Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Symphony No. 7 (Shostakovich)
Shostakovich completed the symphony on 27 December 1941. There are conflicting accounts as to when he began work on the piece: officially he was said to have composed it in response to the German invasion, but others (e.g. Rostislav Dubinsky) say that he had already completed the first movement a year earlier. It is known that he continued writing during the Siege of Leningrad, as the German forces tried to starve the city into submission. For some of this time he worked as a fireman. The first three movements were completed in the city before Shostakovich and his family were evacuated to Kuybishev (now Samara), where it was finally completed.
The world premiere was held in Kuybishev 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 symphony was premiered in the UK by Henry Wood and the London Philharmonic Orchestra on 22 June 1942, and in the US by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini in New York on July 19, 1942. The Leningrad premiere was given on 9 August 1942 by the Leningrad Radio Orchestra under Karl Eliasberg ; members of the orchestra were given extra rations to help them through the concert, and extra players were drafted in to replace those fighting, evacuated or dead. Loudspeakers broadcast the performance throughout the city and to the besieging German forces.
During the war, the work was very popular both in the West and in the USSR as the embodiment of the fighting Russian spirit. It was played 62 times in the United States in the 1942-43 season. After the war its reputation declined, being seen in the West as overly bombastic and little more than Soviet propaganda. In recent years it has again become more popular, along with the rest of Shostakovich's work, and the piece has been viewed as a condemnation of both Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism.
The symphony is Shostakovich's longest (approximately one hour and fifteen minutes in length). It is best known for one episode in the first movement, in which a jaunty 18-bar march, accompanied by a repeated rhythm on the snare drum, is repeated twelve times, louder each time, somewhat in the manner of Maurice Ravel's Bolero. The march lasts for eleven minutes and was traditionally viewed as a clear representation of the fascist invaders. Béla Bartók quoted this movement in his Concerto for Orchestra; this has been variously interpreted as an accusation of tastelessness, a commentary on the symphony's over-popularity in Bartók's eyes, or as an acknowledgment of the position of the artist in a totalitarian society. In modern times scholars have argued the march actually shows Russia's destruction emanating from within, noting that the theme is formed from fragments of Russian tunes. Volkov has argued that the march's low-key beginning indicates an insidious takeover rather than the Nazis' frontal invasion. The composer's friend, Flora Litvinova, recalled him saying the work was "not just about fascism, but also about our system" (Wilson p. 159).
The work has four movements in all:
- Dubinsky, Rostislav (1989). Stormy Applause. Hill & Wang 1989. ISBN 0809088959.
- Volkov, Solomon (2004). Shostakovich and Stalin: The Extraordinary Relationship Between the Great Composer and the Brutal Dictator. Knopf. ISBN 0375410821.
- Wilson, Elizabeth (1994). Shostakovich: A Life Remembered. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691044651.
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