Shostakovich: Propaganda Symphony?

Shostakovich and His World

Soviet composer Dmitry Shostakovich (1906-1975) wrote 15 symphonies. His Seventh Symphony, the "Leningrad," was composed in response to the Second World War, with its first three movements written in the besieged city of the same name. The amount of attention the work received in the west-particularly for a Soviet work-was unprecedented for this time. The "Leningrad" Symphony was the most significant and far-reaching piece of musical propaganda to emerge from the Second World War. Musically, the work is best known for its development section in the first movement, which fails to develop much of anything. Instead it is an "invasion" theme-a set of 12 variations most often unflatteringly compared to Ravel's "Bolero."

Over the years reception of the work has varied. At the time of its premiere, critics were quick to mingle politics with art, viewing the "Leningrad" as too closely tied with the war, Communism, and Socialist Realism to be successful from an artistic standpoint. After the war it all but disappeared from concert programmes-possibly because of its view as a product of cultural propaganda-but it has since been revived and re-evaluated by modern audiences.   

Those wishing to learn more about the Seventh Symphony might consult Christopher Gibbs' chapter in Laurel Fay's book, "Shostakovich and His World."The library also has many other Shostakovich works on offer for check out.  

--Connie D., Rock Road Branch


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