Further Reading

Books, Articles, Papers, and more

Further Reading

Books, Articles, Papers, and more

With its unique combination of profound originality and breadth of stylistic influence, Weinberg's music represents extremely fertile ground for scholarly analysis and discussion. This is evidenced, for example, by Daniel Elphick's doctoral dissertation on Weinberg's string quartets – which marked a significant milestone in the musicological literature on the composer, being the first in-depth study of a whole body of Weinberg's music since Lyudmila Nikitina's seminal book of the early 1970s – as well as a spate of more recent research exploring Weinberg's ethnic identities, musical influences and aesthetics, and various individual compositions, among other topics, in Polish, Russian, German and English.

In this spirit of scholarly exploration, the current page aims to provide references and additional reading material that can be of interest from both a musical and musicological perspective. Specifically, the first section presents a translation from the original Russian of parts of Lyudmila Nikitina's journal article, Mieczyslaw Weinberg: “Almost every moment of my life is work...” (published in Music Academy, No. 5, 1994). Following the article fragments, an informal summary and analysis by Thomas Holliday of Weinberg's major opera, “The Passenger”, is presented – kindly provided by the author for use on this site – based on notes for a premiere of the work at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The page concludes with a selection of references to various academic publications, complementing the Links page with books, journal articles and dissertations. (As usual, readers can jump to the page sections of interest as needed via the overlaid navigation-bar icons on the bottom-right of the browser windowbottom of the screen.)

From “Almost every moment of my life is work...”

Article by Lyudmila Nikitina

From “Almost every moment of my life is work...”

By Lyudmila Nikitina

Lyudmila Nikitina's journal article was written near the end of Weinberg's life, when the composer's health was already frail and his works were being largely ignored in post-Soviet Russia. It adduces a number of ideas that, to a large extent, reiterate those of the author's earlier book on Weinberg's symphonies, including their characterization as monological and lyrical, with a special, modernistic kind of meditative lyricism. Extending a little beyond its usage in the article, the term monologue is perhaps best understood in the context of Weinberg's broader oeuvre as a form of extended narrative, where the music does not necessarily recount the composer's personal life experiences, but also (or even instead) a more depersonalized story of the experiences of a specific type of individual – one possessing a noble individuality, following Weinberg's own definition quoted on the Biography page – or of a whole nation or people, or even of the whole of humanity. As Nikitina indicates, these monologue-narratives are expressed in various ways – not least of which is the use of the liturgical genres of chorale and prayer – and can create different semantic contexts for each of the given work's themes. Similarly to how the characterization of a monologue is best understood as a narrative, the quality of lyricism Nikitina refers to and clarifies later in the article is best understood as an inward lyricism, a meditativeness not simply in the sense of contemplation but of the kind one encounters in various Eastern philosophies, such as Sankhya, Vedanta and others. Nikitina goes on to analyze Weinberg's Symphony No. 8 using the two previously introduced concepts, exploring how Weinberg expresses some of his humanistic ideals, his quest for high morality, in this highly personal work. Ultimately, it is Nikitina's idea of universal harmony that ties together the previous strands and gives them the necessary meaning to make them fruitful for both projecting the music and receiving and understanding that music: harmony or equilibrium (the Sankhyan sattva) that releases and lifts the individual, self-conscious human spirit out of the darkness of the material world (tamas). Thus, one could say that Nikitina's article not only advances valuable concepts for the musicological analysis of Weinberg's scores, but also hints at some of the deeper philosophical ideas prevalent in the music, which no doubt can be the subject of multifarious cross-disciplinary, extra-musical analyses.

The translated parts of the article are supplemented with a few brief footnotes. The headings in square brackets are editorial additions.

Reference: Nikitina, L. (1994), Pochti lyuboj mig zhizni - rabota. Stranitsy biografii i tvorchestva Mechislava Vajnberga [Almost every moment of my life is work: recounting the biography and creative work of Mieczyslaw Weinberg]. In: Muzykal'naya akademiya [Music Academy], (5), pp. 17–24 (in Russian).

