Mieczysław Weinberg

The Composer and His Music

Mieczysław Weinberg

The Composer and His Music

The music of Mieczysław Weinberg (1919 – 1996) is among some of the 20th century's greatest hidden treasures. Born in Poland, Weinberg emigrated to Russia in perilous circumstances, where he was to live out the rest of his days half-way between deserved fame and unjustified neglect. Often seen in the shadow of his close friend Dimitry Shostakovich, by whom he was regarded as one of the most outstanding composers of the day, Weinberg is slowly being rediscovered as a 20th century genius, a figure of immense significance in the landscape of post-modern classical music.

Weinberg's musical idiom stylistically mixes traditional and contemporary forms, combining a freely tonal, individual language inspired by Shostakovich with ethnic (Jewish, Polish, Moldovian) influences and a unique sense of form, harmony and colour. His prolific output includes no less than 17 string quartets, over 20 large-scale symphonies, numerous sonatas for solo stringed instruments and piano as well as operas and film-scores. With the constant stream of recordings, score publications and concerts over the last decade, many of these gems have been unearthed to finally receive the critical praise and attention they deserve.

This site aims to provide a unique resource in the service of further promoting Weinberg's music to a wider audience, with information about the composer's life and works, as well as a collection of links to complementary internet sites. It is hoped that the site can foster a deeper appreciation of Weinberg's music, with all its power, originality and beauty, and allow listeners and musicians alike to partake in the rediscovery of one of the great classical masters of the modern era.

Outstanding article about the life of Mieczyslaw Weinberg and his music, written by Robert R. Reilly in 2000 (reproduced by permission), as well as quotations about, and from, Weinberg.

Short essay about Weinberg's music, a thematically sorted list of works with brief commentary on various pieces, as well as information about obtaining musical scores.

Reviews and recommendations of CDs with performances of Weinberg's works (for first-time as well as ‘seasoned’ Weinberg listeners).

References to additional reading material, such as articles, conference papers, books and theses.

Links to other useful resources/sites about Weinberg, including a comprehensive discography and a list of some major recording labels releasing Weinberg's music.

Announcements of upcoming (and past) concerts, events, and CD releases (see further below).

Commentary about Weinberg's surname, written by the Weinberg expert Per Skans (see further below)

Photo of Mieczyslaw Weinberg
“[Moishei] Vainberg, aka Mieczyslaw Weinberg, 1919-96, has suffered for far too long from being considered (where he is considered at all) as being a Shostakovich epigone. But Shostakovich was not of that opinion: His professional and personal respect for Vainberg ran very deep, and practical; [...] The superficial similarities of style fall away once you get to know Weinberg's music, and a fully formed, wholly individual composer emerges, one of the most compelling voices of the 20th century.”
From Fanfare USA, Recording reviews, Martin Anderson
record/Rec_rev_Vainberg_Fanfare.htm   [Online 7/4/2004])
“[...] Weinberg is the third great Soviet composer, along with Prokofiev and Shostakovich.”
From Classical.net Reviews, "Mieczyslaw Weinberg", Steve Schwartz
reviews/o/oly00473a.html   [Online 10/4/2004])

Upcoming/recent concerts and CD releases (highlights)

Upcoming/recent concerts and CD releases (highlights)

CD cover for Weinberg's cello concertos, Raphaek Wallfisch (cello)
In line with his recent UK premiere of Weinberg's Cello concerto Op. 43, the UK-based cellist Raphael Wallfisch has recorded the same work for CPO with the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Łukasz Borowicz), along with Weinberg's earlier Cello concertino Op. 43bis (on which the larger cello concerto is based) and the Fantasia for cello and orchestra Op. 52.
CD cover for Weinberg's piano quintet, Olga Scheps (pn) and Kuss quartet
A new recording on Sony Classics of Weinberg's monumental Piano Quintet Op. 18 has been released, with the Kuss Quartet accompanied by Olga Scheps on piano.
CD cover for Weinberg's chamber music, Gidon Kremer (vn) and colleagues
DG continues its acclaimed exploration of Weinberg's music with Gidon Kremer and members of the Kremerata Baltica in some of Weinberg's chamber music: the Piano trio Op. 24 and the Sonata for violin and piano No. 6 Op. 136bis, among several early works.
Upcoming Weinberg / Wajnberg concert
The Baruch Performing Arts Center in New York will be hosting two concerts which include chamber works by Weinberg. The first concert (“Music from Exile”) will be on November 12th 2019, with the Daedalus Quartet and Renana Gutman performing Weinberg's Piano Quintet Op. 18 alongside works from Ullman and Bolaños. The second concert (“Fate and Genius”) will be on March 17th 2020, with the Clarion Quartet performing Weinberg's String Quartet No. 2 alongside Shostakovich's 7th and Beethoven's 16th string quartets. Further information and tickets are available here (first concert) and here (second concert). (Thanks to Caleb Jaster and Erica Murase-Fernandez for providing the details about these upcoming concerts).
CD cover for Weinberg's viola solo sonatas, Dinerchtein (vl)
A new recording on the German label Solo Musica has recently being released of Weinberg's four Viola Solo Sonatas (Opp. 107, 123, 135, 136), performed by Viacheslav Dinerchtein. These are highly sophisticated, intellectually challenging and deeply spiritual works, and they are outstandingly interpreted by V. Dinerchtein, with much emotion and devotedness.
Cover of German magazine with article on Weinberg and Weinberg concert information
There is an article in the German Gewandhaus Orchestra magazine, available on Issuu, about the life and music of Weinberg. The article is related to a series of upcoming concerts in Leipzig, Germany, which are the Gewandhaus Orchestra's tribute to Weinberg's birth-date centenary (b. 1919 – 2019). The concerts themselves will be spread throughout 2019 and 2020, beginning with several concerts that include Weinberg's chamber music (the first of these on 16th October 2019) and ending in a concert that includes Weinberg's film music (on 15th February 2020). Some of the musicians who will perform include Gidon Kremer, Martha Argerich, Sol Gabetta, the members of Quatuor Danel, and others – among, of course, members of the Gewandhaus Orchestra. Tickets are available here. There is also an interview with Sol Gabetta, including contributions from Linus Roth and Gidon Kremer, on the German KlickKlack program (also viewable on YouTube). (Many thanks to Maria Elena Aguirre for providing the details about the magazine article, KlickKlack interview, and concerts).
Upcoming Weinberg / Wajnberg concert
Raphael Wallfisch will be performing Weinberg’s Cello Concertino Op. 43bis in two UK premiere concerts (alongside works by Tchaikovsky, Schubert and Holst): at the Stoller Hall, Manchester, on Friday 8th of November 2019, and at Macclesfield Heritage Centre on Saturday 9th of November 2019. See here for more information and to book tickets. (Thanks to Siobhan Parker for providing the details about this performance).

