The expressive power of Weinberg’s music

The expressive power of Weinberg’s music


norman lebrecht

November 30, 2018

From Richard Bratby’s Spectator review of last weekend’s Birmingham concerts:

The expressive power of Weinberg’s music seems to lie in the way it shapes itself around those gaps, the things unfinished or unsaid. It brought to mind Georges Perec’s novel La Disparition (written just a year later than the Preludes, in 1969). Famously written entirely without using the letter E, it’s a dazzling creative game. It’s also an artistic demonstration of how a single missing element inevitably changes the shape of every thought or sentence; modifies the rhythm and colour of an entire existence. Weinberg’s immediate family, like Perec’s, was murdered in the Holocaust; his subsequent career in the USSR was punctuated by threats (and at one point imprisonment) by a Soviet regime suspicious of his Polish origin and his Jewishness.

So his Violin Concertino of 1948 — played the following morning by Kremer and his chamber orchestra Kremerata Baltica — is an exercise in creating social realist sunshine that just keeps fading into an overcast sky. You sense Weinberg’s personality in his very disengagement. …

Read on here.

Read Gidon Kremer on Weinberg here.


  • Wimsey says:

    I discovered Weinberg two years ago and I love his music, so I’m glad we are getting more and more recordings. His output is enormous and really eclectic, so here are two entry points: his 6th Symphony, somewhat Mahlerian and with a children’s choir, and his amazing, ultraromantic, ultrajewish Cello Concerto.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The popularity, in the free, safe and affluent West, of Russian misery music asks for an explanation. It seems to me there are three:

      1) it’s using a tonal language and wants to ‘say’ things

      2) it’s grounded in traditional craft which survived in Russia while in the west it disappeared, so it is effectively and expertly written

      3) it conveys miserable, bitter life experience, filtered from an utter cruel and destructive experiment in social engineering into something universally felt, also in the West

      So, composers like Shostakovich and Weinberg demonstrate 20C misery as the typical archfathers of modernism did (Xenakis, Stockhausen, Boulez etc.), but in terms of music, not in mere sound patterns.

      • Bill Gross says:

        In the words of Sheldon Cooper, PhD – is this satire?

        Are you saying that we should reconstitute the Soviet Union so we can have great music?

        Or, are you saying that because the West avoided the Communist rule inflicted on the Russians composer were free to examine the music forms they wished, no matter how wrong headed?

        • John Borstlap says:

          No, I am saying, without satire, that it is remarkable that a music which is so strongly related to typical kafkaesque nightmares specifically created in Russia, has conquered the concert halls of the West. This demonstrates that there is more in it than local misery, it is reflecting some universal inner misery, which has not sufficiently been saturated by Mahler.

          What is truly ironic, however, is that a music under a suppressive aesthetic state control produced still real music, while in the postwar West no state exercised any aesthetic control, so that the composers could organise that themselves, and created a mental circuit with comparable party lines, excommunications, condemnations, threats etc. etc. Still in the eighties, well-known and successful British composer [redacted] told me that he had to conform, to quite some extent, to aesthetic norms of a group who called themselves the ‘avantgarde’, because if he wrote what he really wanted, he would be out in the streets. Since he lectured at [redacted] university and enjoyed a particularly comfortable lifestyle, one could understand the pressures. He lived in a self-made ‘soviet world’, created by the composers themselves. And this in the free, democratic an dpluralist UK. In Germany, this situation is still much in place. So much for artistic freedom.

        • HugoPreuß says:

          Nope, I think he posed the question why Soviet music is so popular today, and he gave a pretty good answer to it. Everything else is your imagination.

          BTW, I love Bach. Doesn’t mean I want to go back to the 18th century and resurrect the Holy Roman Empire.

          • John Borstlap says:

            I don’t think the Holy Roman Empire really existed in the 18th century, it was a mere formality without any political meaning. And indeed, what we hear in Bach is not the world of his life time, but what he filtered out of it. And that was something univerally human.

          • Saxon Broken says:

            Er…then you are wrong. It still had political meaning in the 18th century since it meant something to all the minor German potentates, even if not the larger German states like Prussia. And this had political consequences for the internal governance of the Habsburg monarchy.

  • AndrewC says:

    The only recording of the Kaddish Symphony seems to be the Siberian Symphony. Anyone heard it?

  • That’s what I wrote about the Weinberg’s recording by Kremerata Baltica. In Dutch, sorry folks.