At the end of the 20th century, there are few composers who can equal Mieczyslaw Weinberg in stature, not only because of his fantastically diverse coverage of genres and sheer number of works (it is sufficient to recall that the composer wrote 26 symphonies, numerous operas, 100 songs, dozens of chamber, instrumental, concert, orchestral and choral works, as well as music for films, theatrical performances and radio programs), but also because of his music's depth and the highest level of technical skill with which it was wrought. [...]

[On stylistic relations to Shostakovich, and Weinberg's special meditative symphonism]

When the concept of a “Shostakovich school” was established, it was not accidental that Weinberg was not recognized as one of its most prominent representatives. It is true that in his style there are many features related to Shostakovich – in terms of tonal organization, methods of developing the musical material that obey the principles of evolution and dramatic conflict, and instrumentation. But already in the 1960s it was obvious that Weinberg's style was individual and essentially different from Shostakovich's style.

At the end of the 60s, I managed to write a book, “The Symphonies of M. Weinberg”. It was published later, in 1972, with a circulation of only 1,750 copies. In this book (to which I cannot refer the reader, since it is not even available, for example, in the library of the Gnessin Musical Academy) ten symphonies are analyzed and some generalizations are presented. [...] The thoughts advanced in this book, it seems to me, are not outdated – they can be interpolated to the later works of the composer. Therefore, I allow myself an intermezzo insert from a work of some 25 years ago, where Weinberg's symphony is defined as lyrical and monological with features of an epic and a concerto [See Footnote 1]:

“Submitting to the general regularity of 20th-century art, the lyrical aspect in many works of contemporary artists reflect thought more than emotion. This feature takes a peculiar development in Weinberg: the intellectual fullness of his lyrical themes (showing the process of thought as it moves through the painstaking work with tonal organization) is combined with sudden, emotionally agitated ‘overflows’. This quality of [meditative] lyricism is manifested both in the scale of a given theme, or even part of it, as well as in the construction of the whole.

“The originality of Weinberg's symphonic conception is due not only to the special nature of [this] lyricism, but also the fact that [even his] compositions with tragic themes are characterized by a certain lyrical orientation [...]

“One of the characteristic features of Weinberg's dramaturgy is the presence of a "lyrical hero". When studying the imagery of the lyrical hero and the peculiarities of dramaturgy, analogies arise with literary and artistic phenomena, to which Weinberg turned out to be extremely close. The emotional structure of Weinberg’s music has much in common with Sholem Aleichem's world of charming characters. This is a world of spiritual kindness, enthusiasm, attention to the sorrow of the persecuted, and a wise love of mankind. [...]”

Later in the book “The Symphonies of M. Weinberg”, the hero of the symphonies is compared with the heroes of Julian Tuwim [...] Emphasizing the monological nature of Weinberg's symphonism, and accentuating the predominance of its reflections on action, it was necessary to come to a definition that has not come into mainstream use in musicology – namely, Weinberg's symphonism is a special type of meditative symphonism [...], that is, the type of symphonism that began to develop most actively in Russian art in subsequent years and was associated with the introduction of a new way of writing. Hence Weinberg’s special attraction to chamber sonorities, even in large-scale compositions; his love of slow movements; impulsive changes in types of expression; prolonged maintenance of a single mood or state; etc. If we add to this the constant usage of genre-specific, most often song-specific themes rooted in folklore (primarily Jewish and Slavic), then the differences from Shostakovich's style will become apparent quite clearly. [See Footnote 2] [...]

