Symphony No. 7 (Shostakovich)

Symphony No. 7 (Shostakovich)


After the war, the symphony's reputation declined substantially, both due to its public perception as war propaganda as well as the increasingly prevalent view that it was one of Shostakovich’s less accomplished works. In more recent years, scholars have suggested that the work is better interpreted as a depiction of totalitarianism and fascism in general (and more specifically, the brutality of Stalin’s regime). This interpretation is complicated by uncertainty as to when the composer started to write the symphony, with evidence that Shostakovich largely completed the first movement, with its famous “invasion” theme, prior to the beginning of the siege in September 1941.


The symphony is Shostakovich's longest, and one of the longest in the repertoire, with performances taking approximately one hour and fifteen minutes. The scale and scope of the work is consistent with Shostakovich’s other symphonies as well as with those of composers considered to be his strongest influences, including Bruckner, Mahler, and Stravinsky.

The symphony is written in the conventional four movements.

#:The first movement takes on the sonata form, a common structural convention in symphonic composition since the 18th century. It begins with a rousing, majestic theme played by all the strings, which is subsequently echoed by woodwinds. The melody continually 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. This quieter part leads directly into the so-called "invasion theme", an 22-bar ostinato that will pervade much of the movement. This “march” is actually a pastiche of "Da geh' ich zu Maxim," from Franz Lehár's operetta "The Merry Widow" for its latter half, [MacDonald, 159-160.] a theme from Shostakovich's opera "Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District", the work for which the composer suffered his first official denunciation in 1936,Geiger, 5.] and a prominent sequence of six descending notes in the seventh bar, between these two quotations, resembling the third bar of "Deutschland Über Alles". [MacDonald, 159-160.] This composite is first played softly by the string pizzicato, then is echoed by multiple instruments accompanied by the snare drum. The march is repeated twelve times, louder and more accented each time, somewhat in the manner of Maurice Ravel's "Boléro". Other instruments accompany with undertones that forebode increasing action and excitement. At the end of the twelfth repetition, the brass (particularly the trumpets) interject very loudly with a new, more frantic theme. The passage has rising and falling scales, one after the other. This climaxes in a somewhat slower, but loud and chaotic passage driven by competing blaring brass and frantic strings. A meandering slower section follows. The first theme is eventually recapitulated, though this time it is played much more softly and warmly by strings. The movement ends softly, with shades of the "invasion theme" from a sly trumpet and some percussion.
#"Moderato (poco allegretto)"
#:The second movement, originally titled "Memories" is the symphony's shortest. Though its only heading other than its tempo indication, 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. [Steinberg, 557.]
#:The third movement 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. The original title for this movement was "Our Country's Wide Spaces". 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 muted brass. 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. [Steinberg, 557-558.]
#"Allegro non troppo"
#:The fourth movement begins with a very 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 sustained section continues for several minutes with increasing frenzy. A brief break comes in the form of a transition passage with repetitive triplets played by high strings, accented by slap pizzicati in the cellos and bass. A slower, deliberately-paced and sharply accented section follows. Several minutes of quiet foreboding take place from this point, with melodies from previous movements (particularly the first movement). Woodwinds build one of these melodies until violins take over with another familiar melody that builds to the ferocious climax. The piece ends in the key of C major, but it is by no means a joyous ending. Previous themes are brought back, only this time laboriously augmented, and the colossal C major ending is quite ambiguous, if not blatantly ironic.


The work is written for:;Woodwinds:

:3 Flutes :Piccolo (doubling 2nd flute):Alto flute (doubling 3rd flute):2 Oboes:Cor anglais:2 clarinets in Bmusic|flat and A.:E-flat Clarinet, called "Clarinet piccolo" (doubling 3rd clarinet):Bass clarinet:2 Bassoons:Contrabassoon

;Brass::8 French Horns :6 Trumpets :6 Trombones : Tuba;Percussion::5 Timpani:Bass Drum:Snare drum (at least one; two to three recommended):Cymbals:tamtam:Triangle:Tambourine:Xylophone


;Strings::2 Harps; and a minimum of::16 1st Violins:14 2nd Violins:12 Violas:10 Cellos:8 Double basses



"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 in "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. [Volkov, "Testimony", 155.] 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 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." [Volkov, "Testimony", 156.]

