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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Sunday, July 19

The "Leningrad" Symphony on NBC

Synopsis

During WWII, Germans encircled the city of Leningrad, creating a siege that would last 900 days and cause immense suffering for that city's residents. One resident, 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 related to 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 performance was dedicated to the Russian War Relief, and the NBC announcer explained how 3000 pages of the score and parts for the recently-completed symphony had been microfilmed and flown from the Soviet Union to the West via Teheran.

What the NBC announcer didn't say was that two famous conductors, Leopold Stokowski and Arturo Toscanini, had been hotly contesting who would conduct the American premiere. Toscanini had resigned from the NBC Symphony for the 1941/42 season, and Stokowski was his replacement. It was Stokowski who had lobbied for the "Leningrad" Symphony premiere, but the older conductor pulled rank, and returned to conduct the broadcast. "Don't you think, my dear Stokowski," wrote Toscanini, "it would be interesting for everybody, and yourself, too, to hear the old Italian conductor—one of the first artists who strenuously fought against Fascism—to play this work of a young Russian anti-Nazi composer?"

Friends of the composer suggest Shostakovich had more than just the Nazis on his mind, and quote him as saying: "Fascism is not simply National Socialism, and 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

Additional Information

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