Let's explore some of Weiberg's chamber works on this fine CPO recording. Although some of the bio info here is likely (somewhat) similar to my earlier posts, I've added (a few) what I think are pretty interesting quotes by Weinberg, Shostakovich and others as well as (frankly) extremely depressing information that is truly testament to Weinberg's inextinguishable spirit and unfathomable strength. What a fascinating, great composer and human being he was!!
There are various ways of approaching the composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg. A purely musicological idea would be one of them. After all, Weinberg was one of Dmitri Shostakovich's most important companions, advisers, and personal friends. This is not the only reason-but certainly one reason-why Weinberg’s compositions have experienced a renaissance during recent years.
Like many composers (not only in the Soviet Union), Weinberg had to earn his everyday livelihood. The composition of music for feature films or television films enabled him to do so. It was thus that he even wrote the music for the animated "Winnie the Pooh" (a Russian short film version, from 1969). Weinberg's compositions are distinguished by a very personal idiom. Their overall mood differs substantially from that of the compositions of his friend Shostakovich. Considered individually, however, they are often quite different stylistically.
Mieczyslaw Weinberg was a Polish Jew by birth and fled to the east during the Nazi occupation of Poland. He felt like a foreigner in the Soviet Union throughout his life. Other colleagues of his had made a better decision; they had fled to the west (e.g., Alexandre Tansman, to Paris) or even overseas. Weinberg had underestimated one important aspect-the anti-Semitism inherent in the Soviet regime. Additionally, until his death he spoke Russian only with a strong Polish accent, which was another reason why he was not highly regarded by the bureaucrats in the communist party and music world in the Soviet Union. Weinberg never served the Soviet system. What saved him was his friendship with Shostakovich. (Shostakovich, among other things, wrote a letter to Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria, the head of the Russian secret police; the officer in charge of the hearing commented with cynicism, "Your little friends are helping you...but an old German proverb states "from the frying pan into the fire". Shostakovich wrote of Weinberg, "He is so different, and he is no slave". Shostakovich's decisive intervention and perhaps Stalin's death, which for Weinberg occurred at the right (last) moment, alone kept Weinberg, who had already been imprisoned, from being deported to Siberia. Stalin's cultural policies had brought about the virtual silencing of Dmitri Shostakovich as an opera composer-at least since the scandal involving the premiere of his opera Lady Macbeth. However, Weinberg was not eliminated from this sphere; instead, he continued to write operas (a total of seven), including "The Passenger and The Idiot", which have recently been presented with great success in Germany and Austria..
"A human being of incredible purity; he did not live in a country-not in the reality that surrounded him". It was thus that the conductor Thomas Sanderling, one of few people of those times who had the opportunity to meet Weinberg personally, described this composer. Even though Weinberg's music was quite literally prohibited, many great artists such as Emil Gilels, Leonid Kogan, and Mstislav Rostropovich performed his works. They all held Weinberg in great esteem-especially as a human being. Kirill Kondrashin also played a very important role; he firmly committed himself to Weinberg’s cause and conducted his works.
Weinberg's childhood years were wonderful and music was often the top priority. His father was a violinist and composer who wrote music for a Jewish theater, traveled with it throughout the country, and conducted. Weinberg later stated, "I was certain that Father's baton sounded like a trumpet". He was apparently very disappointed when his father explained to him that it did not produce any tones at all! By the the age of eleven Mieczyslaw was playing the piano with his father in the theater and
indeed Weinberg was an extraordinary pianist and all of his piano compositions (and especially the trio) clearly demonstrate just how phenomenal his technical gifts as a pianist were.
Weinberg's plans for his life were repeatedly painfully dashed, and the war very quickly caught up with him in Minsk, the city to which he had initially fled. In 1953 he spent three months in prison-on the charge of having advocated the establishment of a Jewish republic in the Crimea.
Much of the grief, tears and constant worry during the war years is reflected in the music of the "Trio op. 24 for Violin, Cello, and Piano" from 1945. By this point in time, Weinberg was certain that he has lost his parents and his sister (upon fleeing with his sister, Weinberg could not have imagined that this would literally be the last moments that he would ever see her...all because she attempted to run back home to put on another pair of shoes) and his feelings were indeed correct; all three were murdered at Trawniki concentration camp, about 25 miles southeast of Lublin, as Weinberg would learn after his escape. Weinberg reflected on the general nightmare which surrounded him that day: "I will never forget the mothers, with children on the border, who embraced the legs of the horses of Soviet customs soldiers and pleaded with them to let them go over to the Soviet side, for the Nazis were on one side, and the Soviet soldiers were on the other".
Weinberg wrote the Trio op. 24 during the same time he composed the Clarinet Sonata (1945), the Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1, and the Children's Album No. 3 for piano solo, and the String Quartets No. 4 and No. 5. The premiere of the piano trio was held on 9 January 1947 along with two members of the Beethoven Quartet, the violinist Dmitri Tsyganov and the violoncellist Sergei Shririnsky. The trio creates the impression of a grand architectonic work. As in all of Weinberg's compositions, tempo and mood shift relatively quickly, almost as if they were reproducing a theatrical scenario. After a monumental beginning 'Prelude and Aria', doubts about this almost euphoric seemingly optimistic basic mood quickly spread-the shift from A major, previously the movement’s dominant key, to A minor, and the conclusion in terrifying eighths in pianissimo confirms this. The ensuing toccata, beginning in 5/16 time, is endowed with enormous power. The tireless thundering of aggressive rhythms produces an eerie, intense, and almost hectic effect. And things gradually intensify to what is like a devilish dance of the kind often encountered in Weinberg-for example, in the Quintet for Piano and Strings (1944). The third movement 'Poem' begins with a slow piano solo-and this too is something that we often find in Weinberg's chamber music-full of passion and melancholic intensity. When the cello assumes the melody, one cannot yet imagine that the violin accompaniment recalling descending drops of water will later lead to the relentlessly hammering culmination point. The circle closes, but there is a role reversal in the concluding adagio: it is now the violin that narrates the story and concludes it melancholily and poetically. The finale is a masterpiece of counterpoint, but before it becomes a genuinely monumental fugue, Weinberg avails himself of a genial dissimulation. The first theme, presented by the piano in pianissimo as if ex nihilo is so pure and clear that it could be a fugue subject by Bach-but instead of the expected canonic entry of the other voices, it is initially a hurried insert of the violin that at this point leads to the first rhythmic diminution in the piano. The actual fugue subject (completely different thematic material) is presented to us only much later by the cello, and we also first reencounter the hectic violin motif in other circumstances. A fugue truly to be termed genial then follows, and the tension repeatedly increases on the basis of dynamic sequences ascending in pitch and then finally-almost abruptly-is released by a nostalgic waltz (now in the interval sequence of the initial motif), which brings the movement to its conclusion in a conciliatory A major.
Weinberg wrote the lovely "Sonatina for Violin and Piano" op. 46 in 1946. Forming associations with the depiction of an idyllic landscape, in what is almost a Schubertian tone, everything is actually situated -though peacefully, tranquilly, harmonically, or narratively-in the key of D minor(!). The tragic element in all these idylls is first eliminated in the final chord, which at last is in the desired key of D major. The second, very tragic movement reflects concern and incredible misfortune. One feels as if one has been petrified, and then suddenly a marking reads 'very fast, mysteriously'. Weinberg seems to be attempting to render the listener breathless.. By way of sarcasm, theatricality, and then a lento concluding the third movement, the tragic element of life's experiences nevertheless again finds its place. But-the lento is again in D major. Weinberg’s quest for a "good" ending, for peace, is found in a quantity his works.
Weinberg: "I believe that each moment in the life of a genuine artist is work. Interesting work, hard, endless. Work not only at the writing desk but the observation and assimilation of sounds, colors, movements, and rhythms in the real world. I am always at work".
During the 1970s, Weinberg wrote some solo sonatas: three for violoncello in 1971 (op. 106), one for viola (op. 107), two for viola in 1978 (op. 123), and one for violin in 1979 (op. 126). The sonata for solo bassoon came later (op. 133), and the "Sonata for Double Bass Solo" op. 108 was written in 1971. The performance history of the double bass sonata is not documented in any sources. All that is known is that it first appeared in print in Moscow with the 'Sovietsky Kompositor'. Since it was published in an anthology organized by the Russian double bassist Rodion Azarkhin, it seems natural to assume that it was he who first performed this work. Although there is no dedication in the autograph, Azarkhin is regarded as one of the double bassists who wanted to enhance the role of this rather underrepresented instrument in the solo literature by writing arrangements of his own and also by lending his energetic support to new compositions. Shostakovich stated of Azarkhin, "The double bassist Rodion Azarkhin is an outstanding virtuoso. Apart from his brilliant technique, his recital artistry is of high culture and expressive power".
This sonata does not really belong to the standard repertoire of double bassists. With its six movements, it is similar to a suite in which each movement is structured very clearly thematically. It's a work that, although it's taking some time, is growing on me.