“…I have what I would call a “large cooking pot” in which all my themes coexist, because I think that melody, which defines identity and image, is the most important thing in music, including instrumental music.”
“I believe that every moment in the life of a true artist is work. An interesting, hard, endless job. Work not only at one’s desk, but also through the observation and assimilation of sounds, colours, movements and rhythms in the real world. I’m always at work.”
“One of the most important composers of our time.”
“A human being of incredible purity; he did not live in a country – not in the reality that surrounded him. »
“Today… I am an activist for Weinberg’s music. For decades, he has been in the shadow of Shostakovich and, like many colleagues, I made the mistake of not recognizing the greatness of this composer. Over the past two or three years, I have understood that Weinberg was, alongside Shostakovich, one of the greatest composers of his time in Eastern Europe.”
My discovery of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s music dates back to 1994. With the Danel Quartet, formed in 1989 along with my brother Marc and sister Juliette, we prepared the complete Shostakovich quartets, under the guidance of the Borodin Quartet, Feodor Droujinin and the Polish composer Krzysztof Meyer. At that time, family and friends of Shostakovich encouraged us to work on Weinberg’s music: Mrs Irina Shostakovich, Valentin Berlinsky, cellist of the Borodin Quartet, Alexander Raskatov, then a young composer living in Heidelberg, and finally the eminent Belgian musicologist Frans Lemaire (1), renowned for his research on Soviet and Jewish music. So we embarked on this adventure, looking for scores from the Borodin Quartet, the musicologist Manashir Yakubov or the composer’s family.
Among many unforgettable moments were the first meeting in Moscow between the heads of the Peer Music publishing house and the Weinberg family – Olga Rakhalskaya, Weinberg’s second wife and their daughter Anna, the premiere of three of Weinberg’s quartets in Manchester (Aria op 9, Capriccio op 11 and 6th quartet op 35), the meeting with Weinberg’s first daughter, Victoria Bishops, in Bregenz in 2010, and of course those days of recording, which were brilliantly supervised by Barbara Valentin.
Since 1944, Weinberg has been acknowledged by his peers in Russia. The musicians, conductors and filmmakers of his adopted country did not wait until the end of the Stalinist purging to show him their esteem, despite the ostracism of a system in which art was used as propaganda (2). Yet Weinberg, by his origins and his creative liberty, cannot be considered as the paragon of the Soviet composer! Among the film scores entrusted to him were those of Mikhail Kalatozov’s “Quand passent les cigognes” in 1957 – Palme d’or in Cannes in 1958 – and the Russian version of “Winnie the Pooh” in 1969. His music was premiered by the greatest Russian artists in the years following 1943: Emil Gilels, David Oïstrakh, Leonid Kogan, Mstislav Rostropovitch…
Beyond that, the friendship between Weinberg and Shostakovich was an important reference point for a man who was abused throughout his life by geopolitical circumstances. In 1943, Shostakovich discovered the first symphony of this young Polish composer. Impressed by his talent, he obtained a visa for Weinberg to settle in Moscow where he lived until his death in 1996. In 1953, at the time of the “Doctors’ plot”, Weinberg was imprisoned from February to the end of April, and once again Shostakovich put himself at risk to obtain Weinberg’s release by writing to Lavranti Beria, the terrifying leader of the NKVD/MVD (the predecessors of the KGB) who became Vice-President of the Soviet Council of Ministers upon Stalin’s death.
Weinberg was not Shostakovich’s student, in spite of the well-known quote: “I consider myself to be his student, by blood and by flesh”. The similarities that can be drawn between the two composers’ repertoires come from a great mutual esteem; they presented their repertoire in preview performances, including symphonies played in two-piano versions. Weinberg and Shostakovich even engaged in a friendly competition over the number of quartets they had written, and I remember Feodor Droujinin’s (3) emotion telling of his first rehearsal with the Beethoven Quartet in front of Shostakovich, who was impatient for the premiering of his 9th and 10th quartets – dedicated to Weinberg – whereas Weinberg had only written 9. Shostakovich also admired his younger protege’s talent as a pianist, and offered him the public preview of his violin sonata – with David Oïstrakh – and the premiere of his “Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok Op. 127” – with Galina Galina Vichnevskaïa, David Oïstrakh and Mstislav Rostropovich.
Although a number of visionary personalities – composers, musicologists or enlightened music lovers such as Per Skans, Tommy Persson, Franz Lemaire, Alexander Raskatov and Nicolas Bacri quickly defended the importance of Weinberg’s work in the West, he was not granted international recognition until after his death. David Fanning, assisted by Michelle Assay, has taken over the work of Per Skans, and I would highly recommend reading his book “Mieczyslaw Weinberg, In Search of Freedom”. (4) Polish musicologist Danuta Gwizdalanka focuses her current research on Weinberg’s music and wrote the first Polish monograph dedicated to him and whose French translation we hope to see within the coming months: “Mieczysław Weinberg, A Composer of Three Worlds” (5).
Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s life was plagued by the tragedies that shook Europe in the middle of the 20th century, and it would be inappropriate to want to comment on the influence that his destiny (6) had on his music. Only his own testimony can be accepted: “I do not want to appear before you with the halo of an exceptional person – God forbid. Unfortunately, there have been countless destinies similar to mine. Alas! If the preservation of my life has marked my existence, it gives me the impression that it is impossible to repay the debt, that not even 24 hours a day, seven days a week, of creative work, would take me one inch closer to a repayment” (7). This prolific and undeniably brilliant creator will always remain resignedly optimistic and will never let himself become the victim…and his comments regarding the suffering that the Soviet regime forces him to endure, will at times be tinged with a sense of humour.
By writing the commentaries presenting the concerts of this first biennial, which were written by a musician and not a musicologist, I hope to arouse curiosity and encourage my contemporaries to deepen their knowledge of Weinberg. I am delighted to see the growing interest of audiences in Weinberg’s music. In Bregenz, his daughter, Victoria Bishops, spoke of her father’s doubts, a few weeks before his death, about how his music would be received. It is never too late for justice to be rendered to him.
My thanks to all those who participated in the organization of this event, who will truly make this tribute a celebration, and among others, to the Polish Institute of Belgium, especially Mrs. Maria Winiarska, for her collaboration.
My thanks to the musicians who will serve this music with their soul and passion. A program will be available in the concert hall. Thanks to Danuta Gwizdalanka who kindly agreed to compiling it and also to Tommy Persson and Olga Rakhalskaya for making the program photos available. Thanks also to Katarzyna Naliwajek and Nicolas Bacri who will present the concerts of the Silesian Quartet and the Metamorphoses.
1) Franz Lemaire ” The Jewish Fate and Music ” Fayard 2001 ISBN-13 : 978-221313607634
2) See Frank Westermann’s book, “Ingenieurs van de ziel”.NL: Singel Uitgeverijen ISBN
9789023489412 – FR : Christian Bourgois EAN 978-2267017144.
3) About this meeting, refer to Feodor Druzhinin, Memories, Museum Graeco-latinum
Editions, Moscow, 2006. ISBN 9-785872-451235 p155 & 116
4) David Fanning, In Search of Freedom – Wolke Verlag, 2010. ISBN 978-3-936000-91-7
5) Mieczysław Wajnberg : Kompozytor z trzech światów – Poznań 2013 – ISBN 978-83-
6) a noteworthy book about the fate of Weinberg’s contemporaries: Daniel Mendelsshon, “The
Missing” Flammarion 2007 EAN:9782081205512
7) David Fanning, book cited p 15
FOR EUROPE -
Chamber Music for Europe brings together the dynamic minds who promote a culture of excellence and maintain ties between tradition and modernity, supporting the chamber music ensembles that nourish professional ambitions in the long run.
70 concerts, 150 different works spanning 250 years of music history: this year, the program enlists 25 ensembles, some having an experience of only a few years, others of several decades.
Different series of concerts are proposed: Classique Ici ! – Boondael Classic – Pas Si Classique – Karreveld Classic ; and also the concerts and festivals organized in collaboration with «Concerts en Nos villages ».
Chamber Music for Europe proposes events that rally together several chamber music ensembles, hailed from Belgium or other countries, having an experience ranging from a few years to several decades, around a specific thematic, a composer or a place. These events give to the audience the opportunity to deepen their understanding of a repertoire, take benefits from the insights provided by the invited composers or musicologists, and at the same time to foster the exchange of experience between the ensembles. Altogether, these proposals are consolidated into a Biennial. In 2019, the Biennial pays tribute to the Polish composer Mieczysław Weinberg. Already in our diaries, the next edition in 2021 will enrich the Brussels music scene by the featured program or the proposed format.
A few milestones: 2013: “Pick Opus” & “Bruilliances Contemporaines” – 2014: “Domein Hosokawa” – 2016: “Quatuors de Quatuors” – 2017: “Pas Si Classique, Marathon” & “Un autographe sort de sa réserve”.
Citations: (Weinberg) Lyudmila NIKITINA, Academy of Music, 1994, No. 5 p23, quoted by David Fanning, “In Search of Freedon” p 139 Anon, “Love letters” Muzikal’naya zhien’ 2002/2 p18 quoted by David Fanning, “In Search of Freedon” p 15 (Shostakovich) Angèle Leroy – https://philharmoniedeparis.fr/fr/magazine/chostakovitch-weinberg-une-amitie-indefectible – January 2016 (Thomas Sanderling) Elisaveta Blumina – cpo 777 804-2 CD booklet – p17 – 2014 (Kremer) Interview with Christophe Kuss, March 29, 2014 – www.ledevoir.com/culture/musique/403865/les-combats-de-gidon-kremer
Photo of Weinberg : courtesy of © Olga Rakhalskaya & Tommy Persson