Cover image for Leningrad : siege and symphony
Leningrad : siege and symphony
Moynahan, Brian, 1941-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013.
Physical Description:
xii, 542 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony was first played in the city of its birth on 9 August, 1942. There has never been a first performance to match it. Pray God, there never will be again. Almost a year earlier, the Germans had begun their blockade of the city. Already many thousands had died of their wounds, the cold, and most of all, starvation. The assembled musicians--scrounged from frontline units and military bands, for only twenty of the orchestra's 100 players had survived--were so hungry, many feared they'd be too weak to play the score right through. In these, the darkest days of the Second World War, the music and the defiance it inspired provided a rare beacon of light for the watching world. In Leningrad: Siege and Symphony, Brian Moynahan sets the composition of Shostakovich's most famous work against the tragic canvas of the siege itself and the years of repression and terror that preceded it. In vivid and compelling detail he tells the story of the cruelties heaped by the twin monsters of the twentieth century on a city of exquisite beauty and fine minds, and of its no less remarkable survival. Weaving Shostakovich's own story and that of many others into the context of the maelstrom of Stalin's purges and the brutal Nazi invasion of Russia, Leningrad: Siege and Symphony is a magisterial and moving account of one of the most tragic periods in history.
Ouvertyura = Overture -- Repressii = Terror -- Voyna = War -- Do serediny sentyabr' = To mid-September 1941 -- Do serediny oktyabr' = To mid-October 1941 -- Oktyabr' = October 1941 -- Noyabr' = November 1941 -- Dekabr' = December 1941 -- Noviy god = New Year -- Yanvar' = January 1942 -- Fevral' = February 1942 -- Mart = March 1942 -- Aprel'-Maj = April-May 1942 -- Iyun' = June 1942 -- Iyul' = July 1942 -- Simfonya Nr. 7 = Symphony no. 7 -- Do svidaniya = Farewell.
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D764.3.L4 M69 2013 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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D764.3.L4 M69 2013 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony was first played in the city of its birth on 9 August, 1942. There has never been a first performance to match it. Pray God, there never will be again. Almost a year earlier, the Germans had begun their blockade of the city. Already many thousands had died of their wounds, the cold, and most of all, starvation. The assembled musicians - scrounged from frontline units and military bands, for only twenty of the orchestra's 100 players had survived - were so hungry, many fearedthey'd be too weak to play the score right through. In these, the darkest days of the Second World War, the music and the defiance it inspired provided a rare beacon of light for the watching world.

In Leningrad: Siege and Symphony , Brian Moynahan sets the composition of Shostakovich's most famous work against the tragic canvas of the siege itself and the years of repression and terror that preceded it. In vivid and compelling detail he tells the story of the cruelties heaped by the twin monsters of the twentieth century on a city of exquisite beauty and fine minds, and of its no less remarkable survival. Weaving Shostakovich's own story and that of many others into the context of the maelstrom of Stalin's purges and the brutal Nazi invasion of Russia, Leningrad: Siege and Symphony is a magisterial and moving account of one of the most tragic periods in history.

Author Notes

The author was a foreign correspondent and latterly European Editor of the Sunday Times (London). His biographies and histories include the prize-winning The Russian Century, William Tyndale: If God Spare My Life, and The Faith. He writes for several British and American newspapers. He lives in London (England).