If you would like to share information about upcoming concerts, CD releases, conferences/events, or any other information pertaining to the life or music of Mieczysław Weinberg, then please get in touch via e-mail.

What is in a name?

Per Skans on Mieczysław Weinberg's surname

What is in a name?

Per Skans on Mieczysław Weinberg's surname

“Why Weinberg?

  Why not Vainberg?
  Why not Wainberg?
  Or Vajnberg?
  Or Wajnberg?

The reason is very simple: Weinberg is correct, all other spellings are wrong! Weinberg grew up and spent his first twenty years in Poland, where the Latin alphabet is used, and he and his family spelt the name exactly this way. Its origin is German/Yiddish. Any other spelling in the Latin alphabet must thus be avoided!

I confess having a certain guilt myself, since I once accepted – without checking them – certain rumours that Weinberg himself preferred the spelling “Vainberg”. I discovered my error after I had written the texts for half a dozen CDs in the large series of Olympia in London, and I wanted to change the spelling, but they refused. In fact I understand this, because it would have confused their customers if they had changed it in the middle of a series. Nevertheless the CDs have unfortunately contributed to the present Babylonic situation.

The variety of (wrong) spellings is due to the circumstance that various people believed that the original spelling of the name was the one of the Russian alphabet. They then transliterated the name into the Latin alphabet, according to various rules (an ironical detail being that Soviet scores -- of all! -- used the correct spelling Weinberg!). But now Weinberg is becoming increasingly accepted. The New Groves, the famous dictionary, used the English transliteration “Vaynberg” some years ago, but in the Internet edition they have now corrected this into Weinberg.

I am at present writing a biography in English which is scheduled to appear in 2005 at Toccata Press in London; there I of course am using the correct spelling Weinberg!

Per Skans
Uppsala, Sweden” (from personal correspondence with Per Skans)

Since Per Skans wrote this text in the early 2000s, research by the Polish musicologist Danuta Gwizdalanka has revealed that Weinberg's surname in his birth certificate appears as “Wajnberg” (see her 2015 article in culture.pl), and it seems the composer also signed his Polish letters with the same surname. Could it be then that he felt, in accord with his three national-ethnic identities (Jewish by background, Polish by birth and Russian by adoption), that he should use three separate spellings, i.e. for Poland he was Wajnberg, for Russia he was Вайнберг (Vainberg) and for the rest of the world, Weinberg? This is something we may never find out. But one thing is clear: the music speaks in the same way regardless of what name is attached to it. In line with the majority of publications made since 2010 and the wish of Per Skans, music-weinberg.net uses the spelling “Weinberg”, in combination with the composer's preferred first name, “Mieczysław”.

Books on Mieczysław Weinberg

Books on Mieczysław Weinberg

Sadly, Per Skans passed away in 2007, before being able to complete the book mentioned above. Nevertheless, the book project was not abandoned, and was handed over to David Fanning from the University of Manchester, UK, who is currently taking it to its full realization. An interim book reflecting the ongoing work is already published in English and German translation. David Fanning is a strong Weinberg exponent, and while perhaps not all opinions expressed there are shared universally, the book is a worthwhile read for any admirer (current and even potential!) of Weinberg's music. More recently, Danuta Gwizdalanka and Dan Elphick have published monographs on Weinberg in Polish and English, respectively, which likewise deserve attention (see below and also the Further Reading page for a more complete list of additional reading material).

Mieczyslaw Weinberg: In Search of Freedom (in English)

David Fanning's Weinberg biography (English)

Mieczyslaw Weinberg: In Search of Freedom (in German)

David Fanning's Weinberg biography (German)

Music behind the Iron Curtain: Weinberg and his Polish Contemporaries (in English)

Dan Elphick's Weinberg book (English)

Mieczysław Wajnberg: A Composer from Three Worlds (in Polish)

Danuta Gwizdalanka's Weinberg / Wajnberg monograph (Polish)

Please also visit the front/home page for additional information, including the latest news/upcoming concerts and CD releases of Weinberg's music.