When the history of 20th-century music is written in the next several hundred years, will it bear much resemblance to how we think of it now? My encounter with the works of Mieczyslaw Vainberg (1919-1996) makes me doubt that it will. So much music has been ignored or suppressed for aesthetic or political reasons during the 20th century that it will take some time for it to surface and receive a fair hearing. Enterprising record companies, such as Olympia, are in the vanguard of excavating our recent past, and their efforts are already shifting the perspective from which 20th-century music will be judged.
In an extraordinary feat of dedication, Olympia has released 16 CDs of Vainberg's music. These discs, many of them Soviet-era recordings of live premiere performances, give a substantial representation of Vainberg's enormous output. Vainberg composed 26 symphonies; seven concertos; 17 string quartets; 28 sonatas for various instruments; seven operas; several ballets; incidental music for 65 films; and many other works, including a Requiem.
One would think the sheer size of his output would command attention. Yet Vainberg is absent from every 20th-century musical reference work I have checked and receives a paltry two paragraphs in The New Grove Dictionary (under Vaynberg). What deepens the mystery of this neglect is that a number of his works are masterpieces that belong in any evaluation of 20th- century music. Thanks to Olympia, and a few other labels, a reevaluation can now begin.
The story of Vainberg's neglect is a history of the 20th century at its worst, encompassing both the Nazi and Soviet tyrannies. Vainberg was born in Warsaw, where his father worked as a composer and violinist in a travelling Jewish theater. Vainberg made his debut as a pianist at the age of ten. Two years later, he became a pupil at the Warsaw Conservatory. In 1941, his entire family was burned alive by the Nazis. As a refugee, Vainberg fled first to Minsk and then, in advance of the invading Nazi armies, to Tashkent. In 1943, he sent the score of his First Symphony to Shostakovich, who was so impressed that he arranged for Vainberg to be officially invited to Moscow. For the rest of his life, Vain- berg remained in Moscow, working as a freelance composer and pianist. He and Shostakovich became fast friends and colleagues.
Vainberg was to discover that anti- Semitism was not only a Nazi specialty. In 1948, at the Soviet Composers' Union Congress, Andrei Zhdandov, Stalin's cultural henchman, attacked “formalism” and “cosmopolitanism”, which were code words for Jewish influences. During the meeting, Vain- berg received news that his father-in- law, the most famous Jewish actor in the Soviet Union, Solomon Mikhoels, had been murdered (as it was later learned, on direct orders from Stalin). At first, Vainberg, who always refused to join the Communist Party, seemed safe and was even praised by the newly elected head of the Composers' Union, Tikhon Khrennikov, for depicting “the shining, free working life of the Jewish people in the land of Socialism”.
Nonetheless, Vainberg was arrested in January 1953 for “Jewish bourgeois nationalism”, on the absurd charge of plotting to set up a Jewish republic in the Crimea. This event took place in the midst of the notorious “Doctors' Plot”, used by Stalin as pretext for another anti-Semitic purge. Seven of the nine Kremlin doctors were Jewish. One of them was Miron Vovsi, the uncle of Vainberg's wife. Vovsi was executed [see Note 1 below the article's end]. Speaking of Vainberg's arrest, his wife Natalya said, “to be arrested in those times meant departure forever”. Expecting her own arrest, Natalya arranged for the Shostakovich's to have power of attorney over her seven-year- old daughter so that the girl would not be sent to an orphanage.
According to Olympia's consultant for its Vainberg series, Tommy Persson, a Swedish friend of the composer and his family, Vainberg thought he would not survive his internment, if only due to his poor health at the time. In -30 °C weather, he was taken outside in only his prison garb and shorn of all his hair. He was interrogated and allowed no sleep between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. In an act of great courage, Shostakovich sent a letter to the chief ofthe NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB), Lavrenti Beria, protesting Vain- berg's innocence. But it was only Stalin's death in March of that year that opened the prison gates for Vainberg and many others. To celebrate his release, the Shostakoviches and Vain- bergs held a dinner party at which they burned the power of attorney papers.
