Symphony for a starving city

Decomposed episode about composer Shostakovich.

Symphony for a starving city

Making music under Stalin was a dangerous undertaking — it could end with applause or in a prison camp. In the brutal grip of World War II, Shostakovich composed a symphony so powerful, it was smuggled halfway around the world in order to be played.


This episode of Decomposed includes the following works from these recordings:

Shostakovich: Symphony #5, Op. 47
Vienna Symphony conducted by Eliahu Inbal
Denon 75719

Britten: War Requiem – “Libera Me”
Soloist Emily Magee, Mark Padore & Christian Gerhaher
Bavarian Radio Chorus, Tolz Boys' Choir
Bavarian State Radio Orchestra conducted by Mariss Jansons
Br Klassik 900120

Shostakovich: Symphony #1, Op. 10
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yevgeny Mravinsky
BMG 74321 29401

Shostakovich: Symphony #7, Op. 60 – “Leningrad”
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yevgeny Mravinsky
BMG 74321 29405

Shostakovich: Symphony #3, Op. 20 – “First of May”
Beethoven Orchestra of Bonn conducted by Roman Kofman
Dabringhaus 9371210

Shostakovich: Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, Op. 29
Nadia Krasteva singing the role of Katerina Izmailova
Vienna State Opera Orchestra conducted by Ingo Metzmacher
Orfeo D'or 812112

Shostakovich: Symphony #5, Op. 47
Vienna Symphony conducted by Eliahu Inbal
Denon 75719

Shostakovich: Symphony #7, Op. 60 – “Leningrad”
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yevgeny Mravinsky
BMG 74321 29405

Further reading:

  • Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson

  • “Orchestral manoeuvres” from The Guardian

  • Shostakovich and Stalin by Solomon Volkov

  • Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich as related to and edited by Solomon Volkov

The photograph of Dmitri Shostakovich which appears in the episode tile was taken in Finland on Oct. 9, 1958, by Holger Eklund / Lehtikuva.

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