"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


Music Education Night - Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis

For Katy, and all music lovers.

One of the more prolific and successful composers of the 20th Century, Paul Hindemith actively composed for nearly 50 years, and wrote several symphonies, operas, ballets, numerous concerto and even a sonata for every instrument of the orchestra. I performed his Sonata for Tuba and Piano for my junior recital at the University of North Texas in 1997.

Hindemith was a master of all forms and tonalities, from atonal and 12-tone, to the lush and mysterious harmonies of 20th Century music.

His most well-known work, and a favorite for many - including myself, is his 1943 orchestral piece, Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Weber. It is famous for its bombastic and inspiring 4th movement march, and therefore the previous three movements are largely ignored. But, as the title of the piece suggests, that last movement is the end result of a fantastic and artful transformation, so it should be listened to as a whole to experience the artist's full intentions.

The example for this piece that I have supplied is the definitive recording by the San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Herbert Blomstedt. Produced in 1988, it was made at the height of San Fran's reign as top-tier orchestra and features, in my opinion, one of the finest brass sections ever recorded. In fact, I studied with tubist Floyd Cooley at the DePaul in 1997-98.

Use the hi-fi for this one. The subtleties of Hindemith's harmonies and melodic genius are brought to life by some of the most talented musicians alive today.

Form-wise, Symphonic Metamorphosis is a pretty straightforward symphony. It starts with a relaxed allegro, or walking tempo, and presents the themes to the listener right away. These themes are from the music Carl Maria von Weber wrote for a play in 1801-02, and Hindemith makes a bold statement with them immediately. The listener is captivated by the lively interplay between the strings, brass, and winds while thick, lush chords abound. While the rhythm of the piece is robotic - typical for Hindemith - wide dynamics and clever orchestration (listen to the melody move effortlessly between the winds and brass, for example), as well as the prowess of the musicians, make this first movement absolutely alive with vigor and authority.

It then moves on to the scherzo, which is a very lively tempo, which in many other symphonies can be a waltz and is usually found in the 3rd movement. The opening melody is a restatement of the initial theme of the first movement Allegro. It is then passed to nearly every instrument in the orchestra, and builds from a tiny, little seed to a raucous crescendo, like a Bolero. Then suddenly, the piece explodes in a massive fireball and out of it emerges this funky, almost ragtime twist on the theme, that too, builds to several peaks before giving way to the original theme again, which then fades out to the horizon with the percussion, ending on a simple, breathless major chord.

Next is the andantino, which literally means "little slow" and it's here the 3/4 tempo of the waltz is heard. A new transformation of the theme is heard, whittled down to three notes, and is passed along again on several instruments. The harmonies are huge and bold, and have inspired countess filmscores, undoubtedly. This movement is very short, and exits to a flute solo fluttering the theme, light and inconsequentially, taking us directly into the final movement...

...the Marsch, a rousing, inspirational movement with two distinct dynamic and thematic peaks. The final transformed opening melody gives way to an at-first ominous countermelody, which switches to the major literally midstream in the trombone soli, then builds up to the perhaps the loudest quarter-rest in all of music history. Exploding in a supernova of self-serving yet satisfying bombast, the coda sweeps us out on the backs of the soaring French horns to the inevitable brass-gasmic conclusion.

A performance such as this one would no doubt bring the entire audience immediately to their feet.

No comments: