Sunday, September 24, 2023

Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad

 Kobo offers a wonderful opportunity to read worthy books, but I was in a hurry and needed to grab some library books and had no time for a long waiting list.  I stumbled on "Symphony for a Dead City."  It is a partial biography of Dmitri Shostakovich focused around the Leningrad Siege of World War II, and using that event as a platform.

Dmitri Shostakovich was a name I had heard of even had a few tunes in a music collection, but did not think of him as key music composer.  Born in Leningrad he became recognized as a musical talent at an early age.  Despite his talent he was criticized by Stalin and was lucky his reputation helped him avoid execution.  He was closely watched.  Like other celebrities he might be allowed foreign travel, but only if his family would be used as hostages.

 He wrote film music and quartets and even an opera.  Symphonies are mostly how he is remembered.  He wrote six symphonies that earned international recognition before the Germans attacked Russia and Leningrad.  A terrible mistake was made by Leningrad authorities that assured there would be very little access to food.  The Germans decided it would be more efficient to starve the city.  The longest siege in modern history resulted and many did die and some others escaped.  Heroic efforts and more commonly desperate measures.  Many books were eaten or burned for heat. More seriously dead bodies (cats, dogs and humans) for food.  A distinction was made between eating a discovered dead body and murdering a live human being for food.    

Shostakovich volunteered for a fire brigade, but had little encounter with real danger.  He started writing his Seventh Symphony and shaped it to reflect the Nazi invasion.  He was deemed important enough to get him out of the city to finish in her safer location.  He always liked to use a big orchestra, but made a bigger effort to include more musicians as a way of protecting them.  Several international orchestras were anxious to get the complete scores and it was hailed a critical success as well as a morale booster.

Stalin was a ruthless leader who had his opposition killed.  The generals were afraid to give him bad news.  Ironically he believed Hitler and made excuses when promises were broken.  An awful shock when he realized he had been betrayed.  After a period of adjustment he applied his ruthlessness to the Germans.  Americans and Brits were supportive, but Stalin always wanted more, most notably a second front.  Without the sacrifices made by Russian soldiers and civilians the war would have lasted much longer.  More Russians died than their allies.

Hitler looked down about the Slavic races and felt the land they occupied would be used for German expansion.  In fact many people in subjugated Russian areas rose up against Stalin, but they were quickly abused and most turned around and fought against the Nazi intruders.

Shostakovich was still not appreciated by Stalin and he was denounced with his works forbidden in 1948.  Nonetheless he composed another three symphonies in his life.  He was a devoted family man who enjoyed soccer.

Nikita Kruschev denounced Stalin when it was safe to do so--after his death.

What compelled me to write a blog about this random selection was the author Matthew Tobin Anderson's historical points.  He felt the war with Stalin and Hitler brought out the worst in man, but humans do learn to co-operate.  Stalin and Hitler were both tyrants who harmed their countrymen, but were overcome.

Dmitri Shostakovich is one of a string of fine Russian composers that we can all enjoy.

No comments:

Post a Comment