Krzysztof Meyer described Dmitri Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony, composed in the middle of the Second World War, as a “symbol of protest against evil and violence”. In 1944, the work was also heard abroad in the West – on 2 April it was conducted by Artur Rodziński in New York, and on 13 July by Sir Henry Wood in London. The noted French music critic Antoine Goléa then said that “the Eighth was dedicated to the mighty struggle for Stalingrad”, which earned the work the unofficial title “Stalingrad” by analogy with the “Leningrad” Symphony.
Shostakovich’s declared intention was a general reflection on the horrors of war: “I wanted to create, in an artistic and pictorial form, an image of the inner life of a human being who has been numbed by the gigantic hammer of war. This person goes through agonising trials and catastrophes on the way to victory. Accordingly, British critic Andrew Porter wrote in the Financial Times that Shostakovich’s work should be placed “alongside Goya and Guernica” as a “terrifying depiction” of war. The work was immediately discredited in the Soviet Union, as officials objected to the absence of the obligatory triumphal finale.
Kirill Petrenko and the Berliner Philharmoniker present here Shostakovich’s harrowing war symphony: a work that does without a final climax. What remains is only the cautious hope for peace.