Mieczyslaw Weinberg (Moishei Vainberg)
The Composer and His Music
The music of Mieczyslaw 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
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.
"[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 [Vainberg'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
(http://www.chamberorchestrakremlin.ru/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
(http://www.classical.net/music/recs/reviews/o/oly00473a.html [Online 10/4/2004])
News and recent/upcoming concerts (highlights):
||The Molinari Quartet, based
in Montréal, Canada, will perform Weinberg's String Quartet No. 14
in several concerts during March 2015, including at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal on March 28, 2015, and at the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society
on March 14, 2015.
(Thanks to Olga Ranzenhofer for providing the details about these upcoming performances).
||Culture.pl, an online magazine promoting
Polish culture abroad, has published an article Unknown Facts From Mieczysław Wajnberg’s Biography that reveals some
interesting biographical information discovered by Polish musicologist Prof.
Danuta Gwizdalanka. It appears that Weinberg's surname will
remain a subject of controversy for a while (as it has been), but
the newly discovered date of birth is likely to be less disputable.
(Thanks to Magdalena Dropek for providing the information).
||It appears that interest in Weinberg's operas is increasing! From www.sikorski.de:
“Andrea Schwalbach has now created a new production for the Oldenburg State Theatre [Oldenburgisches Staatstheater]
that will be given its premiere on 24 January 2015 in the Great House of the Theatre. Vito Cristofaro will serve as music director.”
||The Lyric Opera of Chicago
will present David Pountney's production of Weinberg's opera "The Passenger" Op.97 (1967-68) between the 24th of February
and 15th of March, 2015.
based on a libretto by Alexander Medvedev, received its world premiere in Bergenz, Austria in 2010 to great acclaim, and
its North American premiere recently at the
Houston Grand Opera.
The upcoming staging by the Lyric Opera of Chicago under Sir Andrew Davis confirms the increasing appreciation of a
work that Weinberg thought was his greatest – indeed, a work that thematically underlies so much of his music
dealing with the human suffering endured during WWII.
(Many thanks to Thomas Holliday for providing the details about this performance).
||A recording of Weinberg's Violin concerto and Symphony No. 4 has been released on Warner Classics,
with Jacek Kaspszyk conducting the Warsaw Philharmonic. Ilyia Gringolts is the soloist in the violin concerto.
||Frédéric Albou and Michelle Assay recently gave a premiere of some of Weinberg's settings of Shakespeare's Sonnets in an “all-Shakespeare” programme. More information about the
event can be found on the University of Manchester events page.
||A recent recording from Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica on ECM
of some of Weinberg's chamber music, together with Symphony No. 10, has won a Gramophone Magazine's Editor's Choice award.
And it is well deserved! The disc includes some world premiere recordings, such as
Weinberg's 3rd violin solo sonata, a late work of profound depth and emotion.
||Murray McLachlan's seminal recordings of Weinberg's Piano Sonatas 1–6 have been re-released on the Divine Art label
(as Vol. 9 and Vol. 10
of an ongoing series dedicated to Russian piano music) and are now widely available. Recorded approximately 20 years ago,
McLachlan's deep insight, sense of balance and modest dedication continue to make these
interpretations of the piano sonatas indispensable.
||Weinberg's last operatic masterpiece "The Idiot" Op.144 (1985), after Dostoyevsky's novel of the same name,
was given its world premiere at the National-theatre Mannheim, Germany, on the 9th of May 2013,
conducted by Thomas Sanderling. This is one more successful Weinberg premiere by Thomas Sanderling
in what may turn out to be a whole series, the previous highlight being the Requiem Op. 96
(performed in Liverpool, UK, in 2009).
(Many thanks to Prof. Dr. Jürgen Stolzenberg for providing the initial details about this premiere).
||A recording of Weinberg's Symphony No. 8 "Polish Flowers" has been released on
(Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, Antoni Wit). It is one of Weinberg's three choral symphonies exploring war-related
themes. Texts are by the Polish poet Julian Tuwim, but translations do not appear to be included.
||Weinberg's Piano Quintet and String Quartet No. 8 have been re-released on Melodya (Borodin Quartet, with the composer
himself at the piano). If there is anything resembling a definitive interpretation
of the Quintet, this would have to be it.
||A recording of Weinberg's complete sonatas for violin and piano (Nos. 1–6) has been released on
Challenge Records (Linus Roth and José Gallardo).
See also the YouTube video for this release, containing excerpts and an
interview with the performers. Remarks in the video by violinist Linus Roth about the use of contrast in Weinberg's music have strong
resonance with the Music section of this site (which was written some time earlier and is thus clearly
spreading a positive influence!). Both performers are truly dedicated to Weinberg's music, and this release is one to look out for.
Per Skans on Mieczyslaw Weinberg's (Moishei Vainberg's) name:
Why not Vainberg?
Why not Wainberg?
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
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!
Uppsala, Sweden" (from personal correspondence with Per Skans)
Book: "Mieczyslaw Weinberg: In Search of Freedom"
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:
Mieczyslaw Weinberg: In Search of Freedom (in English).
Wolke Verlagsges. Mbh., 2010, ISBN-13: 978-3936000917.
|Fanning, David, Jens Hagestedt (Tr.),
Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Auf der Suche nach Freiheit (in German).
Wolke Verlagsges. Mbh, 2010, ISBN-13: 978-3936000900
It is available from the UK and Germany (e.g. Amazon UK/de, bookdepository.co.uk etc.), but not from amazon.com it seems.
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.
Questions and feedback:
If you have any questions, or would like to share your opinions and impressions of Weinberg's music, or just give some
feedback on this site, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.