[The concepts of justice, devotion and universal harmony, as manifested in Symphony No. 8]

The music of the 8th Symphony “Polish Flowers” helps to reveal the depth and importance for the composer of the concept of justice. Weinberg appears to have heard concordant thoughts and ideas in the fiery verses of Julian Tuwim – an exile from his native land, like Weinberg himself. In the ten-part symphony-monologue, the author narrates his fate, as well as the fate of the abused Poland, and reveals to the world his philosophical and ethical ideas. Both the purely musical symbolism and the programmatic nature of the symphony could only be partially comprehended in the 1960s [...] That is why “Polish Flowers” was perceived [...] primarily as a memorial to the war. If this symphony could be played in the future, listeners of each subsequent decade would discover new features in it, which became noticeable in many compositions of other composers much later on. So, an audience of the 70s would find in this symphony the features of meditative lyricism, in the creation of which transformed themes take part in helping the composer to achieve a certain mood or state. For example, the song themes ("Gust of Spring", "Vistula Waters") emphasize unity with Nature. A sustained note on the organ, as well as a melodic deployment that transforms the stanza structure, transfer the emphasis from song lyricism to meditative lyricism; and on the contrary, the dance and scherzo themes – which bring with them a more fluid, tripartite, fast pace – emphasize the work's energetic beginning. This changes the usual semantic perspectives of the themes, transforms them, and thus also channels them to create a certain psychological state: from eerie-ghostly ("Children of the outskirts") to a dramatic dance-mazurka ("Lesson") and a "skeletal" scherzo, where percussion instruments ("Warsaw dogs") are brought to the fore. The comprehension of these images of action takes place within the monologues...

Listeners of the 80-90s would be surprised to discover that the distinction of these monologues – as it turns out, even in the 60s – flowed from [two] church genres: chorale and prayer. A chorale theme cuts across the whole [8th] symphony, starting with the first part. It acquires special significance in the climax – the Requiem of the Mother – where the "shot-down mother's world" is mourned, where it is emphasized that "the ideal was thrown down to the earth". The wordless chorale, entrusted here to the choir and accompanied by an organ, sounds in character like a luminous Christian funeral service.

And this topic, in fact, is central to Weinberg's creative work, starting with the 1st Symphony. For it is a symbol: a symbol of inescapable sorrow and radiant purification, reconciliation with fate, an understanding and acceptance of inevitability – perhaps also a symbol of [individual] resurrection.

This theme reveals, I think, Weinberg's deep inner religiosity [devotion], which – contrary to the current fashion – he never flaunted, because it was always natural and organic for him. The composer confirmed my impression as follows:

I would say that God is in everything. I have a chorale that has wandered with me since my 1st Symphony, which firmly "sits" in the 8th Symphony – [in the 8th movement, Mother] “There is in a cemetery in Lodz...”. Then the same chorale sounds in my music for Korostylev's play "Warsaw Bell", in the "Diary of Love"; the same chorale is the main theme in the 21st Symphony dedicated to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto. This is not a church tune, it is mine. A few simple, elementary accords... [see Footnote 3]

If the chorale in the 8th Symphony sounds very personal, personifying immersion in the world of individual human experience, then the prayer on which the next part [of the 8th symphony] is built – “Justice” – is the prayer of the multitude, a celestial prayer. The effect of universality is enhanced by the fact that the choir's recitation on the last note is picked up by the organ tutti. The culmination of the prayer falls on the lines: "Let righteousness forever mean righteousness, and justice – justice." It would seem that the prayer is over, and this is indeed so, but [only in relation to] the comprehension of events in the consciousness of the symphony's lyrical hero – an autobiographical hero, let us recall. Weinberg writes after the prayer a rather unfolding fugato [10th movement], based on the theme of the first part and only one word: "justice". The scherzo-ish motion in the fugato and the soprano's somewhat playful sound create the effect of an alogism, introducing a subtle irony, close to Pushkin’s thought: "There is no justice on earth."

Nevertheless, the hero of Weinberg['s 8th symphony] finds the truth and justice that bestow upon humanity light and its essential nature.

