Thursday, 19 April 2018

Żelazna 66 - Weinberg's childhood home in Warsaw

In my report from my trip to Warsaw, I included a photograph of Weinberg's childhood home, 66 Żelazna street (on the corner of Krochmalna). Since then, I have researched more of the history of the building, how it came to be still standing, and I also found several more photographs from various sources.

The tenement house was built in 1911, designed by one Henryk Spigelmann. Elements of an original 'art-nouveau' style can be seen in some of the tilework detail in the entranceway (shown in photos below). Before the war, the street was full of similar buildings. The street itself is in the 'Wola' district, the heart of the old Jewish district of the city. Szmuel Weinberg and his wife, Sarra, moved here some time before the First World War (some accounts claim 1914).

During the Second World War, the building became part of the Warsaw Ghetto. It was only a few metres away from the infamous 'bridge crossing' of the ghetto, which linked the large and small sections of the ghetto with a walkway over the busy Chłodna street. The buildings in this district were filled with the city's Jewish population from late 1939-1943. The Ghetto uprising ended with the burning of almost the entire district, block-by-block. Considering the violence that occurred in the larger Warsaw Uprising and the following destruction of almost the entirety of Warsaw by retreating Nazi forces, it is near-miraculous that the building survives at all.

Author Leopold Tyrmand described the building in his 1955 novel Zly:

He stopped at the corner of Żelazna and Krochamalna, he looked around, then looked up. The shabby wall of the house was strewn with iron balconies; it was wide and high here (...) In the door, behind the glass, hung a glass plaque, in blue letters: "Warsaw e Gastronomic Establishments - 'Słodycz' Bar - IV.
During his 1966 return trip to Poland as a foreign visitor to the Warsaw Autumn Festival (one of only two visits outside the USSR), Weinberg returned to his childhood home, shown in this photo:

Writing in 2002, Weinberg's friend composer Grigori Frid describes this picture:

In front of me is a black and white amateur photo. An old stone house with peeling paint in some places. The door is closed. In the dark aperture, stair steps are visible. It is visibly autumn: in the foreground - a stunted tree with sparse leaves. Before the entrance there is Metek in an unbuttoned raincoat, without a tie, looking slightly to the side. Next to him is an unknown man in a dark suit. On the back of the photo with is handwritten the inscription in Polish: 'Warszawa, Zelazna ul. 66', and in parentheses in Russian: 'the house where I was born'. 
Weinberg's experience during his 1966 visit was an upsetting one, in that it brought the realisation that extremely little of the city that he grew up in had actually survived the war.

In the present day, the building lies dilapidated, though listed in the city's list of monuments. It is marked 'unsafe', though there were apparently plans to modernise and convert the flats, with an intial proposed deadline of 2013.

The fate of this building remains unclear. Were it to be converted, however, I would suggest that it would be appropriate to install some kind of plaque to Weinberg's memory.

Here's several more photos from the building, inside and outside.

Żelazna in 1942.

Links for photographs:,foto.html

Friday, 9 February 2018

Warsaw photos

I've just got back from another research trip, this time to Warsaw.

Of course, this is a city with strong links for Weinberg research, in that Weinberg lived the first nineteen years of his life here, before fleeing the Nazi invasion in 1939. See below for a few photos from my trip.

This is 66 Żelazna Street in Warsaw, the building where Weinberg lived 1919-1939. It's near the Wola district, an area that became part of the Warsaw Ghetto during the war. It's remarkable that it's still standing today, seeing as how much of Warsaw was flattened by the end of the war. It's looking in a sorry state, and is marked as an 'unsafe building'. I anticipate that it will be knocked down soon.

The flat where Grażyna Bacewicz lived, 35 Koszykowa Street.

The flat where Karol Szymanowski lived, 47 Nowy Świat (Joseph Conrad actually lived in the same building, several decades earlier).

During my research trip, I was lucky to meet with two composers, Paweł Szymański, and Paweł Mykietyn. Both were extremely kind in agreeing to meet, and generous with their time. Combine this with several library visits, and I have plenty of material to be getting on with for the 'Parallel Worlds' Weinberg book.