These events are worth recounting in detail because of the attitude that Vainberg took toward them and that is, in turn, reflected in his music. He seemed to regard his imprisonment with some diffidence. Of the Stalinist peril, he said, “It wasn't a sword of Damocles, because they hardly locked up any composers—well, except me— and they didn't shoot any either. I really can't claim, as other composers do, that I have been persecuted?” Vainberg must have possessed an extraordinary spiritual equanimity to say such a thing.
What sort of music does one write in the face of the horrors of Nazi genocide, World War II, and the Gulag, especially if one has been victimized by all three? In his December 19 article on 20th-century music after the war, New York Times writer Paul Griffiths opined that “since what had recently happened was inexpressible, the only appropriate course was to express nothing”. And indeed that was the course chosen by many composers in their increasingly violent and abstract works. The more repugnant the world, the more abstract the art.
The only problem with this approach is that the art it produces is itself repugnant because it is inhuman. Vainberg chose another course. It was neither one of denial, nor one of submission to the Soviet mandate to write happy-factory-worker music. He said, “Many of my works are related to the theme of war. This, alas, was not my own choice. It was dictated by my fate, by the tragic fate of my relatives. I regard it as my moral duty to write about the war, about the horrors that befell mankind in our century”.
Yet Vainberg was able to address these issues with the same spiritual equanimity with which he regarded his imprisonment. Though his music is certainly passionate, he seems to have been able to recollect the most horrible things in tranquility. Since so little is known about Vainberg, it can only be a guess as to how he was able to do this.
In conversation with Persson, I was told, “Vainberg could always see the bright light in dark circumstances”. What was the source of this perspective? Much is revealed in a remark from an interview Vainberg gave after the collapse of the Soviet Union: “I said to myself that God is everywhere. Since my First Symphony, a sort of chorale has been wandering around within me”. If God is everywhere, then there is still something to say. Vainberg found the means to say it in music of great passion, poignance, power, beauty, and even peace.
Vainberg's musical language may be another reason for his neglect. He frequently sounds exactly like Shostakovich, and that similarity will be the first thing likely to strike any listener. Vainberg embraced the similarity, declaring unabashedly, “I am a pupil of Shostakovich. Although I never took lessons from him, I count myself as his pupil, his flesh and blood”. In turn, Shostakovich called Vainberg “one of the most outstanding composers of the present day”.
Shared stylistic traits are immediately recognizable in the frequent deployment of high string and horn registers, and the sometimes-obsessive use of themes. Like Shostakovich, Vain- berg wrote open, expansive music of big gestures and extraordinarily long- lined melodies. Both composers were classical symphonists who wrote essentially tonally oriented music.
Though ridiculed as “a little Shostakovich”, Vainberg actually was sometimes the one influencing Shostakovich, rather than the other way around. Vainberg seems to have been the primary source of the Jewish musical influences in Shostakovich's works, most certainly in Shostakovich's song cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry. And who was influencing whom in 1962, when Shostakovich composed the Thirteenth Symphony, Babi Yar, about Nazi atrocities against Soviet Jews, and Vainberg wrote his Sixth Symphony memorializing children who were murdered or orphaned? So close were the two composers that they observed a steadfast practice of playing for each other every new work as soon as it was finished. Also, each composer, in tribute, liberally quoted the other's works.
However, there are defining differences. Vainberg wrote with irony (and sometimes even humor) but without Shostakovich's sardonic bombast and cutting edge. He held his musical onslaughts more in check. Vainberg's music can be very turbulent and bleak, but the bleakness and turbulence are not unremitting. They are, in fact, relieved by a fundamental optimism in Vainberg's outlook that clearly differentiates him from Shostakovich. The frequent diminuendos with which Vainberg ends his works do not signify resignation or death but peace.
