Miecyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) / composer

There were several things that drew me to Weinberg and his music. The first thing was that his birth date of December 8 is something I share with him. Secondly he is of Polish origin (another thing I have in common with him), though he lived most of his life in Russia and is known as a Russian composer.

The first paragraph of his biography reads:

“There are composers whose lives were marked by the cataclysms of the ‘short twentieth century’; there are composers who deserve far more space than they have been allocated in histories of music; there are composers who were exceptionally prolific. Mieczyslaw Weinberg presents a rare case of all three in one.”

His life was tragic and heroic. He escaped the Holocaust in Poland only to live and work in Russia, and later be imprisoned there for charges of “Jewish bourgeois nationalism.” Only through the intervention of his friend Shostakovich was he eventually released.

Reflecting the tragedies and resolutions of his life, his music can be bright and hopeful one moment, and despairing the next. Though he is not well known here (or in Russia for that matter), some consider him “the third great Soviet composer along with Prokofiev and Shostakovich.”

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 he converted to Orthodox Christianity less than two months before his death in Moscow.

At any rate, I am currently exploring the life and music of this man.

Conditions of the Tournament

Music history is replete with stories of artists meeting an early demise: Chopin, Django, Dinu Lipatti, William Kapell, and even Scriabin all passed on young.
Perhaps Lipatti and Kapell are less well known, but they are very important musicians in my estimation. Lipatti (1917-1950) was a fantastic composer and pianist who thankfully left us some recordings, though precious few, and many are of poor sound quality. Thanks to someone like Mark Ainley, who manages the Lipatti website, he is not forgotten.
Kapell (1922-1953) was considered by many to be the greatest of all young American pianists at the time of his untimely death in a plane crash. His legacy is also preserved, thankfully, on record.
While it is hard to reckon with the unfortunate nature of these circumstances, it is, none the less, a reminder that life is full of contradictions–like tragedy and success and the noble fight in the face of adversity.
Lipatti, in particular, who fought lymphoma in the late 1940’s when a cure was not yet possible comes to mind. His last recital which is preserved on a memorable concert recording was practically a “cavalry” experience for him. Short of breath and weak, he still persevered and made memorable, strong music. His death at 33 also lends itself to the Christ-like comparison, but perhaps that’s going too far.
This all puts me in mind of how writer Shelby Foote put these kinds of things into some perspective. Foote said that even though these harsh turns of nature were hard to negotiate, they were still “conditions of the tournament.”

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