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About this Piece

Composed: 1955, rev. 1961; 1964
Length: c. 18 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd = piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd = English horn), 3 clarinets (3rd = bass clarinet), E-flat clarinet, 3 bassoons (3rd = contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, tambourine, triangle, xylophone), harp, and strings

First LA Phil performances

Mieczyslaw Weinberg – Moisei after he fled his native Poland for the Soviet Union when the Nazis invaded in 1939 – was little known abroad until after his death in 1996 in Moscow, where he spent most of his life. A celebrated pianist at home throughout his career, he was a hugely productive composer, with 22 symphonies and 17 string quartets to his credit, plus works for solo piano and in combination with strings, concertos for a variety of instruments, at least three operas, song cycles, and ballet scores. He was – and largely remains – best known in the West as a footnote to the life of Dmitri Shostakovich, who promoted (and strongly influenced) Weinberg’s works and remained a confidant and loyal friend during the many indignities Weinberg was to suffer as a Jew, and not always a compliant servant of the Soviet state, in Stalin’s Russia.

Weinberg’s international breakthrough came about long after the fall of the Soviet Union, with posthumously staged productions of his 1968 Holocaust opera The Passenger, first seen at Austria’s Bregenz Festival in 2006, then in Warsaw, London, and most recently in Houston and Chicago.

His 1955 ballet The Golden Key has a scenario by one Alexander Gayamov after a satirical story by Alexei Tolstoy (a distant relative of the great novelist). The four concert suites Weinberg fashioned in 1964 are based on a 1961 revision of the original ballet.

The Fourth Suite deals initially with Carlo (a tribute to Carlo Collodi, writer of the original Pinocchio tale, surely Weinberg’s inspiration) creating the puppet Buratino, who of course comes to life, holding a Golden Key that will open a magic door to the world beyond Carlo’s studio. There ensue a series of waltzes and tarantellas representing the character of Buratino. He reaches a market square where the villainous Karabas-Barabas runs a puppet company that specializes in unhappy plays about unhappy puppets. (Stravinsky’s Petrushka is not far from Weinberg’s mind.) There is a prima donna, Malvina, and commedia dell’arte characters resembling Arlecchino and Pierrot. There are dances for a cricket, a duet for a cat and a fox; a mock nasty dance for Shushera the Rat. The action terminates in a “Pursuit” – although I’m unable to say who’s pursuing whom. At any rate, the ending is a jolly scamper, which must include Buratino vanquishing Karabas-Barabas and releasing his puppets from their sad lives.

— Herbert Glass