Typically, listeners cry when they hear Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony. It was written during World War Two and dedicated to Leningrad, the city besieged by the Germans for almost three years, with vast destruction and loss of life in the hundreds of thousands.
Since its first performance, the symphony has been seen as a symbol of resistance against the Nazis, but more recently, as the political climate in Russia has made it easier for people to speak up, accounts have suggested that Shostakovich started work on the piece before the beginning of the siege, and that therefore, it's better viewed as a depiction of brutality in general, and perhaps specifically the purges of Stalin's regime.
Shostakovich himself said, "even before the war, there probably wasn't a single family who hadn't lost someone, a father, a brother, or if not a relative, then a close friend. Everyone had someone to cry over, but you had to cry silently, under the blanket, so no one would see. Everyone feared everyone else, and the sorrow oppressed and suffocated us. It suffocated me, too. I had to write about it, I felt it was my responsibility, my duty. I had to write a requiem for all those who died, who had suffered. I had to describe the horrible extermination machine and express protest against it."
Stephen Johnson explores the weighty and deeply emotional symbolism of the Leningrad Symphony.
Stephen Johnson explores the symbolism of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony.