On Friday evening, Tom and I went to see Neeme Järvi conducting the RSNO in Shostakovitch’s 7th. I don’t think I have ever seen the Usher Hall so full – there wasn’t a spare seat to be seen – with many emotional Russians among the audience. Personally, I think it is very hard not to be emotional when listening to the Lenigrad symphony – I hear it as a sort of musical equivalent of Hannah Arendt – and its direct context in 900 brutal and evil days is inescapable and terrifying. In all senses, it was a tremendous occasion, heightened for me by what I had been reading about the Leningrad album.
During the siege, there was a massive upswell of support for the people of Leningrad among British women – particularly those of the West of Scotland. In Airdrie and Coatbridge, the women members of the Anglo-Soviet Aid Committee raised a substantial amount of money to support those suffering under the siege. They wrapped this money in a tartan-covered album, prefaced it with a quotation from Burns’s famous song about solidarity, and sent it, together with five thousand signatures and messages of personal support, to the women of Leningrad. The album traveled across Lake Ladoga’s notorious ice road to reach the besieged city, where it and its contents were gratefully received. The women of Leningrad were so touched by the album, that, even in the midst of their hardship, they produced their own gift book to return to their friends in Scotland. This book was bound in gold damask embroidery, and filled with photographs, signatures, and drawings in watercolour and pencil. An inscription on the first page of the album read:
“We have been moved to the depths of our soul by the words of love and greeting from those distanced from us in far-off Scotland. We thank you for the help you are giving us in the struggle with Hitler’s Germany. Our husbands and brothers are cut off from us, our homes are in danger, our children are doomed to destruction or bondage. The women of Leningrad, just like the women of Airdrie and Coatbridge, have risen to the defence of their homes. We are proud that we have such a worthy ally as the people of Great Britain.”
The gift book from the women of Airdrie and Coatbridge is now in the Museum of Leningrad History, while the Leningrad Album is usually housed in Glasgow’s Mitchell Library. However, to accompany the RSNO’s performances of the Leningrad Symphony, it is on display for a few days in the Royal Concert Hall. Manuscript gift-books are a special interest of mine as you may know, and this one is very special indeed. We went over to Glasgow yesterday to see it. I found it incredibly moving. I also found it heartening to be reminded of women’s solidarity on a day like yesterday.
If you are in or near Glasgow, the Leningrad Album is on display in the foyer of the Royal Concert Hall (at the top of the stairs near the gift shop) until tomorrow. If you are not in Glasgow, the RSNO have displayed a selection of pages from the album here.
(Yes, that is me above the jolly mêlée on Buchanan Street. I actually managed to pick my way through that crowd in flat shoes without a stick — at least as challenging for me as any hill. After two days of Leningrad-fueled emotion, I came home feeling quite uplifted).