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 composer's statement in "Testimony". Shostakovich did not like talking about what he called "creative plans," preferring to announce his works once they were completed.Volkov, "St. Petersburg", 427.] 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. [Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin", 171.] 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.Volkov, "St. Petersburg", 427.]

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:

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:

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. [Volkov, "St. Petersburg", 430.] 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." ["Sovietskoe iskusstvo" [Soviet Art] , October 9, 1941.]

"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 instead of a primarily esoteric one. To do so, he had to express his hidden feelings in a way to make them accessible to the audience, allowing it to experience catharsis. A model on how to do this was Igor Stravinsky's "Symphony of Psalms." Stravinsky's compositions held considerable influence over Shostakovich.Volkov, "St. Petersburg", 428.] and he had been deeply impressed with this particular work. [Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin", 175.] Moreover, Stravinsky had initially set the Russian text of the Psalms, only later switching to Latin. [Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin", 174.] 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.Volkov, "St. Petersburg", 428.]

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").Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin", 175.] The theme not only conveyed his outrage over Stalin's oppression, [Volkov, "St. Petersburg",427.] , but also may have inspired him to write the Seventh Symphony in the first place.Volkov, "Testimony", 184.] "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."Volkov, "'Testimony", 184.]

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 werte no longer suppressing Orthodox themes or images. [Volkov, "St. Petersburg", 427-428.] Yet for all the importance he played on them, Shostakovich may have been right in writing the symphony without a text, in view of the censorship that would eventually be reimposed.Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin", 175.]

"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 Mikheyeya (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. [See "111 sinfonii: spravochnik-putevoditel"' (St. Petersburg, 2000), 618.]

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." [Quoted in "D. Shostakovich o vremeni i o sebe 1926-1975" (Moscow, 1980), 96.] 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. [Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin", 171.]

The composer expounded much later on what he meant:

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. [Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin", 172-173.]

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 operette, 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 repoortedly sung jokingly in the Shostakovich household to the composer's son. [MacDonald, 159-160.] Arthur Lourié called the theme a "trite, intentionally silly motif," adding, "This tune can be whistled by any Soviet man on the street...." ["Novyi zhurnal", 4 (1943), 371.] (Coincidentally, Conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky echoed Lourié when he called it a generalized image of spreading stupidity and triteness. [Mravinsky, in conversations with Solomon Volkov, Leningrad, 1969.] Added to this musical quotation was a prominent sequence of six descending notes in the seventh of the theme's 22 bars—a sequence which bears a passing resemblance to the third bar of "Deutschland Über Alles". [MacDonald, 159-160.]

Ian MacDonald maintains that the simplest explanation for Shostakovkch 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." [MacDonald, 159.] 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 Mtensk District", the work for which the composer suffered his first official denunciation in 1936.Geiger, 5.] The quotation itself was used in passages of the libretto that describe the way we suffer from tyranny.Geiger, 5.]

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 corsurrating six-bar trill across most of the woodwind section, the composer modulates the march into C-sharp 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".MacDonald, 160.]

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. [This moment occurs seven bars after figure 49 in the score.] MacDonald, 160.]

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. [Steinberg, 557.] The question now became whether to stay in he city 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. Adapting a matter-of-fact tone, he attempted to assure his fellow Leningraders that for him it was business as usual:

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 airraid 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 played that movement then the following one for his guests. [Solertinsky, 102-103.] Their reaction encouraged him to start that night on the adagio. He completed this movement 29 September in the city. Shostakovich and his family were then evacuated to Moscow on 1 October 1941. They moved to Kuibyshev (now Samara) on 22 October, where the symphony was finally completed.