Vainberg was more a romantic than Shostakovich; he wore his heart more on his sleeve. As a result, his writing is more florid, though his symphonic structures remained more classical than those of Shostakovich. In his later years, Vainberg's music, as evident from his last several chamber symphonies, even increased in lyrical beauty and contemplative value.
The similarities with Shostakovich may also cause one to overlook Vainberg's own significant melodic gift and his extraordinary ability to develop his themes, which cannot be the product of imitation. Vainberg knew how to take a simple idea and build it into a major edifice. There is also the matter of his remarkable fluency. Vainberg's music seems to burst forth from such an abundance of ideas that one can only assume that music was his natural language.
Russian composer Boris Tishchenko said of Vainberg, “The music seems to flow by itself, without the slightest effort on his part”. This fluency, he said, allowed Vainberg “to make a ‘game’ of music making. But even so, this ‘game’ never becomes simply amusement. In every composition, one can hear his pure voice, the voice of the artist, whose main goal is to speak out in defense of life”.
In The New Grove, Boris Schwarz calls Vainberg a “conservative modernist”. The reverse would be more accurate. In musical idiom, he was a modern conservative. Besides Shostakovich, other palpable influences are Prokofiev, Stravinsky, and especially Mahler. Vainberg worked with traditional harmonic and tonal expectations and rarely failed to meet them in satisfying and novel ways. He could sustain a sense of expectancy over long spans of time with vast melodic and contrapuntal structures.
The symphonies are often masterful in their thematic coherence. The whole of Symphony No. 19, for example, is developed out of its gorgeous opening theme over the course of more than half an hour. Although the symphony is subtitled The Bright May and has extra-musical associations with the end of the war, it is musically satisfying in the profoundest way. Vainberg's music is also highly variegated, encompassing calliope music, circus marches, Jewish and Moldavian folk song and dance, Shostakovich-like onslaughts, and extremely moving Malherian adagios.
The Symphony No. 2, for strings alone, written in 1945 to 1946, should serve as fair warning to those who wish to tie this composer's work to his biography. In the wake of the war's devastation, Vainberg produced a meltingly lovely, thoroughly charming, and relatively untroubled work. More than 40 years later, Vainberg added timpani to strings to produce his Chamber Symphony No. 2, another completely beguiling, classically oriented, if somewhat more weighty work. These are entrancing pieces.
Symphony No. 4 has immense propulsive drive, an engaging telegraphic theme, and wistful Stravinskian interludes. It is coupled on an Olympia CD with Vainberg's Violin Concerto, a work of the first rank, charged with breathtaking vitality. Shostakovich said, “I remain very impressed with the Violin Concerto by M.S. Vainberg... It is a fabulous work”. Though the Soviet-era recordings leave something to be desired, the quality of this music and the outstanding performances are thoroughly winning. If you are not engaged by these works, you need proceed no further.
Of Vainberg's Sixth Symphony, Shostakovich exclaimed, “I wish I could sign my name to this symphony”. This is the work through which I first became acquainted with Vainberg on a now-deleted Jerusalem Records CD, appropriately coupled with Shostakovich's From Jewish Folk Poetry (curiously, the two works share the same opus number, Op. 79).
The symphony begins with a hauntingly beautiful trumpet theme, which recurs and is developed throughout. Several of its movements include a children's choir. Despite its gruesome subject matter, the murder of children, this ultimately affirmative work is a moving example of Vainberg's ability to recollect in tranquility. Only someone secure in faith and hope could treat this agonizing subject matter in this way. The closing line of the text is: “There will be sunshine again and the violins will sing of peace on earth”.
The Symphony No. 12, dedicated to the memory of Dmitri Shostakovich (and here conducted by his son, Maxim) is a poundingly ferocious and poignant piece. It is magnificent music, but not for the faint of heart. The remarkable first movement, close to 20 minutes long, exhibits Vainberg's ability to move seamlessly from angry outbursts to lyrical introspection. This is a stunning work.
The Symphony No. 19, The Bright May, is music of a man who more than simply survived and who did not return empty-handed from the hell through which he lived. An incredibly long and elegiac melodic line of great beauty begins and almost continuously winds its way through this single-movement masterpiece, which ends in a most poignant way. May may be bright, but it is also haunted. Along with the Sixth Symphony, this is perhaps Vainberg's most moving work; he certainly wrote nothing more beautiful.
The Piano Quintet demonstrates Vainberg's prowess with chamber music, and almost equals in brilliance and vitality Shostakovich's great Piano Quintet.
The lovely Children's Notebooks for piano proves that Vainberg was a master miniaturist as well as a great symphonist. His abundant charm and humor are evident here.
In a welcome sign that the years of neglect are over, the Swiss label Claves has issued wonderful new performances of Chamber Symphonies Nos. 1, 3, and 4, with the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin. These works from the last decade of Vainberg's life are serenely beautiful. They have some of the marvelous breeziness of the best 20th-century British neoclassical string music This CD is a joy.
After a life of much pain, Vainberg spent his last several years in bed suffering from Crohn's disease. On January 3, 1996, less than two months before his death on Ferbruary 26, he was baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church, one final act by a man who “could always see the bright light in dark circumstances”.
Symphonies Nos. 6 & 10
Olympia OCD 471, Vol. 1. Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra & Moscow Choir School Boys Choir, conducted by Kirill Kondrashin; Moscow Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Rudolf Barshai.
Symphonies Nos. 7 & 12
Olympia OCD 472, Vol. 2. Moscow Chamber Orchestra, under Rudolf Barshai & USSR TV & Radio Symphony Orchestra, under Maxim Shostakovich.
Piano Quintet & Quartet No. 12
Olympia OCD 474, Vol. 4. Borodin String Quartet, with M. Vainberg (piano) and, in No. 12, members of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra.
Childrens Notebooks 1-3 for Piano; Piano Trio
Olympia OCD 581, Vol. 5. Anatoli Sheludyakov (piano), Irina Takchenko (violin), Tatiana Zavarskaya (cello).
Symphony No. 19, The Bright May & Chamber Symphony No. 3
Olympia OCD 591, Vol. 8. USSR Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Fedoseyev.
Symphony No. 4 & Violin Concerto in G minor
Olympia OCD 622, Vol. 10. Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Kirill Kondrashin, with Leonid Kogan (violin).
Piano Sonatas Nos. 4, 5, & 6
Olympia, OCD 596, Vol. 13. Murray McLachlan (piano).
[Re-released on Divine Art, DDA 25107, Russian Piano Music Series, Vol. 10]
Chamber Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4
Olympia OCD 651, Vol. 15. Umea Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Thord Svedlund.
Symphony No. 2 & Chamber Symphony No. 2
Olympia OCD 652, Vol. 16. Umea Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Thord Svedlund.
Symphony No. 5 & Trumpet Concerto in B flat major
Russian Disc RD CD 11 006. Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, under Kirill Kondrashin and the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra under Algis Zhiuraitis, with Timofei Dokshitser (trumpet).
Cello Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 (with Boris Tchaikovskys Cello Sonata)
Russian Disc RD CD 11 026. Alla Vasilieva (cello) & M. Vainberg (piano).
[Re-released on Melodiya, MEL CO0259]
Chamber Symphonies Nos. 1, 3, & 4
Claves CD 50-9811. Chamber Orchestra Kremlin, conducted by Misha Rachlevsky.
Shortly before his death, namely 3rd of January 1996, Moisey Weinberg was baptized. Many will be puzzled by this interesting fact: why did the composer, a Jew by nationality, suddenly decide to be baptized? I received the answer to this question from Weinberg's youngest daughter, Anna, whose mother was Olga Yulievna Rakhalskaya, the composer's wife from 1970 onwards. This is what she told me in a letter.
Father was baptized in sound mind and firm memory, without the slightest pressure from any side; this was his deliberate and conscious decision, and why he did it is not for us to judge. It happened at home – father was sick and during the previous 3 years he would not leave the house – a priest came to him (at his request) and baptized him.
