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The Leningrad Symphony: A Musical Epic of Resistance

The winter in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1941 was an extremely cold and cruel winter.

In the summer of that year, Hitler launched a lightning attack on the Soviet Union, and the German army turned to siege after being blocked in Leningrad. The Soviet government implemented a wartime emergency management of Leningrad. At night, the darkness under the blackout portends an ominous nightmare, and under the iron-grey night sky is the silence caused by martial law, which is only broken by the sudden German artillery attack. The cold winter is coming, the snow has no shins, the ice is thick, the temperature has dropped to minus 35 degrees Celsius, the heating equipment has been completely destroyed, and the whole city has no water and electricity. What is even more terrifying is that after the city was blocked, the food supply in the city was paralyzed, famine raged, all the birds and mice were eaten up, and the people, no matter how high or low, were all dead bones. In this boundless despair and depression, Shostakovich, who served as an air defense officer in Leningrad, began to compose the most important work in his life-“Seventh Symphony”.

This is a hymn to a great city, an enduring musical epic. The symphony is in C major and has 4 movements. The composer added titles to all the movements: the first movement “War”, the second movement “Memories”, the third movement “The Fields of the Fatherland”, and the fourth movement “Victory”.

In March 1942, the “Seventh Symphony” premiered in Kuibyshev (now Samara), the city where Shostakovich lived temporarily, and the tragic melody was broadcast all over the world by radio. The performances of the Seventh Symphony began in major cities around the world, including Moscow, Soviet Union in March, London, England in June, and New York, USA in July. This symphony shocked all audiences, and people also remembered the glorious name of Leningrad through this work, so this symphony was named “Leningrad Symphony”.


In August 1942, the siege continued for a full year. A Soviet transport plane broke through the siege and landed in Leningrad carrying the score of the “Leningrad Symphony”. This great work finally returned to its hometown. The conductor of the orchestra received an order to rebuild the orchestra – the names of 27 musicians have been permanently circled in black boxes, a piece of military instructions, the musicians on the front line gathered in the concert hall, some of them walked on crutches, Some were carried on stretchers.

On the eve of the premiere, the Soviet artillery launched a counter-suppressive attack on the German positions. 3,000 rounds of shells were exchanged for a moment of tranquility over the city. The “Leningrad Symphony”-one of the most evocative pieces of music in human history-is played! In the streets, in bunkers, and in their homes, people listened to the heroic music on the radio with tears in their eyes. At the beginning, the violin elegantly leads to a beautiful theme, reminding people in trouble of the peaceful and leisurely afternoon before the war. Suddenly, snare drums from afar shattered people’s dreams. The dense drum beats crescendo, and the continuous addition of timpani, wind section, and string section strengthens the melody. The sound is getting stronger and stronger, and the black clouds are overwhelming the city! The sound of cars, tanks, airplanes, and death’s footsteps approached Leningrad step by step. The theme of aggression and the theme of beauty wrestle together, constantly tearing and tumbling, making people feel in danger for a while, and see the light of day again for a while. The drums were repeated 175 times, and the theme trudged through 11 variations. The distance between coming and going, parting and farewell is getting shorter and shorter, which is suffocating. Until the majestic horn sounded, the atmosphere became passionate and clear, heralding the arrival of victory. In the end, the brass pipes powerfully played an overwhelming triumphant song, and the symphony reached its climax and came to an abrupt end with a roar. The last page of the score reads this sentence: “I want to tell the people of the world that we are still alive and we will win!”

In January 1944, Leningrad, which had been besieged for more than 900 days, finally won. More than 1 million people were evacuated, and more than 1 million people died. The whole world marveled: Leningrad’s resistance was a model of the glorious triumph of humanity after the most incredible trials. This “Seventh Symphony”, which greatly inspired the courage of the resisters and boosted the morale of the fighters in the suffering, is destined to become an immortal monument in the history of music.

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