The world première was held in Kuibyshev 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 Teheran and travelled to the West in April 1942. The symphony received its broadcast première in Europe by Henry 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 on 19 July 1942, by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini in a studio concert broadcast nationwide on radio. This performance was eventually released on CD by RCA Victor. Toscanini sent the composer a copy of his recording. Shostakovich hated it. He claimed "hearing it made me angry. Everything is wrong. The spirit and the character and the tempos. It's a lousy, sloppy hack job."Volkov, "Testimony", 25.] Shostakovich even fired off an angry letter to the conductor. Ironically, long after the event Shostakovich was elected a member of the Arturo Toscanini Society and started receiving records on a regular basis.Volkov, "Testimony", 25.]

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. Only political appeals were broadcast. Even then, there were hours of silence because of the lack of agitators. [Fadayev, Alexander, "Lenningrad v dni blokady" (Moscow, 1944), 40.] 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. [Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin", 179.] "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." ["Minuvshee", issue 3 (Paris, 1987), 20-21.]

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. [Sollertinsky, 107.] 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."Sollertinsky, 108.] Orchestral players were given additional rations. [Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin", 179.]

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. [Fay, 133.] 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. [Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin", 179-180]

The concert was given 9 August 1942. Whether this date was chosen intentionally, it was the day Hitler had chosen previously to celebrate the fall of Lenningrad with a lavish banquet at the Astoria Hotel. [Figes, 493.] Loudspeakers broadcast the performance throughout the city as well as to the German forces in a move of psychological warfare. [Fay, 133.] 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.Sollertinsky, 108.] Three thousand high-caliber shells were lobbed onto the enemy. [Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin", 180.]


In Russia

At the first hearings of the Seventh, listeners typically wept. 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 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". [Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin", 176.]

Tolstoy's actions became instrumental in the life of the Seventh. Stalin read "Pravda" closely and he generally trusted Tolstoy's comments. He remained highly suspicious of spontaneous outpourings of mass enthusiasm both before and after the war, seeing them as veiled instances of oppositionist feelings. However, he also realized squelching such mass expressions in wartime could be unwise, 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. [Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin", 176-177.] At least as important was that without the help of the United States and Great Britain, 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. [Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin, 180.]

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. 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. [Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin", 177.]

In the West

The Seventh also fit Stalin plans extremely well when it came to the Soviet image to 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. [Volkov, "St. Petersburg, 434.] 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. It 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. [Virgil Thomson in New York Herald Tribune 18 October 1942.] Sergei Rachmaninoff's only comment after hearing the American premiere on the radio was a grim "Well, and now let's have some tea." [Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin", 181.] Béla Bartók, frustrated with the popularity of the piece, parodies the ostinato from the “invasion” theme of the first movement of the symphony in the fourth movement, "Intermezzo interotto", of his "Concerto for Orchestra" (see Quotations and Allusions below).

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 hear 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. [Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin", 182.]


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 the longest symphony Shostakovich wrote. 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 basically clueless to the anti-Stalinist subtext hidden in the work. [Blokker, page cit 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. [MacDonald, 154.]

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.Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin", 182.] 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 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. [Maes, 356-357.] For all these reasons, the music was considered both naïve and calculated in the West.Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin", 182.]

Soviet audiences did not come to the music with the same expectations as Western listeners. What mattered to Soviet listeners was the message and the serious of its moral content. The Seventh maintained its position with that audience because its content was so momentous. [Maes, 357.] 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. [MacDonald, 156.] Later, negative views from the West prejudiced the thinking of the Soviet elite toward the Seventh. [Volkov, "Shostakovich and Stalin", 182 ft. 1.]


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 an 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," [MacDonald, 4.] . 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." [MacDonald, 7.] 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 (see "Music about terror" above). 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, with the piece viewed as a condemnation of both Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism.

