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Alexander Weprik

Manuscript by Weprik
Manuscript by Weprik

Alexander Weprik (1899-1958) was trained at the Conservatory in Leipzig as a child. In the 1920s he was considered the great hope of Jewish music. Just like Hungarian and Rumanian folk music for Béla Bartók, the traditional Jewish music was a spring of renewal for Weprik's work. Hardly ever has another art music composer come so close to the spirit of synagogue music and has spiritualized it as much as Weprik. Stylistically his works are hard to categorize. His style is too independent, too unmistakable, it comes from the ancient Jewish music tradition and yet belongs entirely to the 20th century.

Starting in the mid 1920s, Weprik's works became well-known internationally. It was especially in Germany that he was one of the Russian composers most often played. In the season 1928/29 alone, nearly his entire oeuvre was performed in Berlin. Weprik's "Songs of the Dead" belong to the very early broadcasts of the Berlin Broadcasting Company. In March 1933 Arturo Toscanini conducted Weprik's "Dances and Songs of the Ghetto" in Carnegie Hall, New York.

Weprik was arrested in 1950, maltreated in prison and then deported to the Gulag. He was released from hard labor and instead had to organize an amateur orchestra among the prisoners. This is almost symbolic for the short history of Jewish music in Russia: the career of a composer, that had started on stages in Moscow, Berlin and Vienna, ended in the Gulag with arrangements for a balalaika orchestra.

© 29.07.2016 by Jascha Nemtsov. e-mail: