Friday, December 18, 2009

The Siege Of Leningrad

This time in the run up to Christmas, instead of talking about my daily experiences I wanted to take you back to the siege of St. Petersburg in 1942, then known as Leningrad. I am aware that we live in a multinational society and manage to live more or less in peace without the old spectres of history past haunting our newly found camaraderie. Therefore, this is not an attempt to recall the past to score points against any nationality, race or creed, but simply a story of humanity continuing to be creative in destructive times.
During the 900 day siege of Leningrad, which lasted from 1941 to 1944, the city’s almost three million civilians refused to surrender. Food, heat and almost everything else, was heavily rationed and reached an all time low at one point of only 125 grams of bread per person per day. In just two months, January and February of 1942, 200,000 people died in Leningrad of cold and starvation.
Besides their daily struggle of defending the city, the Leningraders were also writing poetry and music. It was then that the renowned Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his famous Seventh Symphony that immediately became a stirring anthem to the world. Problem was, the Leningrad radio orchestra was now too small to play the Seventh Symphony. The score called for 80 musicians and there were only a handful of them spared by famine and the enemy bullets at the frontlines. Shostakovich made a radio announcement inviting the musicians who were still alive to join in. Unit commanders dispatched their musicians with special passes, which said that they had been relieved from combat duty to perform the Seventh Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich.
Finally, they all got together for the first rehearsal, their hands roughened from combat duty, trembling from malnutrition, but everybody still clinging to their instruments as if for their own life. That was the shortest rehearsal ever, lasting for just 15 minutes because that was all the emaciated players could afford in energy. Conductor Karl Eliasberg barely able to stand himself, now knew that the orchestra would play the symphony.
August 9th, 1942 was just another day in the besieged city. But not for the musicians, though who, visibly uplifted, were busily preparing for the first ever public performance of the Seventh Symphony. Karl Eliasberg later wrote recalling that memorable day: ‘The chandeliers were all aglow in the Philharmonic Hall jam packed by writers, artists and academics. Military men were also very much in presence, most of them right from the battlefront…’
The conductor, his tuxedo hanging loosely from his emaciated body, stepped to the pulpit, his baton trembling in his hand, and suddenly the hall filled with the stirringly beautiful chords of one of the best musical pieces Shostakovich had ever written in his whole life.
When the last chord trailed off there was silence. Then the whole place literally exploded with thunderous applause. People rose to their feet, tears rolling down their faces.
Buoyed by the deafening success of their performance and visibly proud of themselves, the musicians were happily hugging each other. The concert was blasted throughout the streets of the war torn city by a series of hastily erected speakers. Tens of thousands who risked their lives and gathered to listen to the music were visibly uplifted by it. Today, walk along Nevsky Prospekt and you will see a small insignificant single grey loudspeaker still attached to an old lamppost near Kazan cathedral that has been left in honour of that memorable day. Triumph over adversity always creates a sense of hope for humanity. Back to the present day and another year is almost over. I want to thank all my readers and supporters over the last year. I sincerely hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and a better year in 2010.

1 comment:

Rob Innis said...

Hey TJ - glad you survived the trip and agreed to join the new dream team blogging here in 2010:

Now its turkey for one!