On 26th of February, M. Weinberg passed away. The funeral service for the composer took place in the Church of the Resurrection of the Word in Bryusov Lane, near the Composers' Union.
Source: Ada Gofrinkel's recollections of Weinberg, 7 March 2012, http://world.lib.ru/g/gorfinkelx_a/
gorfinkelx22332.shtml (translated from Russian, accessed 2 February, 2020).
... Mieczyslaw Samuilovich – Metek, as we called him – was remarkably bright, unique and, unfortunately, very little studied. I think that if Weinberg had appeared a little earlier, or conversely, much later, even now, his name and his work would become more famous... His extraordinary talent manifested itself in everything, starting with his human qualities. His striking nobility, modesty, decency and intelligence find reflection in his compositions. And his qualities as a pianist were simply phenomenal! ... At the premiere of Shostakovich’s romance cycle to the verses of Blok, Weinberg performed in an ensemble with David Oistrakh, Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya, being an appropriate substitute for Sviatoslav Richter.
Source: Ada Gofrinkel's recollections of Weinberg, 7 March 2012, http://world.lib.ru/g/gorfinkelx_a/
gorfinkelx22332.shtml (translated from Russian, accessed 2 February, 2020).
Musical Lifemagazine, 2000, No. 1, as “Love Letters”
... A composer is someone who knows how to illuminate what is in each one of us with his own inimitable light, unlike any other. “Traditionalism”, “avantguardism” and “modernism” have no meaning. One thing is important: that which is truly yours.
Then you would not confuse Chekhov with Tolstoy, Poe with Maupassant, Rubens with Rembrandt, Beethoven with Grieg (his world is a small one, but it is his own).
I don't understand why almost everyone these days wishes to write according to the rules left by Schoenberg. For him it was natural. But for others? Why be an ape? This is an age of terrible depersonalization. A mold is being fashioned for earthly man. Cultures, as though enriching one another, lose their uniqueness. Girls wish to be now Brigitte Bardot, now Marilyn Monroe. Most likely there will soon be only one, universal, most beneficial weather climate.
After all, being a composer is not a jovial festivity, it is an eternal conversation, an eternal search for harmony in people and nature. This search is the meaning and duty of our short passage through life on earth.
An artist’s strength or weakness lies in whether he can express the eternal, well-known truth, illuminating it with new light, with his own light. If he can do this, then he is another brick in the temple; if not, then he is a resonator repeating a truth that was chewed many times. And then even the latest means of musical expression will not help – even if you make a glissando with a rubber band on a bare backside.
... [other text or other letters] ...
... Thanks to this, I am a terribly ordinary individual. Yet to be a composer (in the high sense of the word) and not to be an outstanding individual means not to be a composer.
Do not think that what I mean by “being an outstanding individual” is to attract attention with various extravagances, like, for example, Salvador Dali – not at all.
An outstanding individual is someone who, in everyday life, in communicating with people, radiates something that makes him noticeable, unique, influential on others.
An outstanding individual is also someone who differs from others in his actions (of course, not because he is trying to be original, but because he is not afraid to go further, to the very essence of things, which many because of their mediocrity and infantility do not discern), and gives his works his own, personal, unique colour, which others do not possess. So, only a complete, harmonious unity of talent in craftsmanship and outstanding individuality creates an amalgam called “a creator”.
And those who possess only one of these qualities cannot be called by this name. This is my opinion.
Moreover, do not think that the behavior of an “outstanding individual” is necessarily a behavior full of dynamics, muscle movements, activity – a visibly tangible wall-poster. We are speaking of spiritual activity, which can be projected onto many things and many people, while maintaining complete passivity externally.
Source: “Love Letters”, published in the Russian
Musical Life magazine, 2000, No. 1 (translated from Russian, accessed 2 February, 2020).