Perhaps the most exciting part of my trip was a rare opportunity to visit Lutosławski's home at 39 Śmiała Street. I was very honoured to meet with Marcin Bogusławski (Lutosławski's stepson) and his wife Gabriela Bogusławska. We had a long discussion, with Marcin reminiscing about his stepfather and his working methods. Here are a few photos from the house:

The plaque outside Lutosławski's house. 
Lutosławski's desk (and some of his books). 
The other end of Lutosławski's study. 

All-in-all, an extremely exciting trip. Watch this space for further photos/news.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Katowice photos

Just got back from my first visit for the 'Parallel Worlds' project, in Katowice, southwestern Poland. In a speedy three-day visit, I managed to visit library collections, attend a concert, have several meetings, as well as fit in some sight-seeing. Here's some photos from my trip:

This impressive red-bricked building is the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music, the school of music in Katowice. The imposing gothic front building was originally built for the local parliament, but is now used for music practice and lectures. Behind that, you can just about see the large box-like modern extension, which houses a concert hall, library, and electronic music studios. Notable alumni of the institution include Górecki, Krystian Zimmerman, Eugeniusz Knapik, Aleksander Lasoń, and the Silesian String Quartet.

This is the front of the Silesian Library, the largest library in the region (and one of the newest, opened in 1998). There is a huge music collection here, with an enormous amount of printed materials - I went to consult several quartet scores, as well as to track down several rarer English-language publications.

In the block opposite the Academy of music, there is a cosy 'Museum of Historic Katowice'. Contained across two floors of a large townhouse building, the second floor recreates a middle-class flat in the fin de siècle era. Lighting was tough for photos, but there were several pianos included in the museum (including a square piano from 1840).

Located further north than the Academy is a small residential area, with the Plac Grunwaldzki park in the middle. This features a 'Gallery of Artists', several rather austere-looking monuments to famous artists associated with Katowice. Henryk Górecki is included here, though this likeness depicts a rather serious expression, which doesn't seem to fit with most of the description and testimony of Górecki as a person. Still, it was nice to see a monument to a musical figure.

NOSPR - home of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra. This impressive new building was opened in 2014, and designed by the same architects who built the modern addition to the Academy building (see above). I attended the Chamber Hall for a concert of Russian music given by the Silesian Quartet. The Silesian Quartet are currently in the process of recording a Weinberg cycle, with a new instalment to be released very soon.

I'm currently working through a huge number of Polish quartets, with a mind to featuring as many of them as possible in the new book. Watch this space for updates on future research trips.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Next Project - 'Parallel Worlds'

Dear all,

While my activity on this blog has slowed considerably, I can promise that my research activity has not ceased. That is why I am writing this to announce research and work on my next project, a monograph study on Weinberg and his Polish contemporaries, titled 'Parallel Worlds'.

This book will examine how Weinberg left Poland behind and delved into the mid-century Soviet style of composition, while also retaining influences and contacts in post-war Poland. I will continue my analytic focus on String Quartets, though taking in a wider focus of composition.

Research and writing are in early days yet, but I have made a start on initial progress, with my first research visit in Katowice in a few weeks. I will post updates on this page, including a 'diary' of sorts of my research visits.

As a preview, here's the first abstract for the book:

Mieczysław Weinberg fled his native Warsaw in September 1939, leaving behind a burgeoning career as a composer and pianist. He eventually reached the Soviet Union, where he made a name for himself, eventually becoming one of the USSR’s most celebrated composers, with a prolific output including twenty-two symphonies and seventeen string quartets. He worked alongside Shostakovich, and his works were performed by Rostropovich, Rozhdestvensky, Oistrakh, and the Borodin Quartet. Throughout his career, however, he was mindful of the nation that he had left behind, with constant references to Poland in his works. He only revisited Poland once in his adult life, for the 1966 Warsaw Autumn festival. Despite this apparent lack of contact, he frequently wrote works to Polish texts and with Polish themes. He also maintained correspondence with several Polish composers, including Krzysztof Penderecki and Krzysztof Meyer.
            As the Weinberg revival has thrown his works into an international spotlight, this book takes the occasion of his centenary to examine how his works written in Russia compare with his Polish colleagues; how one composer split off from his national tradition and created a style that embraced the music of a new homeland, while those composers in his native land surged ahead in a more experimental vein. More often than not, the points of contact between them are enlightening for both sides. This study provides an overview of Weinberg’s music through his String Quartets, analysing them alongside a host of Polish composers (many of them featured for the first time in an English-language publication). Through these comparisons, Weinberg’s distinct style drawn from parallel worlds is thrown into a new light. 

