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Leningrad: Siege and Symphony [Kindle Edition]

Brian Moynahan
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony was first played in the city of its birth on 9 August, 1942. There has never been a first performance to match it. Pray God, there never will be again. Almost a year earlier, the Germans had begun their blockade of the city. Already many thousands had died of their wounds, the cold, and most of all, starvation. The assembled musicians - scrounged from frontline units and military bands, for only twenty of the orchestra's 100 players had survived - were so hungry, many feared they'd be too weak to play the score right through. In these, the darkest days of the Second World War, the music and the defiance it inspired provided a rare beacon of light for the watching world.

Setting the composition of Shostakovich's most famous work against the tragic canvas of the siege itself and the years of repression and terror that preceded it, Leningrad: Siege and Symphony is a magisterial and moving account of one of the most tragic periods in history.


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Review

"Like a movie camera, [Moynahan] zooms in and out on the besieged civilians, the bitterly cold troops on the city's edge and the simultaneous efforts of Shostakovich to set these experiences to music from the relative safety of evacuation... This multi-perspective approach makes for a gripping story... Moynahan's "Leningrad: Siege and Symphony" vividly brings to life a hero city that refused to die."--"The New York Times Book Review" "A passionate and moving book...nothing short of masterly."--"Wall Street Journal" "A narrative that is by turns painful, poignant and inspiring"--"Minneapolis Star Tribune" "Moynahan...is a vivid writer, and his account bulges with the reminiscences and contemporaneous accounts of participants; the accumulation of individual experience sears his narrative while sometimes threatening to overwhelm it. He reaches into the guts of the city to extract some humanity from the blood and darkness, and at its best "Leningrad" captures the heartbreak, agony and small salvations in both death and survival...Moynahan's descriptions of the battlefield, which also draw from the diaries of the cold, lice-ridden, hungry combatants, are haunting."--"Washington Post" "As Moynahan reveals, the real story of the symphony's genesis and its triumph was more complex and more tragic than is generally understood...Combining a full description of the birth of the Seventh Symphony with a rich and horrifying account of the hell that was Leningrad under siege, this selection brings new depth and drama to a key historical moment"--"Booklist" (starred review) "The technique, if not the scale, is Tolstoyan . . .The terrible beauty of the book is in its anecdotal detail, and the horror is of a kind that makes you weep but at times approaches comedy . . . It's certainly hard to imagine reading his gripping, skillfully woven account without emotion." --Stephen Walsh, "Spectator" "Brian Moynahan interweaves three gripping stories in this compelling kaleidoscope of war-ravaged Leningrad: Hilter's 900-day siege, Stalin's purges that decimated the city's professional and cultural leaders and Dmitri Shostakovich's desperate struggle to write his haunting Seventh Symphony. Its performance by half-starved musicians between bouts of German shelling attests to the triumph of the human spirit amidst the greatest upheaval of the twentieth century." --Angela Stent, author of "The Limits of Partnership: US-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century" and professor at Georgetown University. ""Leningrad: Siege and Symphony" is a remarkable achievement. Brian Moynahan holds the reader in suspense while teaching an important chapter in the history of the Second World War. His magnificent tale portrays the terror within and without Leningrad during its heroic defiance of the Nazi conquerors and subtle resistance to its Stalinist masters. Like Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony, this is a triumph." --Charles Glass, author of Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation and The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II "A stupendous story, driven by a furious narrative yet biblical in its thematic confrontations of beauty and evil. It's vivid in three dimensions: The Red Army's battles with Hitler's war machine; the ordeals of the Russian people terrorized by the malevolent maniac in the Kremlin; and throughout the faint but swelling counterpoint of hope as the great Dmitri Shostakovich struggles to write the score of his Seventh Symphony to express the soul of his martyred city . . . This is history to cherish." --Sir Harold Evans, Editor at Large at "Reuters," author of "The American Century," and publisher of "The Russian Century" "Beautifully written and profoundly moving, Leningrad is a stunning, haunting book that has stayed with me long after I turned the last page."--James Holland, "Dam Busters" "A bold attempt to set the composition of Shostakovich's 7th Symphony within the extraordinary context of its times" --Craig Brown, "Mail on Sunday" (London) "A really gripping read . . . the narrative is fantastic, very skillfully done . ..I couldn't put it down. It's like reading a novel." --Professor Erik Levi, Music Matters BBC Radio 3

From the Inside Flap

Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony was first played in the city of its birth on 9 August 1942. There has never been a first performance to match it. Pray God, there will never be again. Almost a year earlier, the Germans had begun their blockade of the city. Already many thousands had died of their wounds, the cold, and most of all, starvation. The assembled musicians - scrounged from frontline units and military bands, for only twenty of the orchestra's 100 players had survived - were so hungry, many feared they'd be too weak to play the score right through. In these, the darkest days of the Second World War, the music and the defiance it inspired provided a rare beacon of light for the watching world. In Leningrad: Siege and Symphony, Brian Moynahan sets the composition of Shostakovich's most famous work against the tragic canvas of the siege itself and the years of repression and terror that preceded it. In vivid and compelling detail he tells the story of the cruelties heaped by the twin monsters of the twentieth century on a city of exquisite beauty and fine minds, and of its no less remarkable survival. Weaving Shostakovich's own story and that of many others into the context of the maelstrom of Stalin's purges and the brutal Nazi invasion of Russia, Leningrad: Siege and Symphony is a magisterial and moving account of one of the most tragic periods in history.


Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 9335 KB
  • Print Length: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Quercus (7 Nov. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0089XJX2G
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #44,007 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Brian Moynahan was an award-winning foreign correspondent and European editor with the Sunday Times. His many books include The Faith: A History of Christianity, The Russian Century, Comrades, The Claws of the Bear, Rasputin. Forgotten Soldiers, his first book for Quercus, was published in 2007 with Jungle Soldier following in 2009.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Once read, never forgotten 8 Feb. 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a book which should be read by anyone interested in the history of the 20th Century, in the Second World War or Great Patriotic War as the Soviets called it. It should be read by apologists for those two pinnacles of evil in the 20th Century - Communism and Fascism, though adherents of the former will probably claim it to be lies and misinformation. It should be be read by anyone interested in the music, particularly Soviet music, of the 20th century. This is the type of book that should be a bestseller, heavily discounted and piled high in Waterstones instead of the cliché-ridden trashy bestsellers that store promotes. It is a very important book.
Leningrad was a city that Stalin and his sycophantic minions hated and reading this book makes you wonder if the privations of the siege were part of this monster's plan to finish the city off forever. In 1941 the Soviet Union was totally unprepared for `The Great Patriotic War'. The Great Purges of the 1930s had resulted in the murder of millions and destroyed the armed forces, most of whose leaders had perished on trumped-up charges of, well, anything the interrogators could make up - collecting foreign stamps or being in possession of foreign literature for instance. Many people imagine that the purges ran out of steam in the late 1930s but this book makes it quite clear this was not the case. In addition to the freezing weather, the starvation and the German bombing the citizens lived in constant fear of arrest and torture by the NKVD, again on trumped up charges. This even stretched to the arrest and murder of many of the remaining Generals and Admirals (who were arrested due to their perceived `failures' to cover up Stalin's mistakes in the 1930s) along with scientists and academicians.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Leningrad: Siege and Symphony 9 Nov. 2013
By S Riaz HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Subtitled, "martyred by Stalin, starved by Hitler, immortalised by Shostakovich" it is clear before you even open this book that you are in for an emotive read. This is an incredible book about a city besieged by the Germans, starved, under attack, living in fear of their own regime and yet still able to remain defiant. Stalin notoriously disliked Leningrad, believing them bourgeois and distrusting their links with the Romanov family, while Hitler declared that Leningrad 'must disappear utterly from the face of the earth."

This, then, is the story of the siege of Leningrad and of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony, the 'Leningrad Symphony'; composed partly in the city as the Germans closed in and then finished after the composer and his family were flown to Moscow in 1941. The work was performed in Moscow, London and New York. Could it though, be played in Leningrad itself? It was a huge work, demanding an orchestra of over one hundred musicians. Yet the Leningrad Philharmonia had been evacuated to Siberia and only the Radio Orchestra remained in the city - or what was left of them. The handful of members still alive were weakened by disease, hunger and the cold. Jazz musicians and members of dance or regimental bands were enlisted to play. Many died before the performance and those still alive could only rehearse for minutes at a time, unable to muster the energy to play. Shostakovich stated that, "I wanted to create the image of our embattled country, to engrave it in music."

"There has," the author states, "never been a performance to match it." On Sunday 9th August, 1942, the 'Leningrad Symphony' was first played to a city besieged by the Germans since September 1941.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A terrific read. 29 May 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This wonderful book tells a story that is depressing and frightening but ultimately exhilarating. It is about the agonies of Leningrad under siege from the German army in WW2 while also the Soviet secret police were persecuting its inhabitants. All this is interwoven with the story of how Shostakovich composed his stunning 7th Symphony and how it was played during the siege by a makeshift orchestra of starving musicians. A great narrative with wonderful detail.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Symphony for a Vile Regime 14 Jan. 2014
By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
The author tries to place the 7th Symphony within one of the worst sieges in history. It is a bold attempt that doesn't quite work. Moynahan describes the performance of the 7th in 1942 before an audience of near-skeletons as: 'the most moving moment ever to be found in music'. He adds that the remarkable work masked the 'vileness of the regime from its allies beneath a veneer of culture'.

in 1941 Leningrad had a population of just over 2.5 million people, at least 400000 were children. When the German and Finnish armies cut it off from the rest of the USSR hunger set in. By January 1942 100000 were dying per month from starvation. Cannabalism became commonplace, even within families. Temperatures hovered around -30C. By January 1944 when the Wehrmacht began its long retreat some 750000 had perished from starvation or shelling.

Leningrad cedes in the German guilt stakes to the Holocaust. The dead of Leningrad get little recognition. In part this is due to the rigid censorship that Stalin imposed on what was happening inside Leningrad. Starvation was never ever mentioned. The reporting by the BBC was little better.

After 1945 Stalin ordered purges of Leningrad's academics, professionals and Party members. 100's were sent to Gulags on trumped up charges. Only the collapse of moribund communism made possible the 'wiping off of the syrup', to quote a Russian historian.Gradually, diaries and photos were published to reveal the true horrors of what happened between 1941 and 1943. Also revealed was the bungling, the use of untrained soldiers and how senior apparatchiks fed well while around them thousands starved to death. In brief, during the long siege Leningrad reproduced the corruption, and disregard for life that epitomised the Soviet Union.
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