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Mieczysław Weinberg during the 1960s

Mieczysław Weinberg (also Moisey or Moishe Vainberg, Moisey Samuilovich Vaynberg; Russian: Моисей Самуилович Вайнберг; Polish: Mojsze [Mieczysław] Wajnberg; 8 December 1919[note 1] – 26 February 1996) was a Polish-born Soviet composer. His music, often programmatic, was influenced by his friend Dmitri Shostakovich. Weinberg's corpus is extensive, including 22 symphonies and seven operas.


Much confusion has been caused by different renditions of the composer's names. In official Polish documents (i.e. prior to his move to the USSR), his name was spelled as Mojsze Wajnberg,[1][2] and in the world of Yiddish theater of antebellum Warsaw he was likewise known as Yiddish: משה װײַנבערג‎ (Moishe Weinberg).[3] In the Russian language (i.e. after his move to the Soviet Union), he was and still is known as Russian: Моисей Самуилович Вайнберг (Moisey Samuilovich Vaynberg), which is the Russian-language analogue of the Polish original Mojsze, son of Samuel. Among close friends in Russia, he would also go by his Polish diminutive Mietek (i.e. Mieczysław).

Re-transliteration of his surname from Cyrillic (Вайнберг) back into the Latin alphabet produced a variety of spellings, including 'Weinberg', 'Vainberg', and 'Vaynberg'. The form 'Weinberg' is now being increasingly used as the most frequent English-language rendition of this common Jewish surname, notably in the latest edition of Grove and by Weinberg's biographer, Per Skans.[4]


Weinberg was born on 8 December 1919[note 1] to a Jewish family in Warsaw. His father, Shmil (Szmuel or Samuil Moiseyevich) Weinberg (1882–1943, Russian),[6] a well-known conductor and composer of the Yiddish theater,[7][8] moved to Warsaw from Kishinev (at that time a part of the Russian Empire) in 1916 and worked as a violinist and conductor for the Yiddish theatre Scala in Warsaw, where the future composer joined him as pianist at the age of 10 and later as a musical director of several performances.[9] His mother, Sonia Wajnberg (née Sura-Dwojra Sztern, 1888–1943),[note 2] born in Odessa (at that time a part of the Russian Empire), was an actress in several Yiddish theater companies in Warsaw and Lodz.[10] The family had already been the victim of anti-semitic violence in Bessarabia— some members of his family were killed during the Kishinev pogrom.[11] One of the composer's cousins (a son of his father's sister Khaya Vaynberg) - Isay Abramovich Mishne - was the secretary of the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Baku Soviet commune and was executed in 1918 along with the other 26 Baku Commissars.[12]

Weinberg entered the Warsaw Conservatory, studying piano, at the age of twelve, and graduated in 1939. Two works (his first string quartet and a berceuse for piano) were composed before he fled to the Soviet Union at the outbreak of war. His parents and younger sister Esther remained behind, were interned at the Lodz ghetto and perished in the Trawniki concentration camp. He settled in Minsk, where he studied composition for the first time at the Conservatory there. At the outbreak of World War II on Soviet territory, Weinberg was evacuated to Tashkent (Central Asia), where he wrote works for the opera, as well as met and married Solomon Mikhoels' daughter Natalia Vovsi. There he also met Dmitri Shostakovich who was impressed by his talent and became his close friend. Meeting Shostakovich had a profound effect on the younger man, who said later that, "It was as if I had been born anew".[13] In 1943, he moved to Moscow at Shostakovich's urging.

Weinberg's works were not banned during the Zhdanovshchina of 1948, but he was almost entirely ignored by the Soviet musical establishment; for a time he could make a living only by composing for the theatre and circus. On 13 January 1948 Weinberg's father-in-law Mikhoels was assassinated in Minsk on Stalin's orders; shortly after Mikhoels's murder, Soviet agents began following Weinberg. In February 1953, he was arrested on charges of "Jewish bourgeois nationalism" in relation to the murder of his father-in-law as a part of the so-called "Doctors' plot": Shostakovich wrote to Lavrenti Beria to intercede on Weinberg's behalf, as well as agreeing to look after Weinberg's daughter if his wife were also arrested. In the event, he was saved by Stalin's death the following month, and he was officially rehabilitated shortly afterwards.[14]

Thereafter Weinberg continued to live in Moscow, composing and performing as a pianist. He and Shostakovich lived near to one another, sharing ideas on a daily basis. Besides the admiration which Shostakovich frequently expressed for Weinberg's works, they were taken up by some of Russia's foremost performers and conductors, including Emil Gilels, Leonid Kogan, Kirill Kondrashin, Mstislav Rostropovich, Kurt Sanderling, and Thomas Sanderling.

Towards the end of his life, Weinberg suffered from Crohn's disease and remained housebound for the last three years, although he continued to compose. It has been claimed that he converted to Orthodox Christianity less than two months before his death in Moscow on 3 January 1996.[15] However, his daughter Victoria believes that, due to his illness and declining mental capacity, his baptism was not undertaken voluntarily.[16]

A 2004 reviewer has considered him as "the third great Soviet composer, along with Prokofiev and Shostakovich".[17] Ten years after his death, a concert premiere of his opera The Passenger in Moscow sparked a posthumous revival. The British director David Pountney staged the opera at the 2010 Bregenz Festival[18] and restaged it at English National Opera in 2011.[19]


Weinberg's output includes twenty-two symphonies, other works for orchestra (including chamber symphonies and sinfoniettas), seventeen string quartets, eight violin sonatas (three solo and five with piano), twenty-four preludes for cello and six cello sonatas (two with piano and four solo), six piano sonatas, numerous other instrumental works, as well as more than 40 film and animation scores (including The Cranes are Flying, Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, 1958). He wrote seven operas, and considered one of them, The Passenger (Passazhirka) (written in 1967-68, premiered in 2006),[20][21] to be his most important work.[22] His piano quintet, piano trio and cello works have received performances in concert series and festivals across Europe and the USA in recent years. The British record label Olympia has released over fifteen compact disc recordings of his music, consisting of both original recordings and remasterings of earlier Melodiya LPs.

Weinberg's works frequently have a strong programmatic element. Throughout his life, he continually referred back to his formative years in Warsaw and to the war which ended that earlier life. Typically, however, this darkness serves as a background to the finding of peace through catharsis. This desire for harmony is also evident in his musical style; Lyudmilla Nikitina emphasizes the "neo-classical, rationalist clarity and proportion" of his works.[22]

Although he never formally studied with Shostakovich, the older composer had an obvious influence on Weinberg's music. This is particularly noticeable in his 12th Symphony (1975–1976, Op.114), which is dedicated to the composer's memory. Explicit connections include the pianissimo passage with celesta which ends the Fifth Symphony (1962, Op.76), reminiscent of Shostakovich's Fourth and written around the time of that work's premiere. Another Weinberg work, his sixth piano sonata (1960, Op.73), quotes one of the Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues. Weinberg's 21st Prelude for cello is a particularly explicit indication of Shostakovich's influence on him. The short piece is entirely cobbled together with quotes from Shostakovich's first cello concerto and the 4th movement of his Sonata in D Minor, also for cello.

More general similarities in musical language include the use of extended melodies, repetitive themes and extreme registers. This has been one of the main criticisms voiced of Weinberg: Alexander Ivashkin has argued that composers such as Weinberg damaged not only their reputations, but also that of Shostakovich himself: "these works only served to kill off Shostakovich's music, to cover it over with a scab of numerous and bad copies".[23]

Nevertheless, Shostakovich was not the only influence on Weinberg's style. Nikitina identifies Prokofiev, Myaskovsky, Bartók and Mahler as other influences, while the Trumpet Concerto quotes Mendelssohn's well-known Wedding March. Ethnic influences include not only Jewish music, but also Moldavian, Polish, Uzbek, and Armenian elements. Weinberg has been identified by some critics as the source of Shostakovich's own increased interest in Jewish themes.[24]


Selected recordingsEdit

  • Symphony No. 1 in G minor, Op.10, 1942; Symphony for string orchestra & harpsichord No. 7 in C major, Op. 81, 1964: Cond. GSO Thord Svedlund Chandos
  • Sonata For Clarinet & Piano (1945): Joaquin Valdepenas (Clarinet), Dianne Werner (Piano); Jewish Songs after Shmuel Halkin (1897–1960) for voice & piano, Op. 17 (1944): Richard Margison (tenor), Dianne Werner (Piano); Piano Quintet (1944), Op. 18: ARC Ensemble, 2006
  • Symphony No. 17, Op. 137 "Memory"; Symphonic Poem, Op. 143 "The Banners of Peace": USSR Radio Symphony Orchestra Cond. Vladimir Fedoseyev Olympia OCD_590, 1996