There is a tight schedule for publication in 2019, Weinberg's centenary year. I'll keep you posted.

All best,


Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Summer 2017 Update

Apologies for 'Radio Silence' on this blog over the last few months; I've been busy with work and several other projects. I'm afraid that posts on this blog are likely to be much more infrequent than during my PhD - though I will endeavour to pick up the pace as I move onto my next piece of research (see below).

Here is an update on all things Weinberg related that have happened in recent months, or are upcoming later this year.

Preparations are afoot for several exciting events for 2019, Weinberg's centenary. It's early days for planning at the moment, but I can confirm that there are major celebrations planned for Manchester and London over 2019.

Performances of Weinberg's music continue to increase in frequency, especially in the United States, where his chamber music is enjoying special attention.

February's Moscow Conference was a fantastic success, featuring four days of talks and presentations, along with concerts and opera performances. For an excellent write-up of the event, see Michelle Assay's review in DSCH Journal, issue 47.

This year has seen new productions of The Passenger in Moscow, and also a new production of Congratulations ['Mazl' Tov!'] in Heidelberg.

Later this year, Weinberg's Violin Concerto will receive several outings from several different touring ensembles. First, there is Gidon Kremer, continuing his passionate support for Weinberg's music. Secondly, there is Linus Roth, who has recently completed his project to record all of Weinberg's violin music. Finally, there is Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, who will be conducting the work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The Novaya Opera in Moscow have further performances of their hugely successful production of The Passenger - with more information available here. Also, see trailer below.

In October, Weinberg's Second Piano Sonata will be heard in the UK on two consecutive evenings, though by different pianists in different cities. Katya Apekisheva will perform the work on Fri 5 October, as part of the London Piano Festival at Kings Hall, and Murray McLachlan will perform it on Sat 6 October at the Stoller Hall in Manchester (McLachlan, of course, recorded a much-loved cycle of Weinberg's piano sonatas in the late 1990s).

In addition to all this, the Musikverein in Vienna will see a performance of Weinberg's Piano Trio by the Altenberg Trio with Christopher Hinterhuber.


The Semperoper Dresden supplied this extended preview of their production of The Passenger from earlier this year. 

Similarly, the Moscow Novaya Opera supplied this trailer for their superb production of the same opera.

A number of exciting CDs are upcoming, or have just been released. Here is a selection:

The Silesian Quartet, Wajnberg, String Quartet 7 + Piano Quintet (Accord)

This disc is the first in a new cycle of Weinberg's String Quartets, performed by the excellent Silesian Quartet. If this CD is anything to go by, it will be a superb cycle. They are joined by pianist Piotr Sałajczyk for Weinberg's Piano Quintet.

Gabriel Chmura, Sinfonia Iuventus, Weinberg Fifth Symphony (Warner Classics)

The Polish Simfonia Iuventus, conducted by Gabriel Chmura, opt to combine Weinberg's Fifth Symphony with Prokofiev's Fifth in their first disc on the Warner Classics Label. This is sure to be an interesting combination, and I certainly look forward to this release.

Grigory Kalinovsky and Tatiana Goncharova, Weinberg Complete Sonatas for Violin and Piano (Naxos)
Naxos continue their steady stream of Weinberg releases with this excellent set of Weinberg's sonatas for violin and piano - a welcome addition to the extensive range of options for this repertoire. 

In terms of academic work on Weinberg, several upcoming releases are in preparation, though the majority are expected for the 2019 centenary. Several academic theses on Weinberg's music have been completed recently, including Anna Voskoboynikova on the piano works, and A.S. Conway on his Flute music.

As for myself, as well as regularly teaching at Royal Holloway, I am currently beginning work on a large-scale project that will result in a monograph on Weinberg in his Polish context(s). More details to follow soon.

As always, if readers wish to promote any new recordings, concerts, or any new research, please don't hesitate to get in contact.

All best,