25, 1942.
The penultimate sheet of the booklet is dedicated to the Orchestra members listed in alphabetical order (with the exception of the concertmasters). The list contains a number of famous names. Among the first violins are the famous representatives of the Leningrad school of violinists, Prof. Yury Eidlin and Prof. Veniamin Sher (the leaders of the first violins). Number six on the list is the celebrated Leningrad violinist Mikhail Vaiman, a then pupil of the Secondary Music School of the Conservatory. Number fifteen is another pupil of the same school, Vladimir Ovcharek who later became the concertmaster of the Leningrad Academic Philharmonic Orchestra. The cello section was led by Prof. Alexander Shtimer, the piano part was performed by Prof. Moisey Khalfin, the future teacher of Grigory Sokolov. The conductor was the acclaimed Prof. Ilya Musin.
The booklet was signed in print on June 18, 1942. Only 600 copies were printed. One of them is now held by St. Petersburg Academic Philharmonia and will be exhibited as part of the history and music project "Seventh Symphony. Memory Score" on August 9, 2022.
Evgeny Petrovsky, Deputy Artistic Director, the D. Shostakovich St. Petersburg Academic Philharmonic Hall
During the first winter of the siege there was no music on the air in Leningrad. Nikolay Shumilov, secretary of the City Executive Committee, remembered: “In the conditions of aggravating famine we recommended to refrain from musical programs”. Olga Bergholz also bitterly wrote that the radio did not broadcast any music or songs for a long time, and it was depressing. It turned out that Leningraders missed it very much: in the pre-war years classical music was the signature line of the Leningrad radio, and in the days of war it reminded about the past life, gave hope and distracted from the reality of the siege. It was decided to reverse the situation by re-creating the only remaining orchestra in the city - the Big symphony orchestra of the Radio Committee. Its last performance in the besieged city took place on 14 December 1941, and the last rehearsal happened on 29 December, after which date it became clear that the remaining concerts would have to be cancelled.
The orchestra of the Radio Committee suffered great losses during the winter of 1941-1942. The Central Archives of Literature and Arts keep the document, which, for all its dry style, describes the tragic character of the situation: “Considering the necessity to start a full-scale artistic broadcast in the nearest future we need to urgently decide the destiny of the Radio Committee’s leading collectives – the Big symphony orchestra and chorus. Their performances usually take 40-50% of the total air time. At the present moment the situation in these collectives can be described as follows: 7 people from the Big symphony orchestra died, 16 people are extremely weak and famished, 12 people cannot work because of hunger”. So, the authors of the document concluded that “the collective is incapable of work”. This information was submitted to the city authorities on 6 February.
The question of re-creating the orchestra was discussed during March. In that month the situation became even more tragic: 27 people died, and most of those who remained were too famished to work. Only 16 people of the total number were able to work by the end of the first spring month. As a matter of fact, the orchestra was to be created from scratch.
One of the key issues was food provision: the leaders of the Board for Cultural Affairs guaranteed the orchestra members Category 1 ration. Without a nourishing diet the musicians were simply unable to work. The Leningrad radio announced on the air that “all musicians are requested to come to the Radio Committee”.
“On hearing the radio announcement I took my flute under the arm and went. I enter and see Karl Ilyich Eliasberg, looking dystrophic. He told me: “Do not go to the factory anymore. Now you will work in the orchestra”. We were few at first. Some people were brought in the sledge, others walked with a stick”, remembered Galina Lelukhina.
On 30 March the first rehearsal was held in the small studio of the Radio Committee. The stove was stoked, the room was full of fumes. Olga Bergholz and Georgy Makogonenko were present at the rehearsal, and gave a detailed account of their impressions in the film script which was published in the Zvezda magazine in 1945: “Nobody would call these thin dark-faced and fantastically clad people musicians, let alone an orchestra. They looked like refugees, fire victims… The conductor dressed in the ear-flap hat and fur mittens is standing before the orchestra. The musicians’ hollow eyes are directed towards him. The conductor waves his baton. Dissonant sounds, scattering and unassembled – everything is in discord, weak, harsh, false”. Many musicians were excluded from the orchestra – their hopes for additional rations and return to music were crashed. For the moment the hope to recreate the professional orchestra looked ephemeral. Eliasberg showed no pity: only those remained in the orchestra who had retained professional skills and were not terribly exhausted – there was no time for recuperation – the rehearsals were to begin at once.
