Haupz Blog

... still a totally disordered mix

Mieczyslaw Weinberg

2022-12-29 — Michael Haupt

Earlier this year, I went to my first “classical music” concert in a long time, and had an epiphany. I thought I’d been fairly knowledgeable about 20th century composers and music, so reading the name of one Mieczyslaw Weinberg in the programme raised an eyebrow just a little, assuming he was some niche figure.

What an arrogant twit I was.

Turns out Weinberg, born in Poland, was a close friend of Dmitri Shostakovich’s, and that the two entered in a kind of mutual cross-pollination contest. Their music bears some similarity (the older Shostakovich doubtlessly has some influence on Weinberg), but where Shostakovich puts emphasis on rhythm, Weinberg puts it on melody.

Compared to Shostakovich, Weinberg was largely unknown for a long time. His works are growing in popularity, though, thanks to some avid performers who make sure the music is being heard.

And what music it is. Symphonies, operas, chamber music, everything. Weinberg was prolific. I’ve only yet begun to explore the oeuvre (also to pay back for the aforementioned arrogance: this is a gap in my music knowledge I cannot abide).

Some highlights follow.

Weinberg’s second symphony, for string orchestra, is a profoundly sad and thoughtful work rooted in Polish and Jewish songs. This was my first ever exposure to Weinberg’s music, at the aforementioned concert, and I’ve listened to it several times since, finding ever more details in its intricate structure.

The Concertino for violin and string orchestra is quite different, with a more positive overall air to it, even though the melodies are melancholic. It’s captivating from the first moment, with an interesting main theme. The second movement sounds a bit as if it might have inspired John Williams for his soundtrack to Schindler’s list.

Next, the Suite for Orchestra could go down as epigonal to Shostakovich’s famous Suites for Jazz Orchestra. It’s way more witty, though, and has some brilliant humoristic aspects.

Finally, the opera The Passenger (parts 1, 2) tells a chilling story: a former Nazi concentration camp warden who, aboard a ship bringing her to her new life in Brazil, meets one of her victims whom she had thought dead. The encounter brings back memories - and shame. The music employs the large orchestra sparingly (really not like Wagner) and almost steps to the background, leaving all the space to the singers and their (inter)actions. A masterpiece, in my opinion.

There is much more to discover, and I’ll duly catch up with what I can only call an embarrassing omission.

Tags: music