This week’s music is Meiczyslaw Weinberg’s Rhapsody on Moldovan Themes.
Weinberg was born to a Jewish family in Warsaw in 1919 and escaped to the Soviet Union when the Nazis invaded Poland. His mother and sister perished in the Nazi concentration camps, and his father (an outspoken Polish nationalist) was killed by the Soviet police. Upon moving to Russia, Weinberg soon faced another threat—state-sanctioned persecution of artists and musicians who did not tow the Soviet ideological line. Weinberg was therefore unable to publish any of his music and was forced to make a living writing music for theatres and circuses. However, these struggles did not stop him from writing seven operas, 26 symphonies, and 17 string quartets. The discovery of these other compositions has led to a resurgence in his popularity, and Weinberg is now taking his rightful place alongside Prokofiev and Shostakovich as one of the greatest composers of the Soviet era.
The Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes is a medley of Russian folk tunes. It is part of Weinberg’s Symphony No. 6, which was written in 1949 as a conciliatory gesture to the Soviet authorities, who were requiring artists to highlight Russian themes in their art. Weinberg supposedly snuck a few Polish and Jewish folk tunes into the rhapsody as well. For example, the fiery finale of the rhapsody is a Jewish klezmer dance. There is no indication that the Soviet authorities caught this subtle insertion.