There were about 40 people present at the first rehearsal. “Certainly, a full three-hour rehearsal was out of the question! We tried to play the Introduction and the Big Waltz from the Swan Lake. Forty minutes later the orchestra were let go. We could not do anything more than that on that day,” wrote Eliasberg. The search for musicians continued: some people were called off from the front lines, others were sent from the military ensembles.
The initial plan was to open the concert season in the Philharmonic Hall – but there was no electricity there. Then a decision was made to hold the concerts in the Pushkin Theatre, where the Musical Comedy Theatre began to perform a month earlier. On 2 April Leningradskaya Pravda published the article The opening of symphonic concerts: “The Board for Cultural Affairs of the Leningrad Executive Committee is preparing to open a cycle of symphonic and popular concerts. The symphony orchestra to play at these concerts is composed of the artists from Leningrad’s academic theatres, Philharmonic Hall and the Radio Committee, including the renown musicians – violinists V.A. Zavetnovsky, the Honoured Artist of the Republic, and S.A. Arkin, cellist K.M. Ananyan. The orchestra will be conducted by K.I. Eliasberg, All-Union conductor competition laureate. The first concert is to take place on 5 April in the Pushkin Theatre”.
On 5 April the Radio Committee orchestra performed before the public. “The concert consisted of only one part – the musicians (and the conductor, too) were still very weak,” wrote Eliasberg. Yet it was the first, and the most important, step on the dramatic and courageous way back to Music for the orchestra, and on the way of Music’s return to the city, which looked forward to it so much, despite deadly deprivations. The orchestra played the Solemn Overture by Glazunov, dances from the Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky, overture from Ruslan and Ludmila by Glinka. The tickets were sold out in two days, though the city was constantly bombed and shelled by the enemy’s long-ranged artillery.
‘Hardly had shelling stopped
When above the silent squares
There flew to us in the night of siege
The dance of the little swans’ - …
These lines of Boris Likharev’s poetry are an accurate account of the witness. The second concert was performed on 12 April, and consisted of two parts – Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Serov, Glazunov, Rossini, Liszt, Gounod. In Eliasberg’s hands the revived orchestra was gaining strength from rehearsal to rehearsal, from concert to concert – in the literal and figurative sense. The repertoire grew wider and more complex: Beethoven, Haydn, Dvořák, Scriabin, Schubert, Borodin, Kalinnikov…
The first documents stating the intention to play Shostakovich’s Seventh symphony in Leningrad go back to early April. On 6 April the Radio Committee prepared a letter to the composer asking for his assistance in getting the symphony score. The same request was expressed by Olga Bergholz in her conversation with the composer soon after the Moscow premiere (which took place on 29 March). The orchestra was moving towards the summit – both artistic and human – the premiere of the Seventh symphony of their famous compatriot.
Julia Kantor, Doctor of History, Curator of the project “The Memory Score”
The first performance of Dmitry Shostakovich’s Seventh symphony on 5 March 1942 in Kuibyshev was a triumph and created a wide public and cultural resonance. According to the composer himself, soon after the first night the symphony score was sent out to many Soviet cities, including Novosibirsk, Frunze (Bishkek), Tashkent, Sverdlovsk. During 1942 the symphony was performed in Novosibirsk, Leningrad and Tashkent. Yet Moscow was the first city to take the baton from Kuibyshev in giving concert performances of the Seventh.
The decision about performing the symphony was taken in the capital within several days after the Kuibyshev premiere. On 8 March 1942 Shostakovich telegraphed to Ivan Sollertinsky about his possible arrival in Moscow, where “the symphony is supposed to be performed”. Three days later, on 11 March, the composer wrote a letter to Isaak Glikman informing him that the conductor Samosud had already left for Moscow “to assemble an orchestra for the symphony”. Soon Shostakovich himself arrived in Moscow; on 21 March he attended the rehearsal and gave a short interview to the Komsomolskaya Pravda, where he said: “I did not suppose that my Seventh symphony, being a rather difficult composition meant to be performed by a big orchestra, will sound during the days of war. <…> I am eternally grateful both to the conductor and the orchestra, who managed to turn my vision into reality so well”. One of the rehearsals was attended by the famous satirist E. Petrov, who reminisced: “In the middle of the empty hall, somewhere in the tenth or twentieth row there was a pale and very thin man sitting, leaning on the back of the chair. He was sharp-nosed, and had light horn-rimmed glasses on, and there was a tuft of reddish hair on top, which made him look like a schoolboy. Suddenly he jumped up and, tripping over the chair, sideways moved, almost ran, towards the orchestra. He stopped at the conductor’s stand. Samosud leaned, and they got into a lively discussion. It was Dmitry Shostakovich” (Literatura i Iskusstvo, 4 April).
