Mieczysław Wajnberg

Mieczysław, Mojsze, Mietek from Warsaw

Mieczysław Weinberg, also internationally known as Moisey or Moishe Weinberg, or Vainberg, was born in Warsaw in 1919. The question of the exact date of his birth, his official name, and the spelling of his surname arouses controversy. The composer claimed that he was born on December 8, 1919, as Mieczysław (in the 1980s, and he used this argument to change the name of Moisey assigned to him by the Soviet authorities). The application for admission to the conservatory found by Danuta Gwizdalanka in the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music archive shows a different date of birth (January) and the name Mojsze. These are not the only issues that remain unexplained. Though we know that the composer’s father was named Shmuel Weinberg and that he was a violinist, conductor, and composer of theatre, revue, and film music native to Chisinau; the name of his mother appears in documents and memories of the composer in very different versions. However, we assume that these documents were treated with greater freedom then, and “aging” could have been a necessary condition for being admitted to the Music Conservatory.

Wajnberg i dyrygent Rudolfem Barshai
Mieczysław Weinberg and conductor Rudolf Barshai, 1967 (Photo provided by Tommy Persson; copyright: Olga Rakhalskaya)
Wajnberg ze skrzypkiem Leonidem Koganem ( początek lat 60.)
Mieczysław Weinberg and Leonid Kogan in the early 1960s (Photo provided by Tommy Persson; copyright: Olga Rakhalskaya)
Mieczysław Wajnberg z młodszą córką Anną (ok. 1980)
Mieczysław Weinberg and his younger daughter Anna, 1980 (Photo provided by Tommy Persson; copyright: Olga Rakhalskaya)
Mieczysław Wajnberg z pierwszą żoną Natalią Vovsi-MIkhoels i starszą córką Victorią
4. Mieczysław Weinberg with his first wife Natalia Vovsi-Mikhoels and his older daughter Victoria (Photo provided by Tommy Persson; copyright: Olga Rakhalskaya)
Mietek Wajnberg z mamą i siostrą
Mieczysław Weinberg with his mother Sara and his sister Estera, 1920s (Photo provided by Tommy Persson; copyright: Olga Rakhalskaya)
Mietek Wajnberg (ok. 1923)
Mieczysław Weinberg in the 1920s (Photo provided by Tommy Persson; copyright: Olga Rakhalskaya)
Mieczysław Wajnberg z mamą Sarą i siostrą Esterą (lata 20.)
Mieczysław Weinberg with his mother and sister, 1920s (Photo provided by Tommy Persson; copyright: Olga Rakhalskaya)

The application mentioned above bears the name of Sura Dwojra Stern; the composer later claimed that his mother’s name was Sara Kotlicka. Weinberg’s daughter from the first marriage, Victoria Bishops, confirms this version of the name, adding that Weinberg’s mother was an actress. Perhaps a kind of lack of transparency around this figure results from the fact that for a long time, it was believed that the actress Sonia Weinberg (who today we known as Shmuel’s sister), who also hid under the pseudonyms of Sonia Karl and Sara Kotlicka, was the same person. Thanks to the research of several musicologists, in particular Verena Mogl and her search at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, we are confident that Sonia and Sara were two different actresses.

Shmuel Weinberg composed music for Jewish theatres, revues, and films. He often collaborated with the famous Scala theatre, and his works Lebedig un luster (“Live and Joyful”), Beimwohla, and Joszke Muzikant were extremely popular at that time.

From an early age, Weinberg learned about music, the sound of instruments, and the expression characteristic of his father’s theatrical work. He often helped his father during performances and made money playing at Jewish weddings, bar mitzvahs, etc. At the same time, Weinberg studied classical piano under the supervision of pedagogues – initially Ms. Maciulewicz (first name unknown), and then in the class of the well-known pianist Józef Turczyński, who was considered the best piano teacher in Poland. From 1931, Weinberg attended the Warsaw Music Conservatory, where he studied solfeggio, principles of music, harmony, and music history in addition to the piano. Interestingly, these did not include composition classes. However, in the mid-1930s, he first attempted to write music, and the String Quartet No. 1 (dedicated to Turczyński) was composed as early as 1937. Above all, however, Weinberg was a remarkably talented pianist, and it seemed that he had wonderful career prospects. A few months before the outbreak of World War II, the famous pianist Józef Hofmann came to Warsaw and offered Mieczysław a chance to study under his guidance at the renowned Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, as well as help in obtaining an American visa. It is difficult to say how Weinberg’s fate would turn out if he had managed to leave.

Meanwhile, September 1939 came, and the Warsaw chapter of the composer’s life closed forever.

Publications about Mieczysław Wajnberg

David Fanning - In Search of Freedom


Verena Mogl - "Juden, die ins Lied sich retten" – der Komponist Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919–1996) in der Sowjetunion


Danuta Gwizdalanka - Der Passagier: Der Komponist Mieczysław Weinberg im Mahlstrom des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts: Der Komponist Mieczyslaw Weinberg im Mahlstrom des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts


Daniel Elphick - Music behind the Iron Curtain: Weinberg and his Polish Contemporaries



Skip to content