I'm absolutely enjoying Alex Ross's new history of music in the 20th century, viz., The Rest is Noise. It's hitting me at just the right time to be sure: a time of reevaluation of my musical existence and a time of casting back to the composer-idolatry of my youth. But can I quote a bit here without fire and brimstone raining down on me from the Farrar, Straus and Giroux legal department? Not sure, but here goes. In writing of Shostakovich's seventh, we find that:
Besieged Leningrad heard the symphony on August 9, 1942, under the most dramatic circumstances imaginable. The score was flown in by military aircraft in June, and a severely depleted Leningrad Radio Orchestra began learning it. After a mere fifteen musicians showed up for the initial rehearsal, the commanding general ordered all competent musicians to report from the front lines. The players would break from the rehearsals to return to their duties, which sometimes included the digging of mass graves for victims of the siege. Three members of the orchestra died of starvation before the premiere took place. The opposing German general heard about the performance in advance and planned to disrupt it, but the Soviets preempted him by launching a bombardment of German positions--Operation Squall, it was called. An array of loudspeakers then broadcast the Leningrad into the silence of no-man's-land. Never in history had a musical composition entered the thick of battle in quite this way: the symphony become a tactical strike against German morale.
Ach du lieber, how can a petty and petite bourgeoisie composer like yours truly even begin to compete in this real world? To have both the Germans and the Soviets planning their artillery bombardments around the premiere of one's next composition! Obviously life is too easy for me. I need to have a freeway fall on me or have my family die of the plague or something. But the book is rejuvenating me, thrilling me, giving at least for the moment a reason to go on.