August 21, 2013

1944. The Western Premiere of Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony

Downs Returns to the United States with Dmitri Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony
"Dmitry Shostakovich with the Glazunov Quartet in 1940" (source)
After spending a year in Moscow covering the Eastern Front, Bill Downs returned to the United States in 1944 with the score of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 8. It was the first time the symphony would be heard in the Western Hemisphere.

The Eighth Symphony, along with his Seventh (officially titled "Leningrad") and Ninth, is part of a trilogy. The three pieces are referred to as "The Retreat," "The Attack," and "Victory," respectively.

The full symphony can be heard here. Below is a rendition of the third movement followed by two 1944 articles about Downs' return:


From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 19, 1944:

Russian Composer's Newest Symphony Listed for Network

Shostakovich Eighth to Have Its Western Hemisphere Premiere

By SI Steinhauser
Although our ears haven't been trained to appreciate the heavier things in music we know there is a lot of excitement about a Russian composer named Dmitri Shostakovich and his "Eighth Symphony" premiered in Moscow on Nov. 4. And there ought to be a lot more excitement among symphony patrons between now and Sunday, April 2, when the much-talked-about work will be given its western hemisphere premiere over the Columbia network (WJAS in Pittsburgh) with Dr. Arthur Rodzinski and the New York Philharmonic Symphony the conveyor.

The score of the composition was brought from Moscow by Bill Downs, CBS reporter, on his return from Moscow in January. Negotiations for its broadcast here were begun in the summer of 1942, before Shostakovitch had set even a single note on paper.

The young Soviet composer has described his Eighth Symphony as "an attempt to look into the future, into the post-war epoch." With the Seventh and Ninth Symphonies, the latter on which he has already started work, Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony forms a musical trilogy of war and peace. Bill Downs reports that in Russia the Seventh Symphony is referred to as "The Retreat," the Eighth as "The Attack," and the Ninth as "Victory."

Shostakovich spent all last summer completing his Eighth Symphony, living on a farm with his wife and two young children. His studio was a room furnished only with table and chair.

The idea of the Western Hemisphere premiere of his Eighth Symphony taking place on the CBS network pleased Shostakovich for a number of reasons, among them the fact that CBS has broadcast first performances of much Soviet music, including his own Second Piano Sonata.

Shostakovich also took cognizance of the New York Philharmonic Symphony's distinguished reputation. He has met Dr. Rodzinski in Russia and has heard and admired that conductor's brilliant interpretation on records of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony.

From Billboard, February 5, 1944:

Downs Points to Lucky U.S. Listeners

Soviet Restrictions Described
NEW YORK, Jan. 29.—Radio listeners in America, lucky enough to receive entertainment at any hour of the day, do not realize how fortunate they are. Radio station operators here ought to thank the fates each day that they are working under so few restrictions. These are the conclusions of Bill Downs, CBS correspondent who has just returned to the United States after a year in Moscow. In the Soviet Union, said Downs, things are different. There radio is a weapon of war, and as such is under exclusive control of the government. There is no, or very little, entertainment put out each day by Radio Moscow. In fact there are no radio receivers of the type used in the United States.
As soon as the war started, said Downs, all Russian home radio receivers were confiscated (as noted in The Billboard, November 13, 1943). Now Radio Moscow broadcasts its programming to strategically located, government owned receivers. At these points the programs are retransmitted by wire to town square amplifiers and to amplifiers in the homes of officials. This way the news, propaganda and martial affairs which make up 99 per cent of Radio Moscow's daily fare for home consumption eventually reach a majority of the population.
Russian in 13 Languages
Radio Moscow, added Downs, has another important task in addition to supplying Russian citizens with the latest war news. It does a top-notch propaganda job sending out Russian doctrine in 13 languages by the use of powerful short-wave transmitters. Daily the ether is loaded with Red broadcasts aimed at America, Germany, France, the Balkans, Turkey, Africa, China and Japan. 
Although information about radio in Russia comes under the classification of military secrets and therefore is hard to verify, Downs said he had been told by people in the know that experimental FM and television programs have been aired in Moscow. 
Control Continues Post-War
After the war the Russian citizen will get more entertaining fare, but radio will still be owned and controlled by the government. There will be only one radio chain—the government's. Radio receivers—and possibly television receivers—will be in every home, but the government will be the boss and any advertiser—foreign or domestic—will not stand the chance of an SS Trooper in Stalingrad. 
Downs brought to the U.S. the score of Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony which is to be given a Western Hemisphere premiere on a CBS-New York Philharmonic broadcast in the near future. CBS paid $10,000 for the first broadcast rights and two non-broadcasts performances of the opus by the Philharmonic.