The symphony has four movements:
The second movement is a violent, exhilarating piece of music. It is claimed that this represents Stalin himself, and the ferociousness of the music would certainly bear this out. Rhythmically exciting, the music never really comes to a rest until the very end of the movement.
In the fourth movement the DSCH theme appears and though it has to struggle to assert itself it is this which makes a triumphant finale to the whole symphony, almost grinding the other themes into submission, particularly at one impressive point when all the horns blare out the theme, bringing the music to a standstill in quite a savage way. Though I don't tend to go in for much musicology, it seems quite fair to me to conclude that this triumph represents Shostakovich's own relief at having outlasted Stalin.
The symphony was first performed in Leningrad on 17 December 1953.