Shostakovich lived through the first months of the German siege of Leningrad serving as a member of the auxiliary fire service. In July he began work on the first three movements of his Seventh Symphony, completing the defiant finale after his evacuation in October and dedicating the score to the city. A microfilm copy was despatched by way of Teheran and an American warship to the USA, where it was broadcast by the NBC Symphony Orchestra and Toscanini. In 1943 Shostakovich completed his Eighth Symphony, its emotionally shattering music compared by one critic to Picasso’s Guernica.
In 1948 Shostakovich and other leading composers, Prokofiev among them, were forced by the Soviet cultural commissar, Andrei Zhdanov, to concede that their work represented ’most strikingly the formalistic perversions and anti-democratic tendencies in music’, a crippling blow to Shostakovich’s artistic freedom that was healed only after the death of Stalin in 1953. Shostakovich answered his critics later that year with the powerful Tenth Symphony, in which he portrays ’human emotions and passions’, rather than the collective dogma of Communism.
from notes by Andrew Stewart © 2004