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At Symphony Hall

By Brenton WELLING Jr.

Yesterday's radio performance of Dmitri Shostakovitch's Seventh Symphony had every prospect of being one of the greatest occasions in musical history. The composer was considered the best living symphonist, the orchestra was first-rate, the conductor Toscanini, and the audience immense. With Germany and Russia locked in a death-grip from Leningrad to the Black Sea, and the music fresh from the pen of Russia's Composer Laureate, the event had tremendous news value.

Yet, despite the splendor of the occasion, there was one lack that any child could have noticed; the music was unmistakably bad. Even though the symphony had been begun last June when the Nazis started their drive and composed in odd moments snatched from volunteer fire-fighting in Leningrad during a terrible winter of hunger and constant siege, everybody expected and hoped for a miracle to happen. Human limitations being what they are, however, the miracle did not happen and the work of art failed entirely to measure up to the occasion.

In the first place, the symphony had practically no structure or coherence, nor did it make up for this with strong melody or color. The themes were commonplace and thinly stretched out over 70 minutes of pointless rambling music. Occasionally the familiar Shostakovitch brilliance and poignancy would glimmer for a while through the swamp, but never for long. For the most part, he had loosely strung together a collection of movie-scenario devices which might have been an effective background to a documentary film but were powerless in themselves to suggest more than confusion and weariness of spirit.

Considering the circumstances it is neither easy nor pleasant to treat this long awaited symphony so harshly, but just as the war itself will be won with guns and tanks, so must the struggle for musical greatness be won by musical means, and if we intend to have any standards at all, we cannot afford to play favorites.

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