The united orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre branch and the All-Soviet Radio Committee was assembled for the Moscow premiere. It held 130 people, including some renown musicians: Honoured Artists of the Russian Federation violist S. Egoriev and violinist M. Karevich, Honoured Worker of arts M. Tarian, cellist S. Knushevitskiy, oboist N. N. Soloduev, trumpetist S. Eremin, clarinetist A. Volodin. There some Shostakovich’s friends among the musicians, too – violinists D. Tsyganov, V. Shirinsky and cellist S. Shirinsky, members of the Beethoven Quartet who were the first to play many of Shostakovich’s chamber instrumental compositions.
The Moscow premiere was set on 29 March 1942 in the Pillar Hall of the House of the Unions. This was one of the biggest centres of social, political and cultural life of the capital which had housed major international congresses, scientific conferences, chess championships since 1920s. When the war started the building in Bolshaya Dmitrovka, 1 was turned into a military object: it became the headquarters of the NKVD separate motor rifle brigade which carried out special defense tasks in the central part of the city. Upon the completion of the Moscow battle in March-April 1942 the House of the Unions went back to its usual activities. The Moscow premiere of Shostakovich’s Seventh symphony became one of the first major cultural events which took place in this venue.
The symphony was performed in the Pillar Hall twice – on 29 and 30 March. The press reported that the tickets had been sold off long before the concert – “moscovites showed a great interest in this remarkable event” (Izvestia, 31 March); the first night was a “loud success” and became “a true festival of the Soviet art” (Vecherniaya Moskva, 30 March).
The poet Olga Bergholz wrote about her vivid impressions of the Moscow premiere: "The Pillar Hall was full with famous pilots, writers, stakhanovites. There were fighters from the front lines <…> they had arrived in Moscow on business, for several days, to leave for the battle field on the next day <…> They put on all the medals awarded to them by the Republic, and all were dressed in their best clothes, looking smart and festivous. It was very warm in the Pillar Hall, and the people were without coats, the lights were on, and it even smelled of perfume”.
Among these listeners from the front lines was the composer Grigory Frid who was called off from the Far East to Moscow not long before the premiere. According to his words, the performance of the Seventh in the fully packed Pillar Hall overshadowed such hardships as living in the bunkhouses, night raids, cold and hunger in Moscow: “Everybody felt the significance of what was going to happen. <…> at the end of the fourth movement the siren went off. The air raid alert! The announcer came onstage, but he could not say a word. The orchestra kept on playing. The sound of last kettledrum ceased, the final fortissimo chord died away. Samosud put down his baton. A storm of applause swept through the hall. The audience stood up, expressing their jubilation, as if the victory had already come, and there would not be another three years of fortitude and sufferings…”.
After the premiere concerts the performance was repeated in Moscow on 5 and 13 April. The triumphant march of the Seventh across the world was just beginning, and during 1942 it sounded not only in the USSR, but in London, New York, Boston, Mexico and other cities abroad.
Maria Karachevskaya, Candidate of Art
The great history of the Seventh Symphony by D. Shostakovich is embodied in the Kuibyshev-Samara premiere. It is full of numerous small and seemingly insignificant facts. It is a well-known fact that the Seventh was first performed on 5 March 1942 in the Kuibyshev Opera and Ballet Theatre (the present-day Samara Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet). The performance evoked a colossal response all around the world.
The city on the Volga was called ‘the emergency capital’ during the war years. It was here that the Government, the Diplomatic Corps, TASS and other major information agencies were relocated. They were lodged in the old merchant areas of the city. The monumental Kuibyshev Theatre of Opera and Ballet was built in Soviet times, and was situated in the city centre, too.
The Bolshoi Theatre orchestra was lodging in a respectable house five-minutes’ walk from the theatre. The composer was billeted in a small flat in the same building in December 1941, and now the street bears his name.
On 5 March 1942 the Bolshoi Theatre orchestra conducted by the famous Samuil Samosud performed the Seventh symphony for the first time in Kuibyshev – Samara. Let us pay attention to the correlation of certain dates and events in the Kuibyshev period of Shostakovich’s life. First of all, one notices his unusually active creative energy. The composer noted himself that never before had he felt such enthusiasm. Apart from daily rehearsals of the Seventh, Shostakovich almost daily recorded an hour-long radio programme. During these months, despite being very busy, he also led several meetings of the Moscow branch of the Union of Composers. It is its members who were the first to hear all four movements of the Seventh performed by the composer on the piano. Aside from their creative activities, Shostakovich managed to take care of his colleagues’ daily necessities of life: additional rations were provided to all Union members following Shostakovich’s mediation. (Upon Shostakovich’s departure from Kuibyshev in 1943, the composers’ organization in the city, sadly, ceased to exist, and by the end of the war the Moscow members of the Union of Composers had gone, too. The Composers’ organization proper appeared in Samara only in 1989).
