SONATA op.28

for Clarinet and Piano (1945)




Mieczysław Weinberg (Моисей Самуилович Вайнберг, also spelled Mojsze Wajnberg, Moishe/Moisey Vainberg; 1919, Warsaw–1996, Moscow) was born in Poland into a family of Jewish musicians and started playing the piano at an early age. In 1939 Weinberg fled from anti-Semitic Nazi persecution from Poland to the Soviet Union, but his parents were murdered in a concentration camp in Poland. Weinberg lived first in Minsk from 1939 to 1941, where he completed his conservatory studies. After a shorter stay in Tashkent, Weinberg settled in Moscow in 1943 with the help of Dmitri Shostakovich, who recognized the exceptional musical talent of the young Weinberg. In 1953, shortly before Stalin’s death, Weinberg was arrested for ‘Anti-Soviet propaganda’ (in fact for promoting Jewish culture, though not directly for his compositions). Dmitri Shostakovich, who had become a close friend of Weinberg, wrote a personal letter to Stalin’s secret police chief Beria. In this letter, Shostakovich emphasized the artistic value of Weinberg’s compositions and reassured Beria that Weinberg posed no danger to Soviet society. Weinberg was released from the prison camp in the same year and officially declared rehabilitated. 

Weinberg composed the Sonata op.28 for clarinet (in A) and piano in the autumn of 1945, after the end of the war. The first performance took place in Moscow in 1946 by Weinberg on the piano and Vasiliy Getman, clarinet professor at the Gnesin music academy, on clarinet (Cox 2005). The Sonata op.28 was first published in 1971 in the Soviet Union and became a recognized and regularly-performed composition there. Outside the Soviet Union, however, this Sonata and most of Weinberg’s other works, remained fairly unknown. Only in recent decades has a rediscovery of Weinberg´s music outside Russia taken place. The Sonata op.28 has been republished and some crucial errata from the first edition have been corrected (Weinberg 2005). Since the publication of the new edition, several artists have recorded the Sonata op.28. Weinberg also composed a Concerto op.104 (1970) and the Chamber Symphony No.4 op.153 for the clarinet (1992). 

Video ex.4.7.1: Introduction (Weinberg, Clarinet Sonata, mvt. 1, mm. 1-21)


Sonata op.28 consists of three movements with a total duration of approximately 20 minutes:
1.    Allegro
2.    Allegretto
3.    Adagio

The first movement, Allegro, opens with the clarinet presenting an uncomplicated and singing melody played softly and in long legato passages (Video ex.4.7.1: Introduction). The low register of the A-clarinet creates a warm and dark sound. The piano enters with a playfully wandering melody above a somewhat mechanical bass accompaniment. Throughout the entire Sonata, the piano part is kept intentionally transparent and simple. The movement develops into a vivid section with an increasing dramatism. The piano repeats the clarinet melody from the beginning, but now in the bass, played loudly and with heavy accents. Towards the end of the movement, the tempo changes to Andantino. The intensity decreases, and the clarinet returns to the lyrical tone of the beginning and finishes on a bright d-major chord.

Video ex.4.7.2: Innocence (Weinberg, Clarinet Sonata, mvt. 2, mm.1-32)


The second movement, Allegretto, embodies the deepest emotional content of the entire composition. This part is dominated by especially strong elements from Jewish traditional music. Weinberg frequently uses the characteristic minor thirds and seconds from the Klezmer modes. The clarinet melody is ornamented in typical Klezmer fashion: eccentric trills, sobbing-like grace notes and exaggeratedly howling melodic lines. The clarinet introduces a dance-like clarinet melody on a straightforward, rhythmically regular piano accompaniment (Video ex.4.7.2: Innocence).

In my interpretation, the innocent and child-like atmosphere of the beginning could represent a memory from Weinberg´s childhood, growing up in a Jewish family in Poland before the Nazi invasion, when from a child’s perspective the world was still intact. Throughout the movement, the use of Jewish folk music elements in the clarinet becomes increasingly exaggerated: grace notes and trills are frequently repeated, and the use of half-tone steps becomes almost insistent. In the culmination point of the movement, the perception of Jewish musical elements turns from carefree to deeply saddened and desperate. The piano continues to repeat the same fragment in the accompaniment so often that the impression arises that the pianist is not present in reality anymore, but rather sounds like a pianoroll or recording which got stuck. The exaggeration and repetition are so painful and insistent, like an unwanted memory which constantly intrudes in one’s thoughts (Video ex.4.7.3: Cry out). This movement also calms down towards the end, Andante, and finishes unexpectedly with a major chord.

Video ex.4.7.3: Cry Out (Weinberg, Clarinet Sonata, mvt. 2, mm. 92-110)


A ponderous piano cadenza leads in the the slow finale, Adagio, expressing the deepest feelings of sorrow (Fanning 2010, 56). The clarinet takes over with an elaborate cadenza, interrupted only once by a few, deep piano chords (Video ex.4.7.4: Cadenza). At the end of the Sonata, the clarinet returns to the cantilena-playing from the beginning of the composition, but more and more softly, as if vanishing. Even here, the very last chord is a major chord. Weinberg’s musical language is so direct that it is difficult not to become involved in the breath-taking energy of this music. Strikingly different human sentiments pass by, from bright happiness to the deepest grief. In some moments the music is cheerful and resembles Shostakovich’s ironical allusions; in other moments Weinberg creates a harmonic, nearly romantic atmosphere. But outrage is also present, growing into wild, aggressive passages, and the expression of deepest despair. Sonata for clarinet and piano op. 28 is a positive example of how a composition can re-enter the repertoire, thanks to the diligent work of scholars, a new and high-quality edition, and well-deserved attention among performers and audience in the past years.



Video ex.4.7.4: Cadenza (Weinberg, Clarinet Sonata, mvt. 3, mm. 26-33)



Anne Elisabeth Piirainen, clarinet

Kiril Kozlovsky, piano

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1st doctoral concert "Abandoned Melodies" 

15.05.2014, Helsinki Music Centre