Soon after Shostakovich started writing his Seventh Symphony in 1941, Leningrad was besieged by the Nazis: the start of two and a half years of unimaginable deprivation. The composer carried out fireman duties while continuing work on his masterpiece, before being smuggled out of the city to Moscow. In 1942, his score was performed in Leningrad – and also in the UK at the Proms.
What an occasion that must have been. Listening to the Seventh being performed this week by the Hallé Orchestra at the Manchester Festival (brilliantly conducted by Jonathon Heyward), it was impossible not to be moved by the passion, despair and sense of doom unmissable in the music.
This is not a work with a happy ending; in Russia there was no positive outcome for anyone – particularly Shostakovich, who eventually fled to America.
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