.. all of his creative output that is dedicated to the Second World War is completely devoid of both heroic and specifically depressive connotations, but is rather a mournful, sublimely sad music, designed primarily to remember and remind. In fact, it is with the word “Memory” that Weinberg's 17th Symphony is explicitly subtitled. Two of Weinberg’s greatest compositions are also permeated with the theme of memory: the opera “The Passenger” (in this case, both collective and purely personal memory) and his 8th Symphony “The Flowers of Poland”, which is an extremely emotional work, inheriting exactly as much from Mahler as from Shostakovich. In both cases, however, Weinberg does not speak of memory from a purely didactic point of view – not, “nothing should be forgotten” – but rather, from a hope to discover the humanism hidden inside every person, every listener. Not without reason, therefore, did Weinberg change the politically-correct Soviet refrain of Mikhail Lukonin in the finale of his 6th Symphony dedicated to Jewish children who had perished in the war, ”Sleep people. Take rest. You are tired. / Do not trouble each other while living on Earth”, to the much softer lines, “Sleep people. Take rest. The sun will rise. / There will be violins singing of peace on Earth.”
... Weinberg's works are full of Jewish motifs in all kinds of manifestations – from liturgical (sonatas for solo cello) to klezmer (many of his string quartets, concerto for clarinet and orchestra). Weinberg was the actual catalyst for the emergence of Jewish motifs in Shostakovich's music: many of the famous works of the latter – “From Jewish Folk Poetry”, 8th String Quartet, 13th Symphony “Babi Yar” – would not have been possible without Weinberg's direct influence.
Although Weinberg has long been perceived as a student of Shostakovich, their relationship was much more like the relationship of two colleagues than a teacher and a student. Weinberg and Shostakovich played to each other their new works immediately after these were composed, discussed their ideas with each other and inspired each other with respect to their works' cardinal musical elements; thus, Weinberg and Shostakovich influenced each other, and it makes no sense to determine who wrote what first. Shostakovich’s 13th Symphony “Babi Yar” and Weinberg's 6th Symphony were written almost simultaneously, both were set in A minor, both are five-part choral works, the last three parts of which are performed without interruption, both are dedicated to the tragedies of the Jewish people; at the same time, Shostakovich's “Yar” traces the motives of Weinberg's early works, while in Weinberg's 6th symphony, there are references to Shostakovich. A significant part of Weinberg's 5th Symphony is rooted in the 4th by Shostakovich; Shostakovich's 10th String Quartet is actually a paraphrase of the material of Weinberg's 7th Symphony. And so on and so forth – and this despite the fact that examples of such mutual borrowings cover only small parts of the catalogs of the works of both composers. Weinberg and Shostakovich (who already suffered from a polio-like condition) recorded the latter's 10th Symphony in a piano version for four hands – and this music, which is rather unusual for Shostakovich and permeated by a certain spirit of self-withdrawal, sounds like a real monument to their friendship.
Source: Oleg Sobolev, Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Glossary, https://art1.ru/2014/05/15/mechislav-vajnberg-glossarij-37235 (translated from Russian, accessed 2 February, 2020).
In his obituary in honour of Shostakovich, Weinberg at the same time touched on obligations and hopes related to his own music:
No matter how leniently, indeed how respectfully, one may evaluate the most recent attempts to renew the language of music... the treasure trove of the musical culture of mankind accepts only works that contain a great humanistic idea and whose creators were moved by the uniqueness of genius.
Towards the end of his life, in 1994, Weinberg revealed his artistic creed to the musicologist and journalist Liudmila Nikitina:
I believe that every moment in the life of an artist who merits this name in a certain sense consists of work. Of interesting, persistent, endless work. Not only of work at the desk but also of the work of the observer, of the assimilation of the sounds, colours, movements and rhythms of reality. I am always at work.
Source: Booklet notes by Marion Méndez on cpo 777 639-2, first Weinberg quote partially re-translated from German.
I happened to know him from early childhood. By the will of destiny, my childhood passed close to the composer's residence in Moscow, on Studencheskaya street.
