Magazine article Musical Times

Weinberg, Shostakovich and the Influence of Anxiety

Magazine article Musical Times

Weinberg, Shostakovich and the Influence of Anxiety

Article excerpt

THERE ARE SEVERAL WELL-KNOWN INSTANCES of close working relationships between composers. Some emerge from pupil-teacher arrangements, as with Berg and Schoenberg - though this was characterised largely by the deference Berg displayed towards his mentor.1 There are examples on a more equal footing, however. For instance, the friendship between Holst and Vaughan Williams was based on mutual respect, as can be seen from their correspondence.2 The case of Mozart and Haydn is well known, and was clearly productive for the evolution of their respective string quartet styles.3 It is only very rarely that we see shared admiration being extended to encompass a sustained working relationship.4

But such was evidently the case with Dmitri Shostakovich and Mieczyslaw Weinberg. Their friendship will be discussed below, followed by instances of apparent mutual influence and a concluding assessment of how these instances align with categories outlined in Harold Bloom's The anxiety of influenceJ Bloom's theories have proved highly stimulating for musicology, but also problematic. Paradoxically, perhaps, close friendships sit uneasily with Bloom's 'Anxiety' category and nowhere more so than with Weinberg and Shostakovich.

Competition or exchange?

Even in as enlightened a study of Soviet music as Levon Hakobian's, Weinberg's music is tucked away in footnotes or lists of also-rans.6 Certainly, it would be impossible to dismiss the influence of Shostakovich on Weinberg - Weinberg himself put it best, comparing his first encounter with Shostakovich's music to 'the discovery of a continent'.7 The resemblance surely partly accounts for the revival of Weinberg's music in the last decade since the increasing familiarity of Shostakovich's music provides both a jumping board and a stimulus to discovering a fresh, though related, artistic personality. Several critics have identified the influence as overbearing; Alexander Ivashkin even opines that, during the 1960s, such music 'only served to kill off Shostakovich's music, to cover it over with a scab of numerous and bad copies'.8 However, an alternative narrative has emerged in recent years that puts such views to shame.

Weinberg was born in Poland in 1919. Before the Second World War he took piano lessons at the Warsaw Conservatoire, and produced a handful of compositions, apparently with no formal guidance. He was then forced to leave his family behind and flee eastwards following the Nazi invasion in 1939. Later in life he would learn that his parents and sister perished in the Holocaust, the topic that indelibly marked his music, inspiring a succession of commemorative works. He was allowed entry into the Soviet Union, first settling in Minsk, before fleeing to Tashkent following the Nazi advance into the USSR in 1941. He continued his musical education in Minsk with composition lessons under the Rimsky-Korsakov pupil Vasily Zolotaryov and his music went from strength to strength.9

Weinberg and Shostakovich first met in 1943, when Shostakovich arranged for Weinberg to move to Moscow, having been impressed with the score of Weinberg's First Symphony, and a firm friendship soon developed.10 Shostakovich was already a prolific teacher, which partly explains the huge influence he exerted over the generation that followed him.11 At no point was Weinberg an official pupil, even though he was happy to declare: T count myself as his pupil, his flesh and blood'.12 Weinberg's close musical affinity with Shostakovich - expressed in a number of extended interviews - would continue until his death in 1996.

The spectre of Soviet state-sponsored antisemitism loomed with the murder of Weinberg's father-in-law, the famous Jewish actor Solomon Mikhoels, in 1948. Weinberg himself became a victim in 1953, when he was arrested and incarcerated in the infamous Lubyanka prison as a result of family ties to the so-called 'Doctor's plot'. Shostakovich intervened on behalf of his friend, writing to Lavrentiy Beriya, the head of the NKVD, to assure him of Weinberg's innocence. …

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