The Mariinskiy Theatre hosted the “Leningrad Symphony”. A one-part ballet play was set upon the legendary music by Dmitry Shostakovich, which had been composed in the days of the Blockade.
The Symphony instilled hope and belief into victory among residents of the besieged city. Our correspondent Mariya Marchenko met the last living attendee of the legendary premiere at the Big Hall of the Philharmonic Theatre.
Maxim Shostakovich, son of Dmitry Shostakovich, conductor, pianist: “This is the piano which my father Dmitry Shostakovich used to compose his 7th Symphony, the Leningrad one”
The Shostakovich family treasures this piano as an invaluable relic. The 1st notes of the legendary “Leningradka” – as Anna Akhmatova described it – were born on its keys. The composer worked day and night, without breaks – even when the city was bombed. He later said: ”I have never composed music as quickly as now”.
Dmitry Shostakovich, composer: “I dedicate this to our fight against fascism, to our coming victory over the enemy, to my native city”
He put his own experience into the music. He volunteered to go to the frontline, but was rejected every time. Until Dmitry Shostakovich was taken into the firemen group of anti-air defense forces – he put out fires at burning buildings. And fought the enemy with his music.
Maxim Shostakovich, son of Dmitry Shostakovich, conductor, pianist: “The whole “Invasion” episode lasted for 666 seconds. This is the “number of the devil” in the Bible. I think its something divine – although it’s unintentional. It’s a message”.
He put the final strokes onto the Symphony after evacuation to Kuibyshev. The music sheet was delivered to Leningrad on a special plane – like a valuable cargo.
Head of the only remaining symphonic orchestra of the Radio Committee – Karl Eliasberg – was terrified by it. It was composed for double brass and extended orchestra – with wood and pipes. The orchestra didn’t have enough musicians – many died of starvation during. They had to summon performers from the frontline.
Mariya Marchenko, reporter: “Coming to rehearsals every day was like heroics in itself. The famished conductor Karl Eliasberg was brought in on children’s sleds. Musicians recalled they barely had any strength left to hold the instruments – let alone to play them. And the same thought rang through their heads – survive till the premiere”.
The premiere date was set to August 9th 1942, Sunday, at 7pm. That was the day which the German commanders had previously set to march into Leningrad. Instead, the Big Hall of the Philharmonic Theatre was filled with spectators.
Many soldiers came straight from the frontline. Karl Eliasberg – wearing a loose-hanging tux and a paper-white shirt – was on the stage. Interesting fact – they had to sacrifice potatoes mean for food in order to make it look so white. The “Leningrad” symphony boomed through loudspeakers in the streets and in radios all across the country.
Live concert in a besieged city. For the first time in world’s history. German soldiers were astonished. Many years after the war, German tourists managed to find Karl Eliasberg.
Alexander Dmitriev, head conductor and artistic director of Academic Symphonic Orchestra: “He said that when he had heard this symphony being played in the besieged Leningrad, he understood – they won’t take that city”
1967. Only those who had performed and had listened to the 7th symphony live back in 1942 were present in the Hall. Even then there were hundreds of empty seats. Today, only on would have been taken. Valentina Shnaidman is the only witness of those days who has survived to our days.
Valentina Shnaidman, resident of besieged Leningrad: “I don’t remember any dress. I didn’t have any boots or a coat. I could not stay until the end; I had to make it to Devyatkono on a tram or a passing train. So that I wasn’t late, because I was let go until a certain hour”
She had to go back to the factory and continue making ammunition for the frontline. Today, 73 years on, the music which became the symbol of bravery, which helped to survive and win – this music is well alive in the memory.