Synopses & Reviews
Shostakovichs Seventh Symphony
was first played in the city of its birth on 9 August, 1942. There has never been a first performance to match it. Pray God, there never will be again. Almost a year earlier, the Germans had begun their blockade of the city. Already many thousands had died of their wounds, the cold, and most of all, starvation. The assembled musicians scrounged from frontline units and military bands, for only twenty of the orchestras 100 players had survived were so hungry, many feared theyd be too weak to play the score right through. In these, the darkest days of the Second World War, the music and the defiance it inspired provided a rare beacon of light for the watching world.
In Leningrad: Siege and Symphony , Brian Moynahan sets the composition of Shostakovichs most famous work against the tragic canvas of the siege itself and the years of repression and terror that preceded it. In vivid and compelling detail he tells the story of the cruelties heaped by the twin monsters of the twentieth century on a city of exquisite beauty and fine minds, and of its no less remarkable survival. Weaving Shostakovichs own story and that of many others into the context of the maelstrom of Stalins purges and the brutal Nazi invasion of Russia, Leningrad: Siege and Symphony is a magisterial and moving account of one of the most tragic periods in history.
"Like a movie camera, [Moynahan] zooms in and out on the besieged civilians, the bitterly cold troops on the citys edge and the simultaneous efforts of Shostakovich to set these experiences to music from the relative safety of evacuation
This multi-perspective approach makes for a gripping story
Moynahans Leningrad: Siege and Symphony
vividly brings to life a hero city that refused to die."The New York Times Book Review
"A passionate and moving book...nothing short of masterly."Wall Street Journal
"A narrative that is by turns painful, poignant and inspiring"Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Moynahan...is a vivid writer, and his account bulges with the reminiscences and contemporaneous accounts of participants; the accumulation of individual experience sears his narrative while sometimes threatening to overwhelm it. He reaches into the guts of the city to extract some humanity from the blood and darkness, and at its best Leningrad captures the heartbreak, agony and small salvations in both death and survival...Moynahans descriptions of the battlefield, which also draw from the diaries of the cold, lice-ridden, hungry combatants, are haunting."Washington Post
"As Moynahan reveals, the real story of the symphonys genesis and its triumph was more complex and more tragic than is generally understood
Combining a full description of the birth of the Seventh Symphony with a rich and horrifying account of the hell that was Leningrad under siege, this selection brings new depth and drama to a key historical moment”Booklist (starred review)
The technique, if not the scale, is Tolstoyan . . .The terrible beauty of the book is in its anecdotal detail, and the horror is of a kind that makes you weep but at times approaches comedy . . . Its certainly hard to imagine reading his gripping, skillfully woven account without emotion.” Stephen Walsh, Spectator
Brian Moynahan interweaves three gripping stories in this compelling kaleidoscope of war-ravaged Leningrad: Hilter's 900-day siege, Stalin's purges that decimated the city's professional and cultural leaders and Dmitri Shostakovich's desperate struggle to write his haunting Seventh Symphony. Its performance by half-starved musicians between bouts of German shelling attests to the triumph of the human spirit amidst the greatest upheaval of the twentieth century.” Angela Stent, author of The Limits of Partnership: US-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century and professor at Georgetown University.
Leningrad: Siege and Symphony is a remarkable achievement. Brian Moynahan holds the reader in suspense while teaching an important chapter in the history of the Second World War. His magnificent tale portrays the terror within and without Leningrad during its heroic defiance of the Nazi conquerors and subtle resistance to its Stalinist masters. Like Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony, this is a triumph.” Charles Glass, author of Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation and The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II
A stupendous story, driven by a furious narrative yet biblical in its thematic confrontations of beauty and evil. Its vivid in three dimensions: The Red Armys battles with Hitlers war machine; the ordeals of the Russian people terrorized by the malevolent maniac in the Kremlin; and throughout the faint but swelling counterpoint of hope as the great Dmitri Shostakovich struggles to write the score of his Seventh Symphony to express the soul of his martyred city . . . This is history to cherish.” Sir Harold Evans, Editor at Large at Reuters, author of The American Century, and publisher of The Russian Century
Beautifully written and profoundly moving, Leningrad is a stunning, haunting book that has stayed with me long after I turned the last page.”James Holland, Dam Busters
A bold attempt to set the composition of Shostakovich's 7th Symphony within the extraordinary context of its times” Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday (London)
A really gripping read . . . the narrative is fantastic, very skillfully done . ..I couldnt put it down. Its like reading a novel.” Professor Erik Levi, Music Matters BBC Radio 3
About the Author
books include the much-praised William Tyndale: If God Spare My Life. As a foreign correspondent, he covered fighting in the Far and Middle East and Africa, and was latterly the European Editor of the London Sunday Times.