String Quartet No. 17 Op.146

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

Performance date: 03/07/2022

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1986

Duration: 00:24:02

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]

Mieczyslaw Weinberg [1919-1996]

String Quartet No.17 Op.146 [1986]

Allegro – Andantino – Lento – Allegro

These fragments I have shored against my ruins.

T.S.Eliot The Waste Land

Six years separate Weinberg’s last two Quartets, but in between he re-visited his first two Quartets, so to speak correcting his first effort as a teenager, while his Minsk Quartet from 1940 was not only corrected but also transformed into his First Chamber Symphony. The experience of working on these youthful efforts may have inspired him to create his Seventeenth Quartet almost fifty years after his First Quartet. He dedicated the Quartet to the Borodin Quartet on their 40th Anniversary and their cellist, Valentin Berlinsky, never lost an opportunity to advocate Weinberg’s music. The Quartet’s four short movements are played without a break. 

Although Weinberg does not go to the same lengths that Shostakovich does in his Eighth Quartet and Viola Sonata, his final Quartet is full of self-quotations. The first one is the chorale-like theme that is the second subject in the first movement that follows the cheerful opening idea. This distinctive chorale theme had also appeared in his opera The Portrait from 1980 and his Trio for Flute, Viola and Harp from 1979. The development section gets quite lively as the two ideas are brought together until the solo cello introduces a theme – borrowed from his Fourth Cello Sonata – that acts as a bridge to the Andantino. This opens up into profoundly beautiful music that moves seamlessly into the Lento as the theme undergoes a passionate intensification concluding with an intense cello and viola duo. 

The Finale brings us full circle back to the opening Allegro with its cheerful theme and its chorale companion, which has led commentators to suggest that the whole Quartet is a single sonata form movement with the Andantino/Lento inserted in the middle of the development. The Quartet ends with the chorale theme singing out one last time.

When the USSR collapsed, the new Russian Federation withdrew funding from the state sponsored Composer’s Union leaving most composers penniless. Those with Western contacts moved abroad, those without suffered from the absence of commissions and performances. The most drastic effect on Weinberg was the disintegration of the Soviet healthcare and Weinberg’s last years saw him isolated and bedridden in his family apartment. To one visitor he said: I have to complain to you about the Creator. As you can see, his idea of old age was not a success. He passed away on 26 February 1996. At the small funeral ceremony one mourner was Valentin Berlinsky, a founder member of the Borodin Quartet, and Alexander Medvedev, the librettist for The Passenger. Francis Humphrys