Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 60, titled Leningrad, was completed in Samara in December 1941 and premiered in that city on March 5, 1942. At first dedicated to Lenin, it was eventually submitted in honor of the besieged city of Leningrad, where it was first played under dire circumstances on August 9, 1942, with the siege by Axis and Finnish forces ongoing. The Leningrad soon became popular in both the Soviet Union and the West as a symbol of resistance to totalitarianism and militarism, thanks in part to the composer’s microfilming of the score in Samara and its clandestine delivery, via Tehran and Cairo, to New York, where Arturo Toscanini led a broadcast performance (July 19, 1942) and Time magazine placed Shostakovich on its cover. That popularity faded somewhat after 1945, but the work is still regarded as a major musical testament to the 27 million Soviet people who lost their lives in World War II, and it is often played at Leningrad Cemetery, where half a million victims of the 900-day Siege of Leningrad are buried.
Shostakovich’s longest symphony, and one of the longest in the whole repertory, typically takes some 75 minutes to perform — but there have been wide interpretive differences over the years: Leonard Bernstein’s acclaimed 1988 recording stretches to 85 minutes. The work has four movements. Shostakovich at first gave each of them a title - “War,” “Reminiscence,” “Home Expanses” and “Victory,” respectively - but he soon withdrew these and left the movements with their tempo markings alone: