Perhaps no city faced greater hardships during World War II than Leningrad (today known as St. Petersburg). A prolonged Nazi siege virtually sealed off the city for 872 days, beginning in 1941, forcing starving and freezing residents to desperately struggle for survival. More than a million citizens perished. With morale at a low ebb, Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich managed to write a monumental symphony that rallied his fellow citizens, but not until the piece managed to circuitously make its way to the United States, where a performance of the work played a role strengthening the Allies’ resolve and Soviet defiance.
Here’s an excerpt from Symphony for the City of the Dead:
“There was no one left in Leningrad to play the Leningrad Symphony. It had always been a city of music, but it had fallen silent. Its best-known orchestras had fled before the Germans ringed the city. Only the Leningrad Radio Orchestra remained, and it had shut down in mid-winter. Their last live broadcast had been on New Year’s Day, 1942. They’d played excerpts from an opera called The Snow Maiden. Later that night, the opera’s tenor had died of hunger.
“The final note in the orchestral logbook reads: ‘Rehearsal did not take place. Srabian is dead. Petrov is sick. Boreshev is dead. Orchestra not working.’
“It went into hibernation as the city starved.”
(Candlewick Press, 456 pp.)