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Dmitri Shostakovich's famous Seventh (Leningrad) Symphony was mythologized from the beginning. A dramatic work featuring bold some say bombastic motifs of conflict and pride, the Seventh was composed under dire conditions and first performed in Leningrad by a makeshift orchestra of starving musicians while the city suffered under a devastating German siege. It was immediately seized upon by the Allied press as an inspirational symbol of Russian fortitude and patriotism. Back in the USSR, Stalin built a propaganda campaign around the symphony, using it to drum up support for the war effort. But, as Moynahan reveals, the real story of the symphony's genesis and its triumph was more complex and more tragic than is generally understood. Stalin, he reminds us, despised Leningrad's high culture and had been conducting his own aggressive siege of the city's intellectuals for the better part of a decade before the Germans showed up. The secret police continued to brutally crush all subversives, real or imagined, even as the Germans bombarded, the weather turned frigid, and the populace took to eating their pets, their wallpaper, and eventually each other. Shostakovich narrowly escaped the Stalinist purges, but his storied Seventh arguably hints at threats other than those from abroad. Combining a full description of the birth of the Seventh Symphony with a rich and horrifying account of the hell that was Leningrad under siege, this selection brings new depth and drama to a key historical moment.--Driscoll, Brendan Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Veteran international journalist Moynahan (Claws of the Bear) artfully weaves four interrelated stories set in the great Russian metropolis from 1934 to 1942: the start and continuation of Stalin's purges; the siege of the city by German forces during WWII; the dire huger and cold within the city; and the near-miraculous and triumphant Russian premiere of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony ("the Leningrad") in August 1942, with German guns only seven miles away. Moynahan reveals the extent to which Stalin decimated his army's leadership up to and after the June 1941 German invasion and how the purges encompassed a growing number of civilians accused of defeatism. Meanwhile, during the terrible winter of 1942, desperate citizens resorted to cannibalism. Discussing the symphony's performance, Moynahan notes that most of the musicians "were substitutions due to illness and death," and yet, he notes, if the Leningrad premiere of Shostakovich's masterwork was "perhaps the most magnificent... moment ever to be found in music," the music "hid the camps and interrogation chambers." Moynahan occasionally loses steam, but his vivid political, military, and artistic vignettes and the deft way he links them make this an exceptional, memorable work. Maps. Agent: Rachel Mills, Peters Fraser & Dunlop (U.K.). (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

The siege of Leningrad by the German Wehrmacht during World War II was perhaps the greatest catastrophe ever to befall a city, with some one million deaths from a population only double that number. Moynahan (Jungle Soldier) here connects the wartime suffering of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg again) to what he likens as the triumph of its people as symbolized by the Seventh Symphony (often referred to as the Leningrad Symphony) of Dmitri Shostakovich, who composed it during the siege. The author vividly recounts the harrowing existence of both soldiers and civilians in and around the besieged city, interweaving their heroic responses to the invasion. Besides fending off the German onslaught, the inhabitants of the city were also hounded by Joseph Stalin's secret police (NKVD), who were on the lookout for scapegoats and perceived enemies. Shostakovich composed this tribute to his city on the Neva River, knowing that if it displeased the authorities he could expect a knock on the door from the NKVD. VERDICT Moynahan's rapturous commentary on the music at times amounts to puffery. Nonetheless an admirable tribute to the human spirit and artistic integrity. Highly recommended for all readers interested in the era and the wellsprings of artistic creation. [See Prepub Alert, 5/3/14.]