Magazine article America in WWII

From Russia with Hope

Magazine article America in WWII

From Russia with Hope

Article excerpt

The masses rarely care for classical music, with its nuances, intricacies, and lengthy development. But they do love a story, and on July 19, 1942, millions of Americans settled in front of their parlor radios to hear a serious piece of music with an inspirational tale: Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich's new Leningrad Symphony.

The symphony arrived in America as an echo of a patriotic fight by an Ally against an existential Axis threat-- the defense of Russia's former capital city against an ongoing German siege begun in September 1941. Though one version of the story would have us believe Shostakovich conceived the symphony in response to the invasion, the first of its four movements--the invasion theme--had been scribbled onto paper a year earlier. Still, Shostakovich did write some of the piece during the siege, largely between stints digging defensive trenches and shifts watching for fires from the roof of the music conservatory.

In the summer of 1941, Shostakovich had gathered some friends to hear the first half of his work-in-progress on piano. He was interrupted at the keys, however, by air-raid sirens and exploding German bombs. The maestro promised his audience that he'd pick up where he left off once the bombs quieted and he delivered his wife and kids safely to the local shelter.

The finished symphony premiered in Leningrad on August 9, 1942--with a percussionist who had recently been pronounced dead, as the story goes. For some reason, conductor Karl Eliasberg didn't believe Dzaudhat Aydarov was actually dead. …

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