No work was shaped by history as much as Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7. From September 1941 German soldiers lay siege to Leningrad, today known as Saint Petersburg. Shostakovich was one of the three million people trapped in the city. Acutely conscious of the German threat, he decided to transform the work in one movement that he was working on into a Leningrad symphony in four movements that would be "dedicated to the fight against fascism".
The Siege of Leningrad lasted 871 days and cost the lives of about one million civilians. Shostakovich managed to flee the city in less than a month and was able to complete his symphony elsewhere. It was premiered by the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra in exile and broadcast throughout Russia. In August 1942 a performance was even organised in the still occupied Leningrad. To ensure silence during the concert, the German artillery positions were the subject of particularly intense bombing beforehand.
The most memorable passage in Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 is what has become known as the ‘invasion theme’ in the first movement. This theme, with its 11 variations, is reminiscent of Ravel's Bolero, draws inspiration from Hitler's favourite music (Da geh’ ich zu Maxim from the operetta The Merry Widow) and also refers to Shostakovich's own opera Lady Macbeth – of which Stalin had banned all performances. In other words, with his Symphony No. 7, Shostakovich not only took aim at the Nazi terror but at regimes of violence in general.
Flagey, Brussels Philharmonic, Klarafestival
€ 41 > € 5