symphony for the city of the deadBiographies or any sort of nonfiction relating to the siege of Leningrad that occurred amidst World War II can become depressing to read because of the many, many atrocities committed and the vast number of people who died. Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson is the opposite of the traditional heavy nonfiction. Anderson breaks up his story of Shostakovich and the evolution of Leningrad by dropping in back-and-white historical photographs that allow readers to put a face to a name. This inclusion breaks up the chaos and destruction happening within his descriptions of Stalin’s purges and the eventual siege of Leningrad by bringing in pictures and maps to connect the history presented with an actual physical place and actual people. It may seem easy for people to ignore and write off atrocities committed, but I find that when authors choose to add pictures into their books, the subject matter becomes even more real and life-changing.

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad really brought to life for me the importance of art and culture to a nation and its citizens, both in a negative and a positive light. Anderson tells readers the story of Stalin and his purges: how he rid the country of top military officials, science experts, and a wide variety of other people and effectively set his country up for more widespread disaster when Hitler invaded and he had no experts to ask for advice. This book focuses on art and culture, specifically music and Dmitri Shostakovich. This Russian composer escaped death at the hands of Stalin and instead found himself navigating the tricky tight-rope of composing the music that Stalin finds appropriate while still staying true to himself. Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony is the one that he writes for Leningrad, “The City of the Dead,” and this book effectively sets the stage for discovering Shostakovaich’s mindset around that time and also the necessary cultural and political framework that he was up against. Highly recommended!

Check out the following fiction and nonfiction books for more information about the siege of Leningrad and related topics!

the madonnas of leningradcity of thievesleningrad siege and symphonyinferno the world at warstalin the court of the red tsarabsolute war

met nijinsky

When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky by Lauren Stringer: This is the story of how the famous composer, Stravinsky, and the famous dancer, Nijinsky, collaborated to create a performance of Stravinsky’s work that was so shockingly avant-garde that it caused a riot in the streets of Paris.* Can you imagine a ballet so shocking that it caused fistfights and screaming matches across the aisles of a sophisticated French theater in 1913? Astounding!

This book is to be read with “The Rite of Spring” playing in the background or not at all – the illustrations complement the music in a way that’s truly special. It’s so necessary to really enjoying the book that I’m a little mad it doesn’t include a CD, but of course you can always get the music independently from the library – whether you want it on CD or if you want to download it directly from Freegal!

when stravinsky“The Rite of Spring” is the music playing during the death-of-the-dinosaurs segment in Disney’s Fantasia, or as my childhood self knew it, “one of the scary parts!” This is powerful music, and accompanied by powerful, beautiful illustrations, this book is one to check out.

 *Please note: the library cannot be held responsible for any damage done to your home or car by riots this book/music may cause.