About this Recording
8.223338 - HINDEMITH: Piano Works, Vol. 4
English  German 

Paul Hindemith (1895–1963)
Piano Works • 4


Paul Hindemith was born at Hanau, near Frankfurt, in 1895, the son of a house-painter. He had violin lessons as a child, from 1908 as a pupil of Adolf Rebner, whose quartet he later joined as second violin, and after the war as a viola-player. His other musical studies where at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, followed in 1915 by appointment as leader of the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra. He made a name for himself as a composer in the years immediately after the war, particularly through the Donaueschingen Festival. He established with the violinist Licco Amar the Amar-Hindemith Quartet, which won a reputation for its performances of contemporary music, later forming a string trio with colleagues at the Berlin Musikhochschule, where, in 1927, he was appointed professor of composition.

After 1933 Hindemith found himself increasingly out of sympathy with the newly established National Socialist regime in Germany and in 1934 his work was banned, leading to a strong protest from Furtwängler, who had conducted the symphony Mathis der Maler in the same year, and was now, for his temerity, deprived of his position at the Berlin Opera. Hindemith moved in 1936 to Turkey, where he was invited to establish a national system of musical education, in accordance with the cultural policy initiated by Kemal Atatürk. After a brief stay in Switzerland, he moved in 1937 to the United States, with a teaching appointment at Yale, which he held until 1953. He spent his final years in Switzerland.

As a composer Hindemith was enormously prolific and versatile. His name is associated particularly with Gebrauchsmusik, music of immediate practical use, whether for professional or amateur performer. This was in contrast to the notion of music as essentially the self-expression of a composer, a self-indulgence he abjured. As a performer he was above all a string-player. He was an excellent violinist, but also one of the most outstanding viola-players of his time.

Hindemith wrote his Ludus Tonalis in America in the autumn of 1942, providing a modern pendant to Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier and a musical and practical realisation of his theories of tonal organisation that he had expounded in his Unterweisung im Tonsatz (“The Craft of Musical Composition”). The sub-title Studies in Counterpoint, Tonal Organisation and Piano Playing is certainly intended as a reminiscence of Bach, bringing to mind the four parts of the Klavierübung, with the Partitas, the Goldberg Variations and so on, the studies not to be understood as finger exercises but as exercises in musical expression. The work offers a series of three-voice fugues in the tonalities of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale, but not, as he had originally planned, like Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier, in the order of the ascending notes of the chromatic scale but in the order of Reihe 1 (Row 1), that Hindemith had developed in his Unterweisung, with the degree of relationship between notes dependent on a given starting note. Between the fugues Hindemith places Interludes, in the tonality either of the preceding or following fugue, or modulating between the two. The interludes are in the form of character-pieces, including a Pastorale, a March and a Waltz, while the fugues demonstrate different polyphonic techniques. The first Fugue in C, for example, is a triple fugue, that is a fugue with three subjects, first announced separately and then played four times simultaneously. Fugue No. 3 in F continues from the middle as a mirror fugue, cancrizans (“crab-like”, played backwards) note for note as it returns to the beginning. No. 4 is a double fugue with a gentler second subject later combined with the first. No. 5 in E, a kind of Gigue, and No. 6 in E flat, marked “tranquillo”, combine the basic form of the subject with its inversion; No. 9 in B-flat demonstrates in scherzando fashion almost all the possible transmutations of a fugal subject - inversion, cancrizans, inversion cancrizans and augmentation. No. 10 in D-flat introduces from the middle the exact inversion of the first part. No. 11 is in fact a two-voice fugue with a kind of basso continuo, using the device of canon. No. 12, finally, is a fugue with a stretto exposition, the subject entering in the second voice before its completion by the first voice; at the end of both sections there is a kind of refrain with the simple sincerity of folk-music, bidding farewell, as the whole work draws to a close. The cycle of fugues is introduced and concluded by a Praeludium and Postludium, the second formed by turning the Praeludium upside down and reading it backwards. In solving the technical problems he posed himself, Hindemith created not a dry exercise but a work of considerable imagination. Intellectual achievement and sheer delight in playing are shown not to be mutually exclusive. The Ludus is a graphic example of the composer’s delight in the fantastic, offered to his wife, born under the sign of Leo, as a birthday present. He illustrated the work with coloured pencil, among other things drawing a lion for each entry of the subject of the fugues, and for each of the twelve a different kind of lion, according to the character of the music, originally published in a limited edition but providing an instructive formal analysis of the music.

Among the pieces that Hindemith wrote for amateurs was the Sing und Spielmusik für Liebhaber und Musikfreunde, Op. 45, of 1928/29, a collection of vocal and instrumental pieces. The fourth of these is Kleine Klaviermusik. The sub-title Leichte Fünftonstücke(“Easy Five-note Pieces”) indicates that the twelve epigrammatic short pieces of varied character, all notated in the G clef, lie within the interval of a fifth and can be played without any change of hand position.

Hans Petermandl

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