Dmitri Shostakovich grew up Leningrad, in Stalin’s Soviet Union. As a composer, his work was censored and he and his family were punished when his music fell into disfavor under the Stalin regime. During Stalin’s Great Terror, when Stalin consolidated his hold on power, many of Shostakovich’s friends and family were arrested and sent to prison camps or executed by the government for being perceived as a threat to Stalin’s authority.
In 1942 Germany invaded Russia and quickly laid siege to Leningrad. Shostakovich initially refused to leave. He dug fortifications during the day and composed at a feverish pitch during the night, until he and his family were finally ordered to evacuate over enemy lines by military aircraft. The first winter was horrible in the besieged city. Thousands died from cold, starvation, or fighting. Survivors ate their pets to stay alive. Possibly thousands of starving residents resorted to cannibalism.
Shostakovich dedicated his 7th Symphony to the people of Leningrad. He wanted the world to know of the plight of Leningrad. A smuggled copy of the score made it out of the Soviet Union, and the Leningrad Symphony premiered all over the world before anyone in Leningrad heard it.
Shostakovich’s real inspiration for the Leningrad Symphony was not the siege, but something else equally evil. Listen to today’s episode to hear how Dmitri Shostakovich survived both the war against Germany and his war against Stalin with his artistic integrity intact.