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, comprehensive resource in the service of further promoting Weinberg's music to a wider audience, with information about the composer's life and works presented through a variety of reading materials, such as articles, short essays, commentaries, work-lists, references to further reading and 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.

An 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 CD recordings with performances of Weinberg's works (for first-time as well as ‘seasoned’ Weinberg listeners).

Extracts from an article by Lyudmila Nikitina, reading materials on the opera The Passenger, and references to relevant books, journal articles and theses.

Links to other valuable resources and sites relating to 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)

Music-weinberg.net front page snapshot
Marking the 20th anniversary of the oldest internet resource devoted solely to Mieczysław Weinberg's life and music (continuously serving readers since 2002), music-weinberg.net has finally been completed with the addition of the anticipated pages on CD Recording Recommendations and Reviews and Further Reading. The site was first begun in 2002 out of an inner necessity to make the music of what was then a strangely neglected genius more widely known. It was subsequently revised in 2012 and then substantially expanded and re-designed in 2020, with the aim of presenting a more unified aesthetic experience, if possible, in accord with the music itself. This final update in 2022/23 comes at a time when Weinberg's (re-)discovery is well underway, with new recordings appearing on a monthly basis. It is hoped that readers – be they casual listeners or musicians – will leave music-weinberg.net with a deeper understanding and appreciation of one of the 20th century's “greats”, while being in some small way ideally and aesthetically enriched.
CD cover for Weinberg's symphonies 3 and 7 and flute concerto 1, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducting
Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla's much-awaited sequel to her previous DG recording has been released, containing Weinberg's Symphonies Nos. 3 and 7 (Opp. 45, 81) from 1949 and 1964, respectively, along with the first flute concerto (Op. 75).
CD cover for Weinberg's opera The Passenger, Roland Kluttig conducting
Naxos and Capriccio have released a live recording of The Passenger Op. 97 on DVD, Blu-ray disc and CD, with Roland Kluttig conducting the Choir of the Graz Opera, the Grazer Philharmoniker, and several outstanding soloists.
CD cover for Weinberg's string quartets 1, 7 and 11, Arcadia Quartet
Volume 2 of the Arcadia Quartet's projected complete cycle of Weinberg's 17 string quartets has been released on Chandos. This release contains quartets 1, 7 and 11 (Opp. 2/141, 59, 89). The ensemble will also be performing Weinberg's quartets 6, 15 and 16 in several locations across the UK during March 2023.
CD cover for Weinberg's cello concertos, Pieter Wispelwey (cello)
The Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey performs Weinberg's Op. 43 Cello Concerto on this new release with Les Métamorphoses, conducted by Raphaël Feye. The release also includes the Op. 52 Fantasia and Weinberg's final Chamber Symphony, Op. 153, with clarinet obbligato.
CD cover for Weinberg's violin accompanied sonatas 3, 6, and solo sonata 3, Yuri Kalnits (violin)
Toccata Classics has released the third and penultimate volume of UK-based violinist Yuri Kalnits and pianist Michael Csányi-Wills' survey of Weinberg's chamber works for violin. Kalnits' accounts of the Op. 82 and 95 violin solo sonatas have been particularly distinguished on previous volumes, and this release completes the set with a performance of the Op. 126 sonata that is different yet no less substantial than Gidon Kremer's seminal version on ECM.

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.