Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Discovering Musicians, Part 4: Mieczysław Weinberg

Dmitri Shostakovich with Mieczysław Weinberg

Mieczysław Weinberg (1919 - 1996) is a composer I have wanted to post about for some time and I'm reminded of him by a post on Norman Lebrecht's blog this morning. Canada's Arc Ensemble has a new recording of chamber music by Weinberg and in connection with it they have created a short animated feature on his life. It's a bit melodramatic, but worth having a look at:

Weinberg has been a strangely neglected composer. As a young man 20 years old, he fled Poland to the Soviet Union where he studied at the conservatory in Minsk. As the Nazi invasion reached there he fled further east and finally ended up in Moscow, where he was befriended by Shostakovich, who regarded his music highly. One of the problems with researching Weinberg is that he is known under several different names. For example, in the index to Laurel Fay's biography of Shostakovich he is listed as Moisey Vainberg. I cannot find part one, but here is the Dudok Quartet with the String Quartet no. 3, op. 14 part two:

In its rich Russian modality, this is not unlike the musical language of Shostakovich, though leaning perhaps in a more lyrical direction. Here is an interesting little talk by David Fanning, the Shostakovich scholar, about Weinberg:

A very compelling question is why Weinberg has been so forgotten--certainly not because he is not a good composer. I think that he has been neglected for much the same reason that Shostakovich was neglected for a long time. When I was an undergraduate music student in the 1970s Shostakovich was never mentioned! The problem with both of them is that they are not following the agenda of 20th century modernism: thou shalt not write tonal music in traditional forms! Now let's hear part of that Requiem that David Fanning was talking about. Here is the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Thomas Sanderling.

 Finally, let's hear some lighter music by Weinberg. Here is his Concertino, op. 42 for violin and string orchestra:

He wrote a great deal of music, as much as Shostakovich, so we have a lot to explore!


Craig said...

I count myself a Weinberg enthusiast. I discovered him 3 or 4 years ago through his string quartets, and I have since been collecting pretty much everything I can find. I find his music very interesting and absorbing. Like Shostakovich, he wrote music that is music "all the way down" -- no gimmicks or tiresome complexity for its own sake. I think he deserves more recognition than he typically has received, and it is great to see so many record companies (Naxos, Chandos, CPO, etc.) undertaking major efforts to record his music.

One reason that I have seen suggested for his comparative neglect is that, as a Polish Jew, he did not fit the Soviet government's ideal of the "Soviet Artist", and so, although he received much recognition within the Soviet Union, he was never promoted to Western audiences.

Bryan Townsend said...

Hi Craig,

I think I am going to be a Weinberg enthusiast too! I really liked the string quartet particularly. Yes, "music all the way down" is a great way of putting it.

I think you are right about his being neglected because he was a Polish Jew. The Soviet state would not promote him. Thanks for that insight!

Rickard said...

Seems to be an interesting composer. Will check out more of his music.

Bryan Townsend said...

This summer, at least in our chamber music festival, it seemed as if everyone was playing music by the forgotten composer Erwin Schulhoff. He was the flavor of the week. My prediction is that the next one to be discovered, perhaps in a year or two, is Weinberg.