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Name of Work

Hindemith, Paul (1895-1963)
Sonata for Horn and Piano

Mässig bewegt
Ruhig bewegt


Sep 13, 2009

Gail Williams, Horn
Meng-Chieh Liu, Piano

Sep 14, 2009

Gail Williams, Horn
Meng-Chieh Liu, Piano

HINDEMITH - Sonata for Horn and Piano

Composed in 1939

“Gebrauchsmusik” Hindemith called it, a term dustily rendered in the usual translations as “Music for Use” or “Practical Music.” Gebrauchsmusik, was, however, far more than simply a compositional gimmick or a mere marketing strategy — it was a basic tenet of Paul Hindemith’s artistic philosophy.

Throughout his life, Hindemith was a practical musician: a performer, teacher, administrator and conductor as well as a composer. As a boy he learned to play piano, violin, viola and drums, and he earned his living as a young man performing in dance halls, theaters and cafés. This activity was not simply a dilettantish sideline for him, however — he was a performer of virtuoso stature, the concertmaster of the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra for eight years, violist and founding member of the celebrated Amar Quartet, and soloist in the 1929 premiere of William Walton’s Viola Concerto. To increase his knowledge of the inner workings of the orchestra, he undertook a study of each of the instruments, and eventually became proficient on fourteen of them. His work as a teacher of composition at the Berlin Hochschule beginning in 1927 and, after he came to the United States in 1940, at Yale University emphasized the practical side of his profession: he once taught a course in film music that included giving the students assignments of writing scores for old silent movies. The title of his treatise on the art is indicative of his beliefs: The Craft of Musical Composition.

Though Hindemith originally intended his Gebrauchsmusik to serve as relatively easy material in a modern idiom for the performing musical amateur (the Educational Works for Violin Ensembles in First Position, the children’s opera Wir bauen eine Stadt and the participatory Lehrstück, or “Training Piece,” are representative examples), he also wrote many scores for professional performers that are included in this genre, notably for those instruments he felt had been neglected by earlier composers. Among the most important of these latter pieces are the 25 sonatas he composed after 1935: one or more for each of the orchestral instruments, including harp, a quartet of horns, trombone, English horn and bass tuba. There is even one for E-flat alto horn which is prefaced by a poem spoken from the stage. The sonatas for horn, clarinet, harp and trumpet all date from 1939, when Hindemith had settled temporarily in Sion, Switzerland after fleeing from Germany with his Jewish wife.

The Horn Sonata partakes of the richly contrapuntal, neo-Baroque style that marks the best works of Hindemith’s maturity. Its harmonic palette is tonal but extended (Hindemith once called tonality “a natural force, like gravity,” and his movements invariably end on a sunburst consonance that confirms the central tone around which the music has been spun), its rhythm invigorating and propulsive, and its employment of the horn noble rather than virtuosic. The piano part is of a difficulty and prominence that recalls the sonata principle of Mozart and Haydn — that of the “piano sonata with flute” or the “piano sonata accompanied by violin.” (It is a standing joke among music conservatory students that whenever a wind player programs a Hindemith sonata for a recital, all the pianists are suddenly booked solid with other obligations.) The Horn Sonata’s opening movement is a compact sonata form that is lyrical and expansive rather than dramatic in nature. The expressive second movement flows through a large three-part form whose central portion is marked by the piano’s swaying triplet figurations. The finale, an ingenious blend of rondo and sonata built around the thrusting rhythmic motives that open the movement, recalls Heinrich Strobel’s evaluation that Hindemith’s forms comprise “sonorous events, wittily assembled.”

Program Notes By Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Performed September 13 & 14, 2009

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