Leningrad: Siege and Symphony

leningrad cover image Leningrad: Siege and Symphony

by Brian Moynahan
Atlantic Monthly Press
Hardcover, 496 pages

The Leningrad Symphony (Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7) was played in what now is again St. Petersburg for the first time on August 9, 1942. It was the 335th day of the vicious 900-day Nazi siege of the city. Played by an ensemble of emaciated musicians on the verge of starvation, the performance was so rare and powerful that it would never again be matched. Moynahan’s story is a metronome of terror: the tick being the ceaseless shelling and bombing of the city by Hitler’s Wehrmacht; the tock being the unrelenting nightmare of the purges carried out by Stalin’s NKVD. On another scale, the story swings back and forth between the desperate lives of the Leningraders and Shostakovich’s composition of the symphony. It all plays out against a drumbeat of starvation, executions and Gulag sentences among the musicians of the Leningrad Philharmonia. The writing is vivid and compelling and does full justice to “the greatest story ever played.”