Complete editions


  • Opera "The Passenger", Op. 97 (1967/68) sung in German, Polish, Russian, French, English, Czech, and Yiddish: Michelle Breedt, Elena Kelessidi, Roberto Sacca, Prague Philharmonic Choir, Vienna Symphony Orchestra cond. Teodor Currentzis dir. David Pountney at the Bregenzer Festspiele, 2010 (Non-DVD compatible Blu-ray)


  1. ^ a b Weinberg's date of birth is unclear. Citing his Soviet documents, it is usually stated that it was 8 December 1919. However, in his original birth certificate and application for admission to the Warsaw Conservatory, discovered in Warsaw, 12 January 1919 is entered.[1] So if this December is real, it probably meant December 1918, not 1919. Moving the date of birth "forward" was then quite commonly practiced.[5]
  2. ^ In the birth records at the Warsaw Archives of Civil Acts the mother's name is Sura Dwojra Sztern. In Zalmen Zylbercweig's Encyclopedia of the Yiddish Theatre, she is referred to as Sonia Wajnberg (Karl). David Fanning reports, that Soviet documents from 1982 refer to her as Sarah Kotlitskaya.[2][5]


  1. ^ a b Gwizdalanka, Danuta (13 April 2016). "Nieznane fakty z biografii Mieczysława Wajnberga" [Unknown facts from the life of Moses Weinberg (citing his birth certificate and original application for admission to the Warsaw Conservatory)]. (in Polish). Warsaw: Adam Mickiewicz Institute. Archived from the original on 12 June 2017. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  2. ^ a b Gwizdalanka, Danuta (2014). "Historie niezbyt prawdziwe". Ruch Muzyczny (in Polish). Warsaw: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne. Archived from the original on 27 March 2019. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  3. ^ "Jewish Music in Poland between the World Wars - Pages 237 - 346".
  4. ^ Skans, Per. Quoted on See also: Danuta Gwizdalanka: Mieczysław Wajnberg - kompozytor z trzech światów, Poznań 2013, with his signatures in Russian and Polish on p. 52.
  5. ^ a b Danuta Gwizdalanka, Mieczysław Wajnberg. Pierwszy kompozytor urodzony w niepodległej Polsce [The first composer born in independent Poland], "Midrasz" 2018 No. 6, p. 41.
  6. ^ "Цодикова Ада. Моисей (Мечислав) Вайнберг".
  7. ^ "Szmuel Weinberg".
  8. ^ "Shmuel Vaynberg".
  9. ^ " Илья Овчинников. Возвращение Вайнберга".
  10. ^ "Иллюстрации к "Дерево Жизни"".
  11. ^ Skans, Per (2004) Notes to Symphonies Volume 2, Chandos, p. 4.
  12. ^ "Цодикова Ада. Дерево Жизни".
  13. ^ Quoted in Grove, p. 236.
  14. ^ Wilson pp. 227-231.
  15. ^ Reilly, Robert R. (February 2000). Light in the Dark: The Music of Mieczyslaw Vainberg in Catholic Information Center on Internet, Crisis.
  16. ^ Blumina, Elizaveta (26 February 2016). ""Я никогда не говорила об этом, но сейчас, думаю, пришло время" ["I never talked about it, but now, I think, the time has come"]". Академическая музыка (in Russian). Archived from the original on 24 June 2019. Retrieved 15 July 2019.
  17. ^ Steve Schwarz, review of The Golden Key on Classical Net Review, 2004.
  18. ^ David Poutney (2011-09-08). "The Passenger's journey from Auschwitz to the opera". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-11-25.
  19. ^ Andrew Clements (2011-09-20). "The Passenger - review". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-11-25.
  20. ^ World premiere (in concert version): December 25, 2006, Moscow International House of Music "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2006-12-29.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  21. ^ Scenic premiere: July 21, 2010, Bregenz Festival "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-11-12. Retrieved 2009-09-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  22. ^ a b Grove, p. 236.
  23. ^ Ivashkin, Alexander p. 255. Shostakovich and Schnittke: the erosion of symphonic syntax in Fanning (ed) Shostakovich Studies. Cambridge University Press (1995). ISBN 0-521-45239-2 .
  24. ^ MacDonald, Ian. Music Under Soviet Rule: MIECZYSLAW VAINBERG.
  25. ^ Bregenzer Festspiele Archived 2010-05-05 at the Wayback Machine 2010.
  26. ^ "Madonna und der Soldat".
  27. ^ "Werkliste: Weinberg, Mieczyslaw | Internationale Musikverlage Hans Sikorski".
  28. ^ "Weinberg, Mieczyslaw: LADY MAGNESIA. Oper in einem Akt | Internationale Musikverlage Hans Sikorski".

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit