Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Mieczyslaw Weinberg

One of the best-kept secrets of twentieth century Russian music is the work of Polish-born Soviet composer Moisey (Mieczyslaw) Weinberg, often spelled as Vainberg. Weinberg was born in a Warsaw ghetto to a family of itinerant Jewish theatrical performers. He made his debut as pianist at the age of ten, and by age 12 was studying at the Warsaw Conservatory. With the outbreak of war in 1939, Weinberg fled to Minsk, enrolling in the conservatory and studying with Vasily Zolotaryov. In 1943 Weinberg sent the score of his first symphony to Dmitry Shostakovich, who was impressed and arranged for Weinberg to be invited to Moscow under official approval. This was the beginning of their long friendship and of Weinberg's career as a Soviet composer.

Weinberg was the only member of his immediate family to survive the Nazi Holocaust. His father-in-law was executed as an enemy of the state in 1948, just as Weinberg attracted the ire of Soviet authorities through his opposition to Zhdanov's attack on formalism during the Soviet Composers Union Congress. In early 1953, Weinberg was detained during the so-called "Doctor's Plot" and readied for execution. Shostakovich intervened on Weinberg's behalf with Lavrentii Beria, head of the NKVD, but the death of Stalin on March 5, 1953, earned Weinberg his freedom. For the rest of the 1950s, Weinberg kept his profile low, but his work continued and ultimately found favor with performers such as pianist Emil Gilels and conductor Kurt Sanderling. In 1962 Kiril Kondrashin took up the cause of Weinberg's Symphony No. 5; the Symphony No. 6 for boy's chorus and orchestra Op. 79 (1963) helped establish Weinberg's reputation within Russia and remains his best-known work. Weinberg's own judgment was that the opera Passazhirka (The Passenger, Op. 97, 1968) was the most significant of his compositions. Weinberg's sizeable and impressive output runs to 156 opus numbers and includes ten operas, three ballets, 25 symphonies, 17 string quartets, many choral works, and music to more than 60 motion pictures. Weinberg's style is Romantic at its core, but makes use of a highly expanded tonal palette combined with vibrant instrument coloring. Since Weinberg's death, recordings of his music are finally beginning to leak out to the west, and his never-mediocre symphonies have struck a responsive chord among many enthusiasts of mainstream orchestral literature, in particular those listeners already favorably disposed toward the music of Shostakovich.