The War Symphonies: Shostakovich against Stalin

Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich, the subject of the documentary film The War Symphonies, once wrote, “There was only one question: How did the leader like your work? The answer could mean life or death.” He would know. In 1936, Joseph Stalin, then-dictator of a repressive Soviet regime, walked out on a performance of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. In that moment, the composer went from artist to state criminal. “I don’t think he responded well to the main theme — the justified murder of a tyrant,” Shostakovich wrote later.

War Symphonies (the title refers to the six symphonies that Shostakovich wrote while under the Stalin regime) shows us the composer’s response to the artistic oppression he faced. Shostakovich used his music to express his dissatisfaction with the government, his feelings of aesthetic entrapment and his sympathy for the millions of other Russians who were also repressed by the state. (He later called the symphonies written during the war “tombstones for the victims of Stalin.”) The entire time, Shostakovich’s career — and life — hung in the balance.

War Symphonies, a Larry Weinstein documentary, features interviews with Shostakovich’s friends and family and excerpts from Symphonies No. 4 to No. 9. Two more films about Shostakovich, Sonata for Viola and Testimony, are scheduled for February and March, respectively. Today’s screening is at 7:30 p.m. Russian Cultural Center Our Texas, 2337 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-395-3301 or visit ourtexas.org. $5 to $7.
Fri., Jan. 25, 7:30 p.m., 2008

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Olivia Flores Alvarez