-Edward Cone, New York (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Overtyora (Overture) There has never been a performance to match it. Pray God, there never will. German guns were less than seven miles from the Philharmonia Hall as Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony was first played in the city to which he had dedicated it, in the late afternoon of Sunday, 9 August 1942. Leningrad had been besieged since the Germans cut the last route out of the city on 14 September 1941. Shostakovich had started writing his symphony in mid-July 1941, as the Germans began closing in. He was flown out of the city to Moscow at the beginning of October, with his wife, two young children and the first two movements of the symphony. From there they went east to Kuibyshev on the Volga. After he had completed it - and christened it the 'Leningrad Symphony' - it was played to huge acclaim in Russia, in London, and New York. At the performance in Moscow, the writer Olga Berggolts watched the slight and still boyish composer rise to a torrent of applause, and bow. "'I looked at him,' she wrote, 'a small frail man in big glasses, and I thought: 'This man is more powerful than Hitler.'" The music's greatest resonance, though, its truest defiance of the Nazis - the Russians called them 'the Hitlerites' - could come only when it was played in battered and bleeding Leningrad itself. Orders were given that, 'by any means', this must take place. The score was flown into Leningrad over German lines, the aircraft making a final dash at wavetop level over Lake Ladoga. This vast expanse of water to the east of the city was its only link with the 'mainland', as Leningraders called the rest of Russia, by truck over the ice in winter, by barge after the icemelt. 'When I saw it,' said Karl Eliasberg, who was to conduct the premiere, 'I thought, "We'll never play this." It was four thick volumes of music.' It is indeed a colossal work: 252 pages of score, 2,500 pages of orchestral parts, an hour and twenty minutes long. It demanded an orchestra of 105 musicians, battalions of strings among them. What most worried Eliasberg, though, were the demands on woodwind and brass in a starving city of rabaged lungs. The Leningrad Philharmonia, the city's leading orchestra, was gone. It had been evacuated to safety in Novosibirsk, in Siberia, before the siege began. Its conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky, who had undertaken the premieres of Shostakovich's Fifth and Sixth, had gone with it. The city's second string, the Radio orchestra, under the Radiokomitet, the Radio Committee, and Eliasberg, was all that remained. Over the winter of 1941-42, it had lost more than half its players. The survivors were weak and traumatized. A quarter of a million died in the city in three months, of hunger and hypothermia, with a ration of less than a slice of adulterated bread a day, and temperatures of minus 28 degrees Celsius. German shells and bombs took others. Some were dragged, on children's gaily painted sledges, to mass graves. Sappers blasted pits in the frozen earth with explosives, and the bodies were thrown in. They were the lucky ones. With spring, the snow began to melt. It revealed the corpses of those who remained in the streets. Some were cannibalized. 'Severed legs with meat chopped off them,' said the clarinetist Viktor Kozlov. 'Bits of body with breasts cut off. They'd been buried all winter, but now they were there for all the city to see how it had stayed alive.' A neighbor pounded on the door of Ksenia Matus, an oboist, and begged her to let her in. Her husband was trying to kill and eat her. Worse awaited her when she went to the first rehersal of the Seventh, in the Radiokom studios. 'I nearly fell over with shock,' she says. 'Of an orchestra of a hundred people there were only the fifteen of us left. I didn't recognize them. They were like skeletons...' Eliasberg raised his arms to begin. No reactions. 'The musicians were trembling. The trumpeter didn't have the breath to play his solo. Silence. 'Why don't you play?' Eliasberg asked "I'm sorry, maestro. I haven't the strength in my lungs."' Eliasberg scoured the front lines for other musicians. He found them in the remnants of regimental bands. The trombonist Mikhail Parfionov was one of them. He was given a special ID card marked 'Eliasberg's Orchestra' so that he was not shot as a deserter when he made his way through the ruined city to rehearsals. If the sirens sounded, he had to leave the rehearsal studio and return to serve his anti-aircraft gun. Nikolai Nosov, a former trumpet-player in a jazz band with no experience of classical music, was horrified to find himself playing the symphony's difficult trumpet solo. The lead trumpeter suffered a pulmonary oedema, and was too weak to play. 