String Quartet No.3 in D minor Op.14

Composer: Mieczyslaw Weinberg (b. 1919 - d. 1996)
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Composer: Mieczyslaw Weinberg (b. 1919 - d. 1996)

Performance date: 27/06/2022

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1944

Duration: 00:23:12

Recording Engineer: Simon Cullen, Ergodos

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: Quatuor Danel (Marc Danel, Gilles Millet [violins], Vlad Bogdanas [viola], Yovan Markovitch [cello] - [quartet]

Mieczysław Weinberg [1919-1996]

Quartet No.3 in D minor Op.14 [1944]

1. Presto – attacca

2. Andante sostenuto – attacca

3. Allegretto 

On 21 June 1941 Weinberg was awarded his Minsk Conservatoire Diploma at a performance of his Symphonic Poem by the Minsk Philharmonia. A few hours later the Nazis broke their Non-Aggression Pact with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union. The Germans moved at a ruthless speed and Minsk was captured five days later. Weinberg was instantly aware of the danger he was in and arranged a forged travel pass and a train ticket to Tashkent as far away from the advancing armies as possible. There he found himself surrounded by Moscow’s artistic elite, in particular the great actor-director Solomon Mikhoels, whose daughter he married. By 1943 the rumours of this extraordinary Polish composer in Tashkent had reached Shostakovich, who took one look at the score of his First Symphony and arranged for Weinberg to move to Moscow. The two composers became firm friends, regularly playing four-hand piano together, while the senior composer’s advocacy undoubtedly helped Weinberg’s career.

Later in life Weinberg described his survivor’s guilt: Unfortunately there were innumerable fates similar to mine. And if I consider myself marked out by the preservation of my life, then that gives me a kind of feeling that it is impossible to repay the debt, that no 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week creative hard labour would take me even an inch towards paying it off.

His powerful Third Quartet dates from 1944. German armies were still in Russia, the Siege of Leningrad was only raised in January, Weinberg still did not know what had happened to the family he left behind in Warsaw. This Quartet was never published in his lifetime and there is no record of it being performed. Like the diaries of the Leningrad survivors, it was too harsh, too realistic for a regime anxious to impose its own propaganda. It was eventually published in 2003 and it was given its belated premiere by Quatuor Danel in October 2007. 

The Quartet is in three big movements played without a break. The first movement takes no prisoners with its ferocious, hard-driven opening subject based on a broad cello melody. Eventually the music calms for the gorgeous second subject, a glimpse of a better world. All these ideas are vehemently worked through in the development. The Andante follows without a break, a lament for the millions who died with music of heart-breaking beauty and overwhelming intensity. Such music is hard to follow – the Finale is heralded by an extended series of pizzicato chords before its gentle, questioning theme enters and is passed around the instruments. Eventually the music just dies away.

Francis Humphrys