When guns speak, the muses keep silent, says an old Russian proverb.
Last winter, as he listened to the roar of German artillery and watched the sputtering of German incendiaries from the roof of Leningrad's Conservatory of Music, Fire Warden Shostakovich snapped: "Here the muses speak together with the guns."
This Sunday afternoon the U.S. will hear the proof of his assertion, but the proof is already old: Blood flowed like water and froze like ice on the steps of Petrograd's Winter Palace. Over bodies and frozen blood the Red Guards swept through the barricaded doors. By the time the final echoes of that historic assault had died, the last vestiges of Russia's old order had (in the Bolshevik phrase) been thrown on "the garbage heap of history." Russia of the Tsars, of Byzantine ritual, of mad monks and Cossack whips, Russia of fatalistic chaos and fatalistic inaction, was now to be kneaded with the butts of rifles into the Russia of the proletariat, of modern industry, of determined socialistic dictatorship. The time was November 1917, Year One of the Russian Revolution.
It was the year eleven in the life of a pale, slight, impressionable little bourgeois boy who clung to a servant's hand in the battle-littered streets of Petrograd. Said the servant: "This is the revolution, Mitya." Young Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich only stared and clutched the servant's apron. But what he saw and heard he pondered in his precocious head. Once safe at home, he sat down and composed two pieces: Hymn to Liberty and Funeral March to the Victims of the Revolution. A prodigy and a prodigious event had met.
This Sunday, a special NBC Symphony broadcast (4:15 to 6 p.m. E.W.T.) will give the Western Hemisphere its first chance to hear what Shostakovich's Marxist muse, now 25 years older, has to say in his Seventh Symphony,* his biggest, most ambitious orchestral work to datethe work that he wrote last year between tours of duty digging trenches in the outskirts of Leningrad and fire-watching on the roof of the Conservatory.
Not since the first Manhattan performances of Parsifal (in 1903) had there been such a buzz of American anticipation over a piece of music.
Last month a little tin box, no more than five inches around, arrived in the U.S. In it were 100 feet of microfilmthe photographed score of the Seventh Symphony. It had been carried by plane from Kuibyshev to Teheran, by auto from Teheran to Cairo, by plane from Cairo to New York. Photographers went to work printing from the film. In ten days they reproduced four fat volumes, 252 pages in all, of orchestral score.
Battle Royal. Before the first strip of film had gone into the enlarger, three topflight U.S. conductors, all Shostakovich championssleek, platinum-haired Leopold Stokowski, the Cleveland Orchestra's Artur Rodzinski, Boston's Serge Koussevitzkywere locked in a polite battle royal for the glory of conducting the première.