Composers Datebook®

The "Leningrad" Symphony on NBC

Composer's Datebook - July 19, 2023


During WWII, German troops encircled the city of Leningrad for 900 days, a siege that caused immense suffering for that city’s residents. One of them, composer Dimtri Shostakovich, appeared on the cover of a July 1942 issue of TIME magazine, grim-faced and wearing the helmet of a Leningrad fireman.

The publicity was for the American premiere of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7, subtitled “Leningrad,” as a live NBC Symphony radio broadcast on today’s date in 1942. The broadcast was dedicated to the Russian War Relief, and the NBC announcer explained how the score of the recently-completed symphony had been flown from the Soviet Union to the West via Teheran.

Two famous conductors, Leopold Stokowski and Arturo Toscanini, had been hotly contesting who would conduct the American premiere. The older conductor pulled rank. “Don’t you think, my dear Stokowski,” wrote Toscanini, “it would be interesting to hear the old Italian conductor play this work of a young Russian anti-Nazi composer?”

Friends of Shostakovich later suggested he may have had more than just the Nazis on his mind and quote him as saying: “Fascism is not simply National Socialism.  This is music about terror, slavery, and oppression of the spirit.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Dimtri Shostakovich Leningrad Symphony No. 7 NBC Symphony; Arturo Toscanini, cond. RCA Toscanini Edition Vol. 22

On This Day


  • 1906 - Norwegian composer Klaus Egge, in Gransherad, Telemark

  • 1913 - American composer and pianist Peggy Stuart-Coolidge in Swampscott, Mass.;

  • 1952 - English composer Dominic Muldowney, in Southhampton

  • 1965 - Scottish composer and percussionist Evelyn Glennie, in Aberdeen


  • 1730 - French composer and flutist Jean-Baptiste Loeillet, age 49, in London


  • 1924 - Webern: Six Bagatelles, Op. 9, for string quartet , in Donauschingen (Germany), by the Amar Quartet

  • 1973 - Penderecki: Symphony No. 1 in Peterborough Cathedral by the London Symphony, conducted by the composer

  • 1976 - Richard Wernick: "Visions of Terror and Wonder" for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado; This work won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1977

  • 1996 - John Williams "Summon the Heroes," a six-minute theme for the 1996 Summer Olympics, commissioned by the Atlanta Olympic Organizing Committee


  • 1942 - Arturo Toscanini conducts the American premiere of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 ("Leningrad") on a NBC Symphony broadcast; The world premiere performance by the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra had occurred on March 1, 1942, in Kuybishe, the wartime seat of the Soviet government

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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