Seventy-eight Days and Nights in Prison: Composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg


The article is aimed at commemoration of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s regular anniversary by bringing together the certain materials concerning the composer’s life and creative work as well as comprehending his fate and musical activity in perspective of tragic events in the middle of the 20th century. Weinberg’s rare gift as well as his life journey left special mark in the history of the Soviet music. The war, the death of the parents, the escape from Warsaw and thereafter from Minsk, the subsequent mass murder of the Jews — all these disasters ended with Weinberg’s arrest in the early morning of February 7, 1953.

The article throws light upon the family situation of the composer whose wife — Natalya Vovsi — was a niece of Miron Vovsi, head physician of the Soviet Army, who was soon arrested because of “the Doctors’ plot” case. Natalya was also a daughter of Solomon Mikhoels who was murdered at Stalin’s command in 1948. The article contains some previously unknown documents concerning Weinberg’s discharge and rehabilitation. Dmitry Shostakovich’s role in Weinberg’s both creative and life fate is traced in the article, as well as his efforts made for saving the arrested composer.

Weinberg was not an artist of an outright tragic mould. But the hidden theme of his creative work was fear of violence. The theme of violence and death sounds either exposed (as in his Fifth, Sixth and Eighth symphonies) or subdued. Another line of his creative work — relating to the Jewish music — is also connected with the theme of violence. During the Second World War Weinberg composed two cycles of «The Jewish Songs», setting to music the lines of the poets writing in Yiddish (published in 1944). In the autumn of 1953, several months after his discharge, Weinberg had an artistic experience of another kind. Dmitri Shostakovich asked Weinberg, a brilliant pianist and musician of exceptional delicacy, to play his new Tenth symphony four hands with him to Evgeny Mravinsky who was to conduct it, in order to let the conductor feel the right tempos. This performance, recorded by the tape-recorder, was included in the gramophone record “Shostakovich the Pianist” and remained the unique evidence of the epoch. While listening to Scherzo from the Tenth symphony (the link to the audio recording is attached), it is impossible to forget that the frightening image of evil was reproduced by the musicians whose lives were crossed by violence.


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