October 19, 2016

1944. Downs Arrives in the U.S. with the "Stalingrad Symphony"

Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 8 to Debut in the United States
Red Armies converge during the Battle of Stalingrad, December 1942. Dmitri Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony was subtitled the "Stalingrad Symphony" by the Soviet government (source)

From CBS News ad in The New Yorker, February 5, 1944, p. 39:

LISTEN: February 5, 1944
A plane landing at New York on January 21 set down Mr. Bill Downs, CBS correspondent for 13 months in Moscow. Gripped in Mr. D's hand was The Paper, the paper being, of course, the first and authentic an true copy of Dmitri Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony, which CBS had obtained from Mr. S for a handsome package of rubles and its first performance in the Western Hemisphere.

Downs, who likes his music schmaltzy, was a little vexed about his job as escort for the symphony: the composer and the copyists caused him to miss two planes out of Moscow, and he was then grounded by weather for two weeks...
The Eighth is nicknamed for "the Attack music," as the Seventh was called "the Retreat music;" the Ninth, now going into production, is to be "the Victory music."

Downs (though he is no kin to Olin Downes of the New York Times) believes that the piece will be highly controversial. So far neither Pravda, Izvestia, nor Red Star (the big three of Moscow papers) has reviewed its premiere, and the musicians over yonder are brawling about it pro and con.

So the American people are cordially invited by CBS to wade into the controversy just as soon as (1) Am-Russ can have the necessary playing copies made here; (2) Dr. Artur Rodziński can size it up and (3) the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra can play it on the United States Rubber Company program some springtime Sunday afternoon.
By that time it is CBS' devout hope that the indomitable Red Army and the undeniable British and Red-White-and-Blue armies will be reaching, reaching toward their final handclasp across a shrinking strip of the so-called Axis. Somehow that would make the music even better.