'We'd start rehearsing and get dizzy,' said Kozlov. 'Our heads were spinning when we blew. The symphony was too big. People were falling over. We might talk to the person sitting next to us. We spoke only of food and hunger, never music.' If a musician was late, or played badly, he lost his bread ration. A man was late one afternoon because in the morning he had buried his wife. Eliasberg said that this was no excuse, and the man went hungry. 'Some of the orchestra died,' says Parfionov. 'I recall a flautist called Karelsky. People were dying like flies, so why not the orchestra? Hunger and cold everywhere. When you are hungry, you are cold however warm it is. Sometimes people just fell over onto the floor while they were playing.' Summer came. 'At last, leaves, blades of grass, and the will to live': but the Germans held the city as tightly as ever. Attempts to dislodge them failed in a welter of blood. A bridgehead the Russians had held at desperate cost, on the east bank of the Neva river, fell after repeated assaults so intense that, to this day, nothing grows on the pitted surface but rank tussock grass. An Army, the Second Shock, was meeting its Calvary in the pine forests and peaty swamps of sphagnum moss to the south. Like the city it was trying to relieve, the Army was surrounded, bludgeoned and starving. A final break-out attempt was made on 28 June. None made it. That day, the Germans took 20,000 prisoners: 'many were wounded...and barely retained the semblance of human beings.' The Red Army lost 149,000 dead in this attempt to lift the siege, for nothing. 'A giant forest of stumps stretched out to the horizon where the dense woods had once stood,' a German sergeant-major recorded. 'The Soviet dead, or rather parts of their bodies, carpeted the churned-up ground. The stench was indescribably ghastly.' As the pale northern sun lit the July nights, Eliasberg continued his search for musicians. A machine-gunner, M. Smolyak, had played in a dance band in a cinema before joining up. He was astonished to receive formal orders detaching him from his unit. 'I was put under the Radiokomitet to perform in the Seventh Symphony by D.D. Shostakovich,' he said. 'Once again, I was "armed" with the trombone.' The orchestra moved to the Philharmonic hall. They began playing small sections of the symphony. Slowly they added more. 'But we never played the whole thing until a dress rehersal three days before the concert,' says Matus. 'It was the first and only time we had the strength to practice it from beginning to end.' The city seemed in keener peril than ever. Far to the south, after eight months of bombardment, the ruins of Sevastopol had fallen to the Germans. Hitler ordered five crack divisions - their victory instilling in them 'the belief that we could accomplish almost anything' - to be transferred from Crimea to Leningrad. Siege was no longer enough for him. He wanted the city stormed, in an operation code-named Nordlicht, Northern light. He was confident. Leningrad, he delcared, over his vegetarian lunch on 6 August, 'must disappear utterly from the face of the earth. Moscow, too. Then the Russians will retire into Siberia.' German guns ranged across the city at will for hours each day, seeking out places where people congregated, tram stops, crossroads, factory gates when shifts changed, queues for bread rations. It seemed madness to give them a swarm of concert-goers to feast on. But a miracle was in the making. An hour before the concert, Russian guns began laying down a ferocious barrage of counter-battery fire. It was based on an artillery fire chart as complex in its was as Shostakovich's musical score, drawn up by a brilliant Red Army gunner, Lieutenant-Colonel Sergei Selivanov, so intimately experienced in German gun positions by now that he knew the names of some of the enemy battery commanders. The Germans took shelter in their bunkers. None of their shells hit the centre of the city for the duration of the concert. The people who flocked to the Philharmonia work their glad rags, perhaps for the last time. The womeb's stick-insect limbs were hidden beneath their pre-war concert dresses, the men in fading jackets. 'They were thin and dystrophic,' said Parfionov. 'I didn't know there could be so many people, hungry for music even as they starved. That was the moment we decided to play the best we could.' Eliasberg wore tails. He looked a scarecrow as they flapped on his emaciated body. Members of the orchestra wore layers of clothes to stay warm. 'It was too cold to play without gloves,' says the oboist Matus. 