The Russian city of Kuibyshev on the Volga river east of Moscow might seem an unlikely site for an important symphonic premiere. But from 1941 to 1943, Kuibyshev was the temporary capital of the Soviet Union. As German and Finnish troops advanced from the west, the Russian government and its cultural institutions moved east. Among the refugees relocated to Kuibyshev were the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra from Moscow and the composer Dimitri Shostakovich from Leningrad.
And so, on today’s date in 1942, that unlikely city was the venue for the world premiere of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7, subtitled “Leningrad.”
In 1942, the Soviet Union was America’s ally in the war against Hitler, and Shostakovich’s new symphony was enlisted as a major propaganda tool. A microfilm copy of the new score was flown from Kuibyshev to Tehran, then transported by car through Iran, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine to Cairo, then flown to Brazil for transfer by the U.S. Navy to New York. The American premiere was given on July 19, 1942, by the NBC Symphony under Arturo Toscanini.
Less than a month later, on August 9, 1942, the “Leningrad” symphony was even performed in the besieged and starving city of Leningrad. The few musicians still capable of performing were given extra rations to keep up their strength, and, to ensure a measure of quiet during their performance, a Russian artillery commander ordered an intensive artillery bombardment on the enemy troops surrounding the city.
Music Played in Today's Program
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975)Symphony No. 7 (Leningrad)Kirov Orchestra and Rotterdam Philharmonic; Valery Gergiev, cond.Philips 376-02