The Russian composer Weinberg was born in 1919 in Warsaw. His father was a composer and violinist at a Jewish theater in Warsaw. It was in his father’s theater that Weinberg launched his carrier as a pianist at the tender age of ten. Two years later, he entered the Warsaw Conservatory to further his piano studies. Weinberg’s performing skills was so brilliant that the renowned pianist Josef Hofmann arranged for him to study in the United States. The outbreak of the World War II, however, hampered the young musician’s ambition.
Weinberg fled to the Soviet Union when his family was murdered in 1939, and joined the composition class of Vassily Zolotaryov, a pupil of such distinguished Russian composers as Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov. Following his graduation in 1941, the Germans attacked Russia, and Weinberg moved to Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
In 1943, while residing in Tashkent, Weinberg sent the score of his Symphony No. 1 to Shostakovich, hoping to have some opinions from him. The senior composer was fascinated by the piece and arranged for Weinberg to receive an official invitation to Moscow. From that point onwards, Shostakovich became a musical mentor and friend to Weinberg. Their friendship lasted until Shostakovich’s death. “Although I took no lessons from him,” Weinberg recalled, “Dimitry Shostakovich was the first person to whom I would show each of my new works.”
The death of Shostakovich on 9 August 1975 was such a great shock to Weinberg that he decided to write a new symphony in memory of the great composer. Symphony No. 12, composed the following year, was the result of Weinberg’s resolve. It is his magnum opus, the largest of his purely instrumental symphonies, lasting more than fifty minutes.
The first movement is the longest of all four movements. Written in sonata form, it begins vigorously with the first theme on strings. The second theme on first violin and clarinet is much smoother and tenderer. The second movement is a scherzo in a brisk 3/8 meter. The third movement opens with a mournful violin melody, from which an emotional climax is built up. The finale begins with a marimba solo stated against the lower strings. This capricious rondo theme becomes a driving force for a while, but the whole piece ends quietly.