'We wore them with the fingers cut off, like mittens.' The air temperature in the hall was over 75 degrees Fahrenheit, but to be cold is a classic symptom of starvation. They began to play. 'The Finale was so loud and mighty I thought we'd reached a limit and the whole thing would collapse and fall apart. Only then did I realize what we were doing and hear the grand beauty of the symphony,' says Parfionov. 'When the piece ended there was not a sound in the hall - silence. Then someone clapped at the back, and then another, and then thunder...Afterwards, we held each other, kissed and were happy.' The symphony's fame circled the world. Its timing was a godsend. For the first twenty-two months of Hitler's war, as France, the Low Countries, the Balkans, were overrun, the Russians enjoyed a non-aggression pact with the Nazis. German U-boats and bombers in the Battles of Britain and the Atlantic were fuelled with Soviet oil, their crews clothed with Soviet cotton, and fed with Soviet cereals. Together, Hitler and Stalin had dismembered Poland: the Soviets had then engorged the Baltic states, and part of Finland. In arbitrary arrests, in the volume of executions, in the numbers slaving in labour camps, in the use of terror, the Bolsheviks - in June 1941, at least, at the moment of the German invasion - far outstripped the Nazis. There was every reason to hold these new Soviet allies to be as godless, fanatical, and as hostile to Western values, as their erstwhile Nazi friends. The Leningrad Symphony was the perfect antidote. The Allies wanted, badly, to believe in the Russians, in their survival, and in their decency. Their own campaigns were sagging - the United States Navy suffered its greatest ever disaster in the early hours of 9 August, losing four heavy cruisers and 1,270 men in a few minutes in the dark seas off the Pacific island of Guadalcanal, while the British were reeling from the loss of Tobruk to the German Afrika Korps - and Shostakovich's music helped to give them the reassurance they sought. Leningrad still lived, and fought, and, in drowning out the mechanical squeal and clang of the enemy's tank tracks in a creative storm of music, it seemed to the anxious watchers to confirm Russia's resilience and humanity. 'Like a great wounded snake,' Time magazine wrote, 'dragging its slow length, it uncoils for 80 minutes...Its themes are exultations, agonies...In its last movement the triumphant brasses prophesy what Shostakovich describes as the "victory of light over darkness, of humanity over barbarism.'" It provided a moral redemption for Stalin and the Soviet regime. At the heart of its first movement is an 18-bar theme with twelve accumulating repetitions. It was called 'invasion theme', a devastating response to the Nazis that reviewers found conveyed their 'naked evil in all its stupendous arrogant inhumanity, a terrifying power overrunning Russia'. The world was spellbound by the drama. The poet Carl Sandburg addressed Shostakovich in the Washington Post : All over America...millions [are] listening to your music portrait of Russia in blood and shadows...The outside world looks on and holds its breath. And we hear about you, Dmitri Shostakovich...In Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Oslo, Prague, Warsaw, wherever the Nazis have mopped up, no new symphonies...Your song tells us of a great singing people beyond defeat or conquest who across years to come shall pay their share and contribution to the meanings of human freedom and discipline. The score had been copied on microfilm and flown out of Russia to Teheran. From there, it traveled by staff car to Cairo, then on to London, across Africa and round Spain and far out over the Bay of Biscay, beyond the range of German fighters based in France. In late June, to coincide with the anniversary of Hitler's onslaught on Russia, it had its Western premiere in London. Sir Henry Wood conducted at the Albert Hall. In America, the leading conductors - Koussevitsky in Boston, Stokowski in Philadelphia, Rodzinski in Cleveland - fought for it. Arturo Toscanini in New York had NBC money behind him. He won. A thunderstorm raged as he conducted an orchestra of 110 musicians in Radio City. In its first season, the symphony was broadcast by 1,934 American radio stations, with 62 live performances. The story of its creation - written under fire,delivered out of the besieged city- was a sensation. Shostakovich's photograph appeared on the cover of Time , the first time a musician had appeared there. He was wearing a fireman's helmet and uniform, looking fiercely out over