Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his seventh symphony during World War II, inspired by the Siege of Leningrad. In the middle of that siege, Leningrad conductor Karl Eliasberg recalled the remaining musicians of the city to rehearse it. Only 15 showed up, and they were suffering from starvation.
The first rehearsal broke up after just 15 minutes, as the small band of survivors had so little energy.
"That orchestra was consisting of players who were victims of bombings and hunger and starvation and they were barely able to hold their instruments to play," says Soviet-born conductor Semyon Bychkov.
One trumpeter offered Eliasberg a profound apology after failing to produce a single note.
But reinforcements from the military were summoned, and the cobbled-together orchestra practiced six days a week. However, they were so weak that they only managed to play all the way through the entire symphony once before the public performance on August 9, 1942. The story of how that concert came together for the debilitated citizens of the besieged city is told at BBC magazine.
You can hear a recording of Shostakovich’s Symphony No.7, also known as the Leningrad Symphony, played by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra in 1953.
(Image credit: St Petersburg Academic Philharmonia)