The Seventh Symphony is one of Shostakovich’s finest and most impressive works. It is played here by one of Russia’s leading conductors and orchestras.
Many consider Shostakovich to be the greatest composer of the twentieth century. His fifteen symphonies demonstrate that he was master of the largest and most challenging forms with music of great emotional power and technical invention. The Seventh Symphony was composed during the most horrific circumstances; it was begun in Leningrad during the siege of the city, which lasted from September 1941 to February 1943, during which time it is claimed that almost one million people died of hunger, cold or in the shelling and air raids to which the city was subjected. It was first performed in Kuibyshev on 14 March 1942 by the evacuated orchestra of the Bolshoi. It was frequently performed in the West and was championed by many eminant conductors, including Sir Henry Wood, Toscanini, Koussevitsky, Stokowski, Ormandy and Monteaux.
The Symphony is cast in four movements, each originally with a descriptive title: ’War’, ’Memories’, ’Our Country’s Wide Spaces’ and ’Victory. Although Shostakovich later discarded these titles, he did not disown them. The Symphony was undoubtedly composed as a direct result of the siege of Leningrad and as his part of the war effort (he was excluded from military service as he suffered from poor health in general and poor eyesight in particular). Although he provided quite a descriptive programme for the music, the composer warned that this should not be taken too literally. Rather, he wanted to think of it as a Symphony about war in general and of the state of mind and emotion, not facts. Though a long work, lasting well over an hour, it remains a powerful and gripping experience throughout. Written for a large orchestra (including woodwind, two harps, piano and ten extra brass players), it never fails to make an impression, and represents a great tribute to both the city which Shostakovich loved and to those who died during its seige.