Metek, as my grandmother and those whom he considered close called him ... spoke with a soft Polish accent, giving his voice a unique character ... There was never a drop of irritation when he spoke.
... I can say our families were friends. His youngest daughter Anna is my age; his wife Olga Rakhalskaya is of the same generation as my mother. ... I remember the wonderful Nadezhda Alexandrovna, Metek's mother-in-law, the kindest woman, who endlessly surprised everyone with incredible culinary achievements.
... Over the years, with my growing comprehension of musical culture and indeed of life in general, I realized what a significant personality, what a talented person lived next door to me ... When my classmate at the Gnessin Academy, a trumpeter, found out that I knew Weinberg personally, he became stupefied and looked at me for some time as though I was in some measure a celestial being. No wonder. After all, Weinberg’s concerto for trumpet and orchestra is of enduring value for every trumpeter, and to study its performance by Timofei Dokshitser is always a delight. I won't forget how, by exploiting my family friendship, I showed Weinberg my first inadequate compositions. He could have said he is busy or ill – there was nothing to seriously talk about in my works – but he took me in for about two hours, and I can still repeat his every remark. They carried so much goodwill and so much subtlety and intelligence ...
The life of his family came under the awful shadow of tyranny in the 20th century. His grandfather and great-grandfather died during the Chisinau pogrom, when the collapsing monarchy did not find anything better than to make the Jews guilty of their helplessness. ... He graduated from the Warsaw Conservatory six months before the outbreak of World War II. Mieczyslaw Weinberg was supposed to follow a great career as a virtuoso pianist. But after the start of the occupation of part of Poland by German fascists, Jews had to think about saving their lives and not about how to build their careers. He did not manage to catch one of the last trains to the USSR ... and, together with other refugees for 17 days and nights, almost without food or drink, travelled on foot to the Polish border with Belarus. His sister and parents did not have time to escape. Mieczyslaw never saw them again. On the Soviet border, his name was recorded in his passport as Moisey (Moses). So many people called him until the end of his days – Moisey Samuilovich. Despite the fact that his life in the USSR did not always advance free of trouble (in 1953 he was arrested right on the day of the first performance of his stunning “Moldavian Rhapsody” and accused of conspiracy to create a Jewish republic in Crimea), he was never anti-Soviet. Composer Alexander Tchaikovsky, who socialised often with Weinberg, recalls:
... When we scolded the Soviet system, he never supported this and would say that we did not know what it was when life was terrifying, and that it was here that they saved him. ...
... During the first few years of his life in the USSR, Weinberg studied at the Minsk Conservatory in the class of Vasily Zolotarev, then evacuated to Tashkent, where he met his first wife, Natalya Mikhoels, daughter of the great actor Solomon Mikhoels. There he wrote his 1st Symphony, which he sent to Shostakovich for the latter's opinion. This was the beginning of their strong friendship – filled with a great creative and human sympathy – I would even say, brotherhood. After Weinberg’s arrest, when it became clear that the efforts of colleagues didn’t lead to anything, that all family members were under suspicion and the innocent musician could suffer long-term imprisonment, the Shostakoviches prepared documents for the adoption of Victoria, the daughter of Mieczyslaw Weinberg and Natalia Mikhoels. But Weinberg was saved by the death of Stalin. ...
... He wrote in almost all genres, never betrayed himself and treated every movement of his pencil on the score as sacred. Listen to his symphonies. All 26 of them ... And you will understand that you have become a completely different person. Listen to his quartets, his piano sonatas, and you will soar above your everyday life so high that you will never be able to say any nonsense or vulgarities about classical music.
And if you have not listened to Weinberg before, start with the first measures of his Concerto for cello and orchestra, and you will not come back to yourselves without Weinberg. He will always be with you...
Source: Literaturnaia Gazeta (Literary Newspaper) Maxym Zamshev, No. 49, 4th of December 2019 (translated from Russian, accessed 8 February, 2020).
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