Now let us turn to the main event in the Kuibyshev period of Shostakovich’s life – the first night of the Seventh. Long before the Kuibyshev-Samara premiere, on 16 February 1942, the Pravda newspaper published Alexey Tolstoy’s article The rehearsal of the Seventh.
The only detail known about the article and how it came to be written is: the writer came to the ‘emergency capital’ on business and was invited by the composer to the rehearsal of the Seventh. Tolstoy was deeply impressed by what he heard during the rehearsal in the foyer of the Opera Theatre. On 16 February 1942, two days after his visit, the article The Rehearsal of Shostakovich’s Seventh symphony was published in the Pravda. The key phrase of the article is: ‘The Seventh symphony emerged from the conscience of the Russian people…’
Late in the evening after the triumphant premiere, “hardly had the solemn sounds of the inspiring Seventh symphony ceased”, the composer met with the Bolshoi Theatre orchestra and the theatre collective. The composer said: “Everything that needed to be expressed in the musical performance of the Seventh was achieved by Samuil Samosud and the orchestra. … Everything that I conceived was conveyed to the audience in the most talented way”.
Among the immediate responses to the first performance were the impressions of R. Glière, A. Messerer and other figures of culture. General Ignatiev, the author of the famous autobiography “50 Years in Military Service”, prophesied in the pages of the Volzhskaya Kommuna newspaper: “The victory, the moment for which is yet to come, can be heard in every sound. The Seventh symphony is Shostakovich’s biggest victory, and he managed to create the most artistic and patriotic work of the war. It will defy death”.
What else was created by Shostakovich in the years of war and evacuation?
The ‘Kuibyshev period’ list includes not only the Seventh, but also large sections of the next, Eighth symphony.
One cannot overlook the beginning of the work on the Piano Trio devoted to the memory of Ivan Ivanovich Sollertinsky – one of Shostakovich’s closest friends who died in 1944. The Kuibyshev period also includes the cycle of lyrical songs on the verses of English poets – a piece especially marked by the tragic mood and rejection of evil. Also, the composer amazingly quickly wrote a new orchestration for M. Musorgskiy’s Khovanshchina. In this version the opera acquired a new orchestral texture, as well as a new philosophy of war and peace… In today’s theatre productions of Khovanshchina the opera is performed in this version of Shostakovich. One cannot but mention other ‘debts of memory and heart’. For example, in Kuibyshev Shostakovich finished the opera Rothschild's Violin, composed by his pupil Veniamin Fleishman who died in the war. Thanks to Shostakovich the opera was staged in New York, London, and Leningrad.
Last but not least, during the Kuibyshev period Shostakovich composed another opera – The Gamblers. This opus was dedicated to Shostakovich’s favourite pupil – Galina Ustvolskaya. The composition was never performed in the artist’s lifetime.
It was only in the 90s that this work of Shostakovich, based on Gogol’s texts, was staged in three theatres almost simultaneously: the Bolshoi Theatre, the Chamber Opera and “St. Petersburg Opera”.
The affinity with the brilliant composer and outstanding humanist is carefully preserved in Kuibyshev-Samara. This connection is shown in the fact that several generations of Kuibyshev-Samara musicians and musicologists studied in the Leningrad - St. Petersburg Conservatory. Shostakovich’s music and moral philosophy shaped the whole stratum of cultural heritage – monuments and theatre productions, concerts and festivals are dedicated to Shostakovich in this city on the Volga river banks.
Elena Burlina, Member of the Union of Composers, Professor, Candidate of Arts, PhD
This composition is known throughout the world not by its number, but by the name – the Leningrad, and is dedicated to the city.
It was in Akhmatova’s Poem without a Hero that the Symphony’s number was used as a proper name for the first time. It happened in 1942, when it was presented to the wide audience,
“A being that took ‘Seventh’ as its name
Dashed to a festival without peer.
Disguised as musical notation,
The Leningrader’s renowned creation
Returned to its ethereal native sphere.”