the burning city. The cover line reads: 'Fireman Shostakovich. Amid bombs bursting in Leningrad, he heard the chords of victory.' But things were not as they seemed. The famous picture of Shostakovich, for example, had been posed in a special photo-shoot before the first bombs were dropped on the city. He was too important to risk: as the siege began to bite, he had been flown out of the city. A more crucial point escaped the world. The Russian undertones in Leningrad's symphony were as dark as the Hitlerites at the city gates. Older, too. Even as it was being terrorized by Hitler from without, blockaded, bombed, shelled, so it was being terrorized by Stalin from within. The purges that had defined pre-war Leningrad - the arrests, interrogations, 'confessions', executions - were continuing. Pre-war, Leningrad had been a pole of cruelty, the most defiled of all Soviet cities. Stalin had a particular hatred for the city, for the elegance of its buildings, rising in faultless lines of green and pink and blue stucco above the Neva rover and the canals, for its independence of mind and its artistic genius, for its sophistication, so at odds with his own obscure origins in the stews of Tiflis, for its links with Trotsky. Leningrad was purged as no other. With the war, the terror continued. The siege made only a technical difference: the option of exiling a prisoner to a camp in Siberia or the Artic was no longer so easy. The Germans were in the way. The deranged accusations, the discovery of elaborate, rambling 'plots', went on apace. The city remained in fear of its own, of fellow Russians with the purple ID cards of the secret police, the NKVD: 'You were asleep in your unheated Leningrad room, and the sharp claws of the back hand were already hovering over you.' Informers went on informing. The interrogators were busy in the Bolshoi Dom, the NKVD's 'Big House' in the center of the city, not fifteen minutes' walk from Radiokom musicians and the Philharmonia Hall. One victim among many: a Lieutenant-General Ignatovsky, seen at the window of his office, overlooking the Neva, with a white handkerchief. Under torture, he 'confessed' to signalling to German agents. He gave the names of members of his 'organization'. Ignatovsky was an officer in the engineers. A score of engineers from the Technological Institute were arrested, and 'confessed'. The cells in which they were held had been built in tsarist days to hold a single prisoner. Now each had 'ten,fourteen, even 28' awaiting execution. OPne of them was Konstantin Strakovich. He would survive, through a quirk, to become a post-war pioneer of turbojet engines. The charges against him were insane: he was a ten-year old on the date he was supposedly recruited by Ignatovsky. Strakovich's treatment was bestial. He recalled the prison doctor coming into his cell. The doctor jabbed his finger at the prisoners. 'He's a dead man! He's a dead man! He's a dead man!' It is wrong to keep them in such misery, the doctor cried to the duty gaoler: 'Better to shoot them now. Now!' Shostakovich loved the city. 'An hour ago I finished scoring the second movement of my latest large orchestral composition,' he had said on radio on 17 September 1941. 'My life and work are bound up in Leningrad. It is my country, my native city and my home.' At the heart of the Seventh was a howl at the evil washing over it. For the moment, that evil was taken to be exclusively Nazi. But Red terror had preceded it, and would outlast it. Shostakovich knew this as intimately as any. It had carried off close friends, and family, the tortured body of one dumped in a Moscow landfill, others broken in the Gulag camps. It had come, as we shall see, within the merest whisker of doing for him himself. Excerpted from Leningrad: Siege and Symphony: The Story of the Great City Terrorized by Stalin, Starved by Hitler, Immortalized by Shostakovich by Brian Moynahan All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Dramatis Personaep. ix
Mapsp. xiii
Ouvertyura Overturep. 1
1 Repressii Terrorp. 11
2 Voyna Warp. 73
3 Do serediny sentyabr To Mid-September 1941p. 108
4 Do serediny oktyabr' To Mid-October 1941p. 142
5 Oktyabr October 1941p. 172
6 Noyabr' November 1941p. 196
7 Defcafcr' December 1941p. 229
8 Noviygod New Yearp. 258
9 Yanvar January 1942p. 266
10 Fevral' February 1942p. 297
11 Mart March 1942p. 357
12 Aprel'-Maj April-May 1942p. 394
13 lyun' June 1942p. 430
14 Iyul' July 1942p. 458
15 Simfonya Nr. 7 Symphony No, 7p. 476
Do svidaniya Farewellp. 489
Notesp. 494
Bibliographyp. 514
Acknowledgementsp. 521
Indexp. 523