Thursday 15 January 2015

What's in a name? The case for Weinberg, Wajnberg, or Vainberg?

The story of Weinberg's music since his death in 1996 has often started with one key issue: how to spell his name. This might seem obvious, but in Weinberg's case, it is wrought with problems. There are several options, each with their own line of reasoning:


This might not seem like much of an issue, but when it comes to things like searching archives or record labelling, the significance becomes apparent. As you might have noticed, I stick to the 'Weinberg' spelling, but even I am beginning to have my doubts about this option.

Of course, David Fanning's monograph on the composer uses the 'Weinberg' spelling, as does the Osteuropa 2010 issue, and the majority of western CD releases. 

In this article, I'll quote several authors on their reasoning behind their choice of spelling, before providing some further examples. The final choice, I believe, rests with the reader.

Polish Origins

For me, the issue boils down to one of transliteration. Weinberg was born in Poland, but lived the majority of his life in Moscow. In the Russian language, Weinberg's surname is spelt as:

Confusion arises already. If we transliterate the name back into English, following standard rules (laid down in the New Grove dictionary of musicians), we end up with:


Following German rules for transliteration, we end up with:

Vajnberg (or) Vainberg

The British Olympia Label opted for the 'Vainberg' spelling for their series of 18 CDs featuring his music. All of this, however, is forgetting Weinberg's Polish origins. Confusingly, two different spellings exist, even here. In his earliest manuscripts, Weinberg signs his name in the following spelling: 


It seems apparent that the family used the 'Wajnberg' spelling in their day-to-day life. However, in the world of the Jewish theatre, which the family was heavily involved in, the spelling 'Weinberg' was used, such as on this vinyl release of Schmuel Weinberg conducting yiddish songs: 

Schmuel Weinberg, conducting songs, with the cantor Jakob Koussevitsky - release on the Syrene label, 1929.
 Listen to the vinyl here.

Based on the usage in pre-war Poland, the two main contenders for Latin-based spellings of the surname are Wajnberg and Weinberg

Here are a few selected quotes, discussing the confusion with the name:

First, the late Per Skans -
Why Weinberg? Why not Vainberg? Why not Wainberg? Or Vajnberg? Or Wajnberg?

The reason is very simple: Weinberg is correct, all other spellings are wrong! Weinberg grew up and spent his first twenty years in Poland, where the Latin alphabet is used, and he and his family spelt the name exactly this way. Its origin is German/Yiddish. Any other spelling in the Latin alphabet must thus be avoided!
I confess having a certain guilt myself, since I once accepted - without checking them - certain rumours that Weinberg himself preferred the spelling "Vainberg". I discovered my error after I had written the texts for half a dozen CDs in the large series of Olympia in London, and I wanted to change the spelling, but they refused. In fact I understand this, because it would have confused their customers if they had changed it in the middle of a series. Nevertheless the CDs have unfortunately contributed to the present Babylonic situation.
The variety of (wrong) spellings is due to the circumstance that various people believed that the original spelling of the name was the one of the Russian alphabet. They then transliterated the name into the Latin alphabet, according to various rules (an ironical detail being that Soviet scores -- of all! -- used the correct spelling Weinberg!). But now Weinberg is becoming increasingly accepted. The New Groves, the famous dictionary, used the English transliteration "Vaynberg" some years ago, but in the Internet edition they have now corrected this into Weinberg.
I am at present writing a biography in English which is scheduled to appear in 2005 at Toccata Press in London; there I of course am using the correct spelling Weinberg!
Per Skans, Uppsala, Sweden  - taken from

This, from the wikipedia entry on Weinberg:

Much confusion has been caused by different renditions of the composer's names. In the Polish language (i.e. prior to his move to the USSR), his name was spelled as 'Mieczysław Wajnberg', whereas in the Russian language (i.e. after the move) he was and still is known as 'Моисей Самуилович Вайнберг' (Moisey Samuilovich Vaynberg). In the world of Yiddish theater of antebellum Warsaw he was known as Moishe Weinberg (Yiddish: משה װײַנבערג), which is analogous to the Russian Moisey. Among close friends he would also go by his Polish diminutive 'Mietek'. Re-transliteration of his surname from Cyrillic (Вайнберг) back into the Latin alphabet produced a variety of spellings, including 'Weinberg', 'Vainberg', and 'Vaynberg'. The form 'Weinberg' is now being increasingly used as the most frequent English-language rendition of this common Jewish surname, notably in the latest edition of Grove and by Weinberg's biographer, Per Skans.

And this, from Simon Wynberg's (no relation!) article on the composer:

Some confusion has attended Mieczysław Weinberg’s surname. In Poland he was Wajnberg, in the Soviet Union, Moisey Samuilovich Vaynberg — “Matek” to those who knew him well. A few traditionalists still cling to the other Cyrillic-derived version: “Vainberg”.  But there have been a number of other variations, including Wajnberg, Vaynberg or Vijnberg. The music-historian Per Skans has written of the composer’s preference for the standard Westernised version, “Weinberg”, and this spelling is now becoming the norm. [Full article - here]

On the topic of Soviet publishers' spellings, here are three different examples. This first has the 'Weinberg' spelling, the one that Per Skans mentioned as 'ironic' (from 1972):

And another Soviet score, that features the 'Polish' spelling (from 1968):

And yet another, with the Olympia-style spelling:

So, as we can see, there is variation even there. 

Danuta Gwizdalanka, the highly respected Polish musicologist, brought out a book in 2013, titled 'Mieczysław Wajnberg: kompozytor z trzech światów' (Mieczyslaw Wajnberg: The composer of three worlds). In this volume, she makes a highly convincing case that the name should, authentically, be spelt as 'Wajnberg'. Her title reflects this, and the spelling has now been taken up in Polish productions, such as the following poster for a production of The Portrait:

The upshot of all this is that the reasoning behind the 'Weinberg' spelling appears to be rather flimsy upon closer inspection. After all, Weinberg signed his scores 'Wajnberg' when he lived in Poland. A large number of his manuscripts feature the 'Wajnberg' spelling, well into later life. The latest that I've found dates from 1981 (most of these are from works that feature a bi-lingual title page - usually because they deal with Polish texts or Polish material). If he did decide that 'Weinberg' was the best spelling, he continued to use the 'Polish' spelling into later life. 

To the best of my knowledge, he didn't actually use the 'Weinberg' spelling in any of his manuscripts. And the evidence from Per Skans appears to be anecdotal, at best (though, perhaps, further evidence will surface after the publication of David Fanning's lengthy 'life and works' volume, with Toccata press). After weighing up the options, and particularly taking into account Gwizalanka's efforts to promote the 'Wajnberg' spelling, I am left doubting the appropriateness of the 'Weinberg' spelling. 

Of course, I have the rather large practical consideration of changing every single instance of his surname in my PhD work. So, for now, I'll stick with the 'Weinberg' option.

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