Life Chronicles

On 9 July 1942, the Seventh Symphony was performed in Novosibirsk by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yevgeni Alexandrovich Mravinsky. Shostakovich came to Novosibirsk and participated in the rehearsals. On 20 December 1942, in Belebei (Bashkiria), Shostakovich attended the performance of the first movement of the Seventh Symphony in the arrangement for wind orchestra by Ivan Vassilyevich Petrov.

March 5th - First Performance of Symphony No.7 (ор.60).
Composition of “Six Romances on Verses of English Poets” (ор.62).
Composition of the opera “The Gamblers”based on a story by Gogol (ор.63).
Premieres of Symphony No. 7 in Moscow, Leningrad, Novosibirsk, the USA, England, Mexico and Sweden.

February 6, 1942, Kuibyshev

“Life is not going well. Day and night I think about my relatives and friends left behind in Leningrad. I only get news from there very seldom. There’s nothing to eat. There are no cats and dogs left. <...>
Every day I try and take steps to get the family here from Leningrad. I shall not leave Kuibyshev, until I can get them out. When all’s said and done there’s nothing else to write about, because the above situation colours my whole life here at the moment. Now comes the news. The Bolshoi Theatre orchestra conducted by Samosud is rehearsing my Seventh Symphony brilliantly. Yesterday the whole orchestra played the first and second parts for the first time. It made a strong impression on me and for half a day I was thrilled, enjoying my new-born work...”

January 4, 1942, Kuibyshev

“I, Nina and the children are all well. Yet my nerves are rather shaky... my Seventh Symphony has been nominated for the Stalin Prize. Here (in Kuibyshev) there are plans for it to be performed by the orchestra of the Bolshoi under Samosud.
In general, all this is worrying me and because of my shaky nerves it worries me more than it need. Our life is going smoothly, quiet and peaceful.Sometimes, at night, suffering from insomnia I start crying (sic!). The tears flow thick and fast. Nina and the children sleep in the adjoining room and that’s why I can let myself go. Then I calm down... My nerves are really shaky...”

February 3, 1942, Kuibyshev

“My mother, sister and nephew and also my wife’s relatives are still in Leningrad. Occasionally letters get through from there and they make very grim reading. For example, my dog has been eaten and some cats as well. My efforts to get my relatives out have not come to anything yet.”

February 12, 1942
Leopold Stokowski:

“I heard that Shostakovich has completed his Seventh Symphony and that soon it will be performed in Leningrad. After that I should like it to be played as soon as possible in New York, broadcast on the radio, cut as a record and used for a big musical film in Hollywood.”

February 17, 1942
Artur Rodzinsk:

“...I am the main champion of Shostakovich’s music in this country...A successful performance of the Seventh Symphony can be the equivalent of several convoys of weapons, with one difference, however, that it could achieve its goal safely and more effectively”.

February 19, 1942, Kuibyshev

“I have completed my Seventh Symphony here. Since then my quill has grown blunt and at the moment I’m not writing anything. Instead of that I attend rehearsals of the symphony almost every day, which the orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre under Samosud is studying very throughly.”

March 12, 1942, Kuibyshev

“I am glad that you are alive, in good health and doing well. I am expecting the rest of my family (8 people) to arrive. They have already left Leningrad. Then everything will be fine. I’m very worried about them and at my wits’ end. I hope that they will get here safely. I am missing them terribly. As far as living space is concerned, we are well provided for. We have a flat with four rooms and every comfort, including hot water round the clock, so we’ll be able to sort things out, when they all arrive. We have enough to eat. Very soon I shall be flying to Moscow for about ten days. They are planning to play my Seventh Symphony there. A few words about sport. I have been to an ice-hockey match three times while here. They played badly. I couldn’t work out who was playing whom because the players had no proper kit.”

7 May 7, 1942, Kuibyshev

“I am worried and anxious about Fleishman. I am very sorry that I didn’t take his ‘Rothschild’s Violin’ with me. I would have completed it and arranged it for orchestra.
Dear friend! If ‘Rothschild’s Violin’ is in the Leningrad Union of Composers, please see that it’s safe and, better still, make a copy of it and, if there will be an opportunity, send it to me in Kuibyshev. I’m very fond of this work and I am worried about it’s fate. It mustn’t get lost. At the end of March I went to Moscow, where I spent nearly a month. Moscow, which is so close to Leningrad, made me feel happy and even excited. My Seventh Symphony has been played in Moscow five times. In Kuibyshev it was played once and better than in Moscow.”

May 16, 1942, Kuibyshev

“Life is all right. It is hot here and the local football teams are playing. I spent the whole of April in Moscow. There are strong rumours about an All-Union Football Championship being held in 1942.”

1942, Kuibyshev

“...often I cannot get even a moment of spare time. I go to meetings, write articles, I make speeches, I am being filmed and so on. Naturally there is not enough time to write any music. Apart from that my nervous system is in a wretched state although there is nothing wrong with that very same system. Nevertheless, I am irritable, cross, sleeping badly, worrying all the time and so on.
If I start working, it’ll pass. I’m working a lot but not in my profession (see above).”

June 10, 1942, Kuibyshev

“I shall be flying to Novosibirsk, where Mravinsky is going to conduct my Seventh Symphony.”

September 17, 1942, Moscow

“We are all well and getting on more or less all right. Recently I received an invitation from the New York Philharmonic to conduct eight symphony concerts in October. I refused because I don’t know how to conduct. Yet, three days ago, I regretted my decision. I listened to my Seventh Symphony conducted by K. Ivanov and when it was over, I realized that conducting is not such a big deal...”

