Shostakovich’s symphony that fought Hitler and mocked Stalin

“I love this Shostakovich Since I was a kid. His music is excellent for moody teens.” Anderson MountainThe American writer and journalist who, in his youth, heard a strange story about the Russian composer: “Reading CD manuals and manual programs for concerts, I discovered that the result of Symphony No. 7 Shostakovich was photographed and put on microfilm It was smuggled out of the Soviet Union to the United States.”

Before arriving in New York, its final destination, the sheet music toured the Middle East, North Africa, Brazil, and Washington, D.C., where he was the official responsible for its transportation. I decided to stop on the way to have a snack in the cafeteria. When he left the building, he realized he left microfilm inside, which almost ended up in the trash.

In general, the microfilm is supposed to be used to store blueprints for a nuclear submarine or a key to the Enigma code, but not for a piece of music. If it was decided to move the score to the US on such backing, it was so that it could be performed by the NBC Orchestra led by Arturo Toscanini And in order for the American people to support American aid to Moscow,” Anderson explains, fascinated by history, he decided to start researching it.

The result is Symphony of the City of the Dead (EsPop, 2022), an article reviewing Shostakovich’s life, his childhood in a wealthy family, his beginnings as a composer, his work according to the principles of the October Revolution, his success as a proletarian composer, his fall into misfortune during the Stalin regime and his salvation as a symphony composer, No. 7, which narrated The suffering of the Leningraders, present-day Saint Petersburg, during one of the greatest sieges the city has seen in human history. nothing less than 872 days with supply routes cut off Which, among many other dramas, has caused thousands of deaths Deaths by freezing, starvation, and gross cases of cannibalism.

The symphony was performed in 1942 inside the walls of besieged Leningrad by an orchestra of starving musicians who were about to pass out amid an attack by Nazi forces. The event was so perilous that the Red Army had to bomb the Germans on the other side of the city to try to keep the fire out. concert hall,” explains M.T. Anderson, who encountered many difficulties in conducting his research.

“It is difficult to reconstruct any life from documents. But it is even more difficult when you analyze a dictatorship, such as that of Stalin, where Everyone has a reason to lie, betray and falsify records. The Soviets created a system in which no one could be trusted. Propaganda erased the truth, people were tried and executed for crimes they did not commit, and everyone lied to survive. Even Shostakovich himself hid things from his children because if they said something inappropriate at school, the whole family would be in danger,” says Anderson, who, with all that being said, didn’t have things easy after the fall of the Soviet Union.

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50 years later, when the Soviet system collapsed, Those lies started working in the opposite directionTA: Everyone wanted to tell a story about secret opponents. The problem with governments built on lies is that when you try to write about the events that happened in the Soviet Union, there is always an aura of unreality. This is the challenge the United States is now dealing with because how do we prevent the poison of lies from making the entire nation sick?

Chaos instead of music

On January 26, 1936, Stalin attended one of the performances Lady Macbeth From the Mtsensk District, an opera in four acts written by Alexandre Preis and composed by Shostakovich. The musician, who, despite being of bourgeois origin, succeeded in developing a work that combined the artistic avant-garde with a proletarian spirit, witnessed how the communist leader moved in the box, whispered to his comrades and showed his displeasure with what he heard.

The next day, the newspaper Pravdawho had paid tribute to the opera in the preceding months, he published Chaos instead of musica hostile criticisms of Shostakovich’s work Which, at that time, could be the cause of serious problems for the composer. Since then, the musician has tried to show his adherence to Stalin by modifying his public statements, showcasing himself He volunteered to fight in World War II with the Russian Army When he was refused, he joined the Leningrad Fire Brigade, a work he combined with the composition of the Seventh Symphony which included, in some of its movements, veiled criticisms of Stalin.

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In a way, the shape of a symphony seems to contain a file A hidden message about Stalin’s terrible rise to power. The first movement is interrupted by a rather silly marching tune that seems harmless at first but builds and develops until it becomes furious and violent, destroying everything around it. People, not Shostakovich himself, called it the theme of “invasion.” What is remarkable, however, is that this music is not at all reminiscent of the German invasion of Russia, which was surprisingly and immediately terrifying, but more akin to the rise of Stalin, which at first seemed to A clown in the entourage surrounded Lenin, but who became the supreme ruler of the USSR was a surprise to everyone,” comments M.T. Anderson, who makes it clear that Shostakovich never openly admitted such criticism of the Soviet leader. “And he told his neighbor that it was a symphony about forces that oppress the human spirit Wherever they are, including both Hitler and Stalin and all these dangerous men, clumsy in their selfishness and combative in their vanity.

Symphony propaganda

Despite this supposed criticism of Stalin, the Soviet government considered the Seventh Symphony to be an inspired composition that concealed the effort and heroism of the people of Leningrad, so that it could become A propaganda piece that helped the Allies forget the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that the Soviets had signed with the Nazis a few years earlier.

We will never know exactly how Shostakovich felt about that decision because it was too dangerous to write his opinions down, but I imagine he would feel. used for the Communist Party. Among other things because when he was finally forced to join him, he was supposed to weep and contemplate suicide. On the one hand, I think, the composer had a sincere love for the Russian people and for the city of Leningrad. He was deeply affected by the plight of his hometown, wanted to show it to the world, and wanted his countrymen to have hope and victory over the Nazis. In this sense, the symphony was not mere propaganda, but conveyed the true feelings of the musician as he watched, as a firefighter and from the roof of the Leningrad Conservatory, how his beloved city was attacked.

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More than 60 years later, he showed up Symphony No. 7 Shostakovich is considered one of the greatest works of Russian music. This piece is part of the repertoire of orchestras around the world, and for a few months, It is again interpreted in a warlike and authoritarian context like the one that inspired it: the Ukrainian war and the government of Vladimir Putin.

“Around this time last year, I was invited to speak about the Seventh Symphony at a conference in St. Petersburg that will take place in August 2022. When the war started, the organizers asked me if I still intended to attend and I declined the invitation. I didn’t give them an explanation at the time, but it goes on. As follows: How can I attend a conference on Soviet wartime politics and music without noting that the tables have been turned and now it is the Russians who speak with pride? About the brutal invasion they took part in and how they would starve the enemy through the harsh winter of siege? Moreover, How can I say this kind of thing out loud knowing that the conference organizers may be liable for my words in a regime that threatens again, as was the case with Stalin, to jail anyone who spoke against him?” reflects M.T. Anderson, who calls those Russians who have And they consider Shostakovich a hero of the country who must be listened to paying special attention “to his passion, his indignation at injustice, his defiance in the face of cruelty. But I also invite us to listen to him in the West to remember that, behind this wall of silence, Not everyone is as obedient as it seems. However, we can never know the suffering of others until we truly listen to them.”

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