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38. Shostakovich: 7th Symphony, “Leningrad”

[…] the lady has me temporarily off the bottle
and now the pecker stands up better. 
however, things change overnight — 
instead of listening to Shostakovich and Mozart
through a smeared haze of smoke
the nights change, new complexities:
we drive to Baskin-Robbins,
we park outside and look at icecream people
a very healthy and satisfied people,
nary a potential suicide in sight
none of them are cursing or threatening the clerks.
there seem to be no hangovers or grievances.
I am alarmed at the placid and calm wave that flows about.
I feel like a leper in a beauty contest.
a curious new world.
and later that night
there is use for the pecker, use for love,
and it is glorious, long and true,
and afterwards we speak of easy things;
our heads by the open window with the moonlight looking through,
we sleep in each other’s arms.
the icecream people make me feel good,
inside and out.

Excerpt from The Icecream People by Charles Bukowski

If you want to experience what war sounds like, go to a concert hall where they are performing Shostakovich’ popular 7th.

Shostakovich wrote the piece in 1941, and it depicts the siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg). When Hitler commanded the siege he had already planned a victory celebration in the Astoria hotel, not knowing that it would become one of the longest and bloodiest battles in human history.

Shostakovich’ 7th became a symbol of resistance. Especially the first movement (“War”) is monumental. The gloves come of as soon as the snare drums kick in at 7 minutes and 40 seconds, the very moment the invasion starts. An hour later it all ends with the collosal fourth movement called “Victory.” As often the case with Shostakovich, it should not be considered a happy ending. He makes it very clear that it was a victory paid for by the blood of many innocent countrymen.

Hitler lost the siege, three long winters years after he had booked the Astoria. Shortly after he left Leningrad he would lose a whole lot more, including his dreams, his faith and his life.

Recommended recording:
Leonard Bernstein & Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Kondrashin is my preferred Shostakovich-interpreter, and his 7th is solid. But in this case the baton goes to Bernstein and his Chicago allied forces, who recorded a truly legendary 7th.



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