October 13, 1942
B. Yavorsky:

“Your loyalty towards me, the questions you put to me still make me feel guilty, like a promise I haven’t kept.
I am not able to write prescriptions: for me creativity is not mass production, reproduction of approved models. Beethoven’s symphonies were so meaningful because each of them brought out a special moment in the passing of a specific age. Cheerful chauvinism became the order of the day and your Seventh Symphony appeared. Legitimism took root and here we have the made-to-measure minuet-cum-gavotte of the Eighth. And all this after the heroic Third and the dramatic Fifth.
<...> Many times while writing this report I have been thinking about you. I wanted to talk to you via this report and knowing that you have heard snippets and passages out of context has already given me some satisfaction and <...> I didn’t sleep all night talking to you in my thoughts.
...I hope that soon we shall hear the Fourth. There won’t be any people from the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians. They will have been swept away by the Patriotic War. The grandiose important content of that Symphony - its boldness and the embodiment of that boldness - should be heard. Lips can’t be sealed any more, the despotic age of the RAPM is over, which imposed upon composers the etiquette of acceptable respectfully-happy ‘emotions’.”

November 5, 1942, Kuibyshev

“I have spent about two months in Moscow. I went round to your flat.I rang, I knocked, but nobody seemed to be there including you, who were the reason for my going there. I wandered sadly back.
In Moscow I saw a few football games. I remembered you watching the match between the Moscow teams ‘Spartak’ and ‘Dynamo’.”

November 5, 1942, Kuibyshev

“I’m unlikely to be coming to Moscow in the near future. It’s difficult for me to stay in Moscow, being without a flat and not being looked after. <...> It’s a pity that there are still not any Prokofiev or Shebalin quartets. At the moment there is a ten-day festival of Soviet Music going on and the absence of those quartets makes itself felt very much.”

November 22, 1942, Kuibyshev

“Dear friend! After a long fast I drank 200 grammes of vodka. This is hardly an important event, by the way. I am putting pen to paper for another reason. If you don’t know Gogol very well, I earnestly beg you to get hold of his ‘Collected Works’ in six volumes. <...> Get Volume 4 <...> find page 343. On it there is a heading ‘Fragment of a lost play’. I must honestly admit that I had never read anything from page 343 through to page 348 before. Now I have and I was completely overwhelmed by the beauty of these pages. <...> This volume also contains a comedy ‘The Gamblers’. I have studied it in detail up to page 244 inclusive. It is going very well. I am doingthe orchestration straightaway. I am afraid that I shall not be able to finish it, because I am too emotional about (illegible), which is very difficult. I have written six romances. I am dedicating to you a romance to words by Shakespeare (Sonnet 66 in Pasternak’s translation). In a few days I shall send you all six. If you have time, look through them.”

December 23, 1942, Kuibyshev

“...I spent ten days on a trip to Ufa and Belebei. I only got back today (23XII). I shed many tears reading about the last moments of Boleslav Leopoldovich. We have lost a man of real genius and great intellect. We have lost, I have lost, a man who had such a great influence on me, on my composing and my whole life.”

Karl Eliasberg:

“I cannot remember who originally had the idea about performing the symphony in Leningrad under siege...My first reading of the score filled me with horror. The symphony is written for a double brass section and extra woodwind instruments. Naturally we haven’t got this many musicians...There wasn’t anywhere to get hold of them in a city under siege. Our thoughts inevitably turned to the musicians from among the troops of the Leningrad front...
The first performance was scheduled for August 9th. We woke up on that day to the sounds of an artillery bombardment. It went on till five o’clock. When the orchestra came on stage, the whole audience rose to its feet...The only item in the programme was the Symphony. It is difficult to convey the atmosphere that reigned in the packed hall of the Leningrad Philharmonia. People in uniform predominated in the audience. Many soldiers and officers had come to the concert straight from the front line.”

Dmitrii Shostakovich:

“...the heroic performance of my Seventh Symphony in Leningrad under siege, when the city was surrounded...This, of course, was one of those heroic stories in our Soviet musical life, in the life of Soviet musicians. The whole orchestra was assembled, and the orchestra for the Seventh Symphony is a very large one. They got together a very big orchestra. The marvellous conductor Karl Eliasberg directed the orchestra and the Symphony was played in the memorable hall of the Leningrad Philharmonia. This performance of the Seventh Symphony struck a chord with people throughout the country, and especially the Leningraders. It was something unforgettable, I think. Despite the difficult conditions, which the city was experiencing at the time, the Symphony was played after all and it was played superbly. It was played superbly, without any reservations, without any allowances being made for the terrible times. Everything was played beautifully...”

Karl Sendberg
(poet, USA):

“Last Sunday your symphony was first heard all over America. Millions of people listened to your musical story written with the blood of your heart.
The Red Army is fighting the most terrible military machine which has ever invaded another land... The whole world, with bated breath, watches this battle. And we listen to you, Dmitrii Shostakovich, we know that you are there creating music, which is telling us about this struggle. In Berlin there are no new symphonies. In Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Oslo, Prague, Warsaw - everywhere the fascists set foot , where the fascists have imposed their own laws - there are no new symphonies any more...
...Your music tells the world about a great and proud people, about an invincible people struggling and suffering in order to make its contribution to the treasure-house of the Human Spirit and Freedom.”