On 22 June 1941 Dmitry Shostakovich’s life was divided into “before” and “after”, as was the life of all people in the Soviet Union. The 34 year old composer began his work on the symphony in June 1941, and he wrote, “Never have I composed as quickly as now.” The enemy was speedily approaching Leningrad, and anxiety for the country and for the native city gave a powerful impulse to the composer’s creativity. “I was working in the conservatory," Shostakovich recalled in April 1942. “I did not take a vacation, spending days and nights in the conservatory.” Having started the symphony on 19 July, he had already finished it by 3 September. Five days later, on 8 September, Leningrad was locked in the siege. The composer unveiled his plans in the interview to the Leningrad radio, “An hour ago I finished the score for two parts of my new big symphony. If I get to write this composition well, if I manage to finish the third and the fourth movements, then I will be able to call it the Seventh symphony…” The third part of the Symphony was finished on 29 September.
The composer handed in three applications asking to be sent to the Red Army, and then to the People’s Militia, but was refused. He recalled, “For the third time I went to the People’s Militia because I thought they had forgotten about me… I was enlisted as a musical section head at the People’s Militia’s theatre… It was difficult to be a musical section head, as the section consisted of button accordions only. I kept asking to be sent to the front. I had a meeting with a commissar. He listened to my report and said that it was difficult to draft me into the Army. He felt certain that I should commit myself to writing music. Then I was off the Militia’s theatre list, and, against my will, I was to be evacuated from Leningrad.”
Shostakovich insisted to being listed to the anti-aircraft defense. Together with others he dug trenches and kept watch during the night air raids. “Sometimes I was working in the anti-aircraft gun fire and bombing. And I still kept on writing. On 25 September I celebrated my birthday. I turned 35 …”
On 1 October Shostakovich, his wife and their two children were evacuated by plane from Leningrad to Moscow. Yet, hardly had they arrived in Moscow, when Shostakovich felt an urge to return, “When your house is on fire, you have to be there and try to put it out.” On 12 October during a meeting of the Moscow theatre workers with evacuees from Leningrad in the Central House of Artists Shostakovich announced that the new symphony would be devoted to Leningrad. On 16 October the Sovetskoe Iskusstvo newspaper wrote, “The Seventh Symphony is going to be Shostkovich’s most dramatic work to date.” In those days German troops were coming close to Moscow. Shostakovich and his family were evacuated again, this time to Kuibyshev (present day Samara), where the Bolshoi troupe were also dispatched. At that critical moment Kuibyshev was viewed as an emergency capital, where, in case there was a threat of yielding Moscow to the enemy, all the Soviet supreme authoritiy bodies and foreign diplomatic missions were to be relocated.
On the banks of the Volga river, where the composer lived with his wife and two small children in very strained circumstances, the symphony’s finale was written. Upon their arrival in Kuibyshev, the Shostakovich family lived for nearly three weeks in school No. 81. They slept on the mattresses thrown on the floor, a donation from some acquaintances. And even in such conditions the composer was thinking over the final, fourth movement of the Seventh Symphony, regardless of the complaints he made in the letters to the nearest and dearest that “his nerves are somewhat wrecked.” He strove to be on the frontline – in the literal and figurative sense. Soon the family got a room in house No. 140 in Frunze street, and having made sure the family were settled, he rushed to the Military Commissariat with the request to send him to the front. However, the medical board in Kuibyshev passed the same verdict as their Leningrad colleagues: Shostakovich was found physically unfit for military service, and yet once again he received the advice to beat the enemy “with the weapon he possesses.”
A powerful impulse to finish the composition and inspiration for the theme of victory came with the news of the Soviet Army’s counter-attack outside Moscow leading to the defeat of the enemy. By that time the composer had received a two-room flat No. 13 on the ground floor in house No. 146 in the same Frunze street. Shostakovich mentions this fact in his letters to the mother who stayed behind in the besieged city and about whom Shostakovich was very worried: a letter from October, “I have been working a lot on the symphony lately, and now on the score proofs,” and a letter from January, “I have finished the Seventh symphony here.”
Here Dmitry Dmitrievich brought the work on the legendary Seventh Symphony to a truly triumphant conclusion. At that very time the inscription appeared on the title page of the music score, “Dedicated to the city of Leningrad. Dmitry Shostakovich,” and on the final page, “27.XII.1941. Kuibyshev.” This is how one of the most renowned musical compositions of the 20th century came into being. Conceived on the banks of the Neva and finished on the banks of the Volga, this musical work has become the most legendary musical composition of the World War II period, and an important international social and political event.
"Historically, the victory of fascism is absurd and impossible, but I know that only in the battle one can save humanity from ruin,” wrote the composer in those days. And he was on the battle ground, fighting the enemy with the all triumphant humanistic weapon: great Music.
Prof.Julia Kantor, curator of the project "Memory Score"