The idea of universal harmony, the unity of all that exists, is the key to understanding the characteristics of Weinberg's style, its neo-classical and neo-romantic orientation. [...]

Lyudmila Nikitina (PhD in Arts) is a Professor of Musicology at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory, Russia.

Footnotes to the article (addendum)

  1. As clarified next, “lyrical” is best understood here as meditative, since Weinberg's music is not lyrical-sentimental in a Romantic sense.
  2. Interested readers are also referred to Elphick (2014), who discusses some of the stylistic cross-influences between the two composer-friends and concludes that Weinberg and Shostakovich's relationship of mutual influence is a rather unique one in the history of music; and in Elphick (2016): many of Shostakovich’s innovations can be traced back to Weinberg’s music, also quoting Glikman: Shostakovich admired Vainberg’s [sic] talent without reservation, placing him without a hint of ulterior motive on a level with himself.
  3. See Khazdan (2021), which notes that in two song cycles, Weinberg did not quote synagogal chants, but created new melodies under the same laws that gave rise to their numerous variants in Ashkenazic culture.

On Weinberg's opera “The Passenger”

By Thomas Holliday

On Weinberg's opera “The Passenger”

By Thomas Holliday

In the interview Weinberg gave for Lyudmila Nikitina in 1994, the composer was asked about his most important work, and his reply was seemingly simple: "The most important one?" “The Passenger”. Everything else is also the Passenger. Of the last symphonies – the 21st, which has not yet been performed, dedicated to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto, where my loved ones died. It too is the Passenger. As important as the specific theme explored in the opera was for Weinberg, not just on a personal level, further analysis reveals that what was likely meant in the statement quoted above is that every other work is The Passenger by virtue of a resonating philosophical, existentialist thematic correlation; see, for example, the Music page on this site and, in particular, the commentary on several of Weinberg's works contained therein. In a short essay on the opera, Thomas Holliday attempts to characterize this thematic correlation when one of the main characters, Hannah, loses hope and Marta engages her to hold onto her humanity, to win by surviving; she must reach a time when no one frightens her, a time to live out her normal span with laughter and love. Thomas continues by saying that It is almost certain that Weinberg would have liked to convert his family to this outlook before he left Poland in 1939. Of course, none of the ideals set out above are easy to achieve nor portray in music in situ, especially not in the setting of the Holocaust; to quote from the same essay again: To characterize The Passenger as a “difficult” opera, at times positively painful to hear and see, is an outrageous understatement. Yet Weinberg’s music is almost as strongly and positively understated, and plays with exquisite crystalline clarity. Soft predominates over loud, low over high, all perfectly vocal. It rarely makes for easy listening, but is exactly what it needs to be.

Thomas' essay is part of a set of materials originally commissioned by Lyric Opera of Chicago, US, which presented The Passenger in its 2014-15 season. They are made up of a scene-by-scene summary of the opera; the aforementioned essay, “Horror and Grace”, presenting an informal analysis; and biographies of Weinberg, Alexander Medvedev and Zofia Posmysz. These materials are now (re-)provided here, as a PDF download, with the permission of Lyric Opera and the author, Thomas Holliday, for personal and research use (with appropriate acknowledgement of the author and this site).

While The Passenger is arguably not an ideal first introduction to the music of Weinberg – for that readers can consult the CD recording recommendations and reviews page – it is hoped that Thomas' materials can aid those exploring this gripping, tragic musical reflection, which for Weinberg was the most important one, to deepen their appreciation and understanding.



The selection of references below complements (without any overlap) the excellent bibliography provided by Dan Elphick as a starting point for anyone interested in, or involved in, research on Weinberg, with the aim of highlighting current directions and discussion themes (as of approx. 2022/23) that would be of interest to both a general and specialized readership – including musicians looking to perform specific works. The order of references is chronological, with links to full-text PDF files in English provided according to availability. Readers are welcome to suggest additional references via e-mail.


Life, Music and Context

Journal articles



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