TIL that Soviet artillery launched an attack in 1942 to silence German guns specifically so that Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony could premiere in Leningrad, even though the city was under siege and the musicians were starving to death, with three dying during rehearsals

Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leningrad_premi%C3%A8re_of_Shostakovich%27s_Symphony_No._7

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  1. The whole story of the performance is a remarkable testament to the power of art:

    > The first rehearsal in March 1942 was intended to be three hours long, but had to be stopped after 15 minutes because the 30 musicians present were too weak to play their instruments.[11][18] They frequently collapsed during rehearsals, especially those playing brass instruments.[16] Eliasberg himself had to be dragged to rehearsals on a sledge, and was eventually moved by Communist officials to an apartment nearby and given a bicycle for transport. His first attempts at conducting were like a “wounded bird with wings that are going to drop at any moment”.[17][22] A report by Babushkin noted that “the first violin is dying, the drum died on his way to work, the French horn is at death’s door …”.[23]

    > Orchestral players were given additional rations (donated by civilian music enthusiasts) in an effort to combat starvation, and hot bricks were used to radiate heat; nevertheless, three performers died during rehearsals.[11][22][24][25] Posters went up around the city requesting all musicians to report to the Radio Committee for incorporation into the orchestra. Performers were also recalled from the front or reassigned from Soviet military bands with the support of the Soviet commander of the Leningrad front, Leonid Govorov….

    > There was a large audience for the concert, comprising party leaders, military personnel, and civilians. Leningrad citizens who could not fit into the hall gathered around open windows and loudspeakers. The musicians onstage were “dressed like cabbages” in multiple layers to prevent starvation-induced shivering.[11][24] Shortly before the concert started, the electric lights above the stage were turned on for the first time since rehearsals had commenced.[11] As the hall fell silent, Eliasberg began conducting. The performance was of poor artistic quality, but was notable for the emotions raised in the audience and for its finale: when some musicians “faltered” due to exhaustion, the audience stood up “in a remarkable, spontaneous gesture … willing them to keep going”.[24][30]
    > The performance received an hour-long ovation,[34] with Eliasberg being given a bouquet of Leningrad-grown flowers by a young girl.[11][22] Many in the audience were in tears due to the emotional impact of the concert.

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