Quotations and Allusions

*It has been alleged 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 the manner in which it is presented seems very much a parody. Bartók interjects his very romantic and lyrical melody in the movement with a much slower, dimwitted interpretation of Shostakovich’s invasion ostinato. The resemblance has been variously interpreted as an accusation of tastelessness, as a commentary on the symphony's over-popularity in Bartók's eyes, and as an acknowledgment of the position of the artist in a totalitarian society.

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 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 advisers included Rudolf Barshai and Boris Tishchenko. The film and performance were repeated, with the same artists, in London on May 9 2005 at the Albert Hall.



*Blokker, Roy, with Robert Dearling, "The Music of Dmitri Shostakovich: The Symphonies" (Cranbury, New Jersey: Associated University Presses, Inc., 1979). ISBN 0-8386-1948-7.
*Dubinsky, Rostislav (1989). "Stormy Applause". Hill & Wang 1989. ISBN 0-8090-8895-9.
*Programme note for the Symphony for performance by the [ London Shostakovich Orchestra]
*Fay, Laurel, "Shostakovich: A Life" (Oxford and New York:Oxford University Press, 1989). ISBN 0-19-513438-9.
*Geiger, Friedrich, notes for Teldec 21467: "Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 "Lenningrad"; New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kurt Masur.
*MacDonald, Ian, "The New Shostakovich" (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1990). ISBN 1-55553-089-3.
*Maes, Francis, tr. Arnold J. Pomerans and Erica Pomerans, "A History of Russian Music: From "Kamarinskaya "to" Babi Yar (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2002). ISBN 0-520-21815-9.
*Sollertinsky, Dmitri & Ludmilla, tr. Graham Hobbs & Charles Midgley, "Pages from the Life of Dmitri Shostakovich" (New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980). ISBN 0-15-170730-8.
*Volkov, Solomon, tr. Antonina W. Bouis, "Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich" (New York: Harper & Row, 1979.). ISBN 0-06-014476-9.
*Volkov, Solomon, tr. Antonina W. Bouis, "St. Petersburg: A Cultural History" (New York: The Free Press, 1995). ISBN 0-02-874052-1.
*Volkov, Solomon (2004). "Shostakovich and Stalin: The Extraordinary Relationship Between the Great Composer and the Brutal Dictator". Knopf. ISBN 0-375-41082-1.
*Wilson, Elizabeth (1994). "Shostakovich: A Life Remembered". Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-04465-1.
* [,,605454,00.html Ed Vulliamy, "Orchestral manoeuvres (part one)". "The Guardian", 25 November 2001.]
* [,,605486,00.html Ed Vulliamy, "Orchestral maneouvres (part two)". "The Guardian", 25 November 2001.]
* [ Review of film version] of the Symphony, St. Petersburg, 31 January 2005
* Programme, Shostakovich 7th Symphony/Cinemaphonia, Albert Hall, London May 9 2005.

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  • Symphony No. 4 (Shostakovich) — Dmitri Shostakovich composed his Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Opus 43, between September 1935 and May 1936. Halfway through its composition, he was denounced in the infamous Pravda editorial Chaos Instead of Music, written under direct orders from… …   Wikipedia

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  • Symphony No. 5 (Shostakovich) — Infobox Symphony symphonynumber=5 name=A Soviet Artist s Response to Justified Criticism opusnumber=47 composer=Dmitri Shostakovich yearcomposed=1937 playingtime=49:40 movements=4 key=D minor Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his Symphony No. 5 in D… …   Wikipedia

  • Symphony No. 12 (Shostakovich) — Dmitri Shostakovich composed his Symphony No. 12 in D minor, Op. 112, subtitled The Year of 1917 , in 1961, dedicating it to the memory of Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Revolution. The symphony was premiered that October by the… …   Wikipedia

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