About this Recording
8.572213 - HINDEMITH, P.: Quartet for Clarinet and Piano Trio / Clarinet Sonata / 3 Leichte Stucke / Clarinet Quintet (Spectrum Concerts Berlin)
English  German 

Paul Hindemith (1895–1963)
Clarinet Quintet • Clarinet Quartet • Clarinet Sonata • Three Easy Pieces


As a composer, performing artist, and educator, Paul Hindemith made decisive contributions to musical life in Germany, especially in Berlin. In 1927 he began teaching there at the Academy of Music, which was highly respected throughout the world at that time. Instructing his students in composition was only one of his functions. He also took over as director of the newly created experimental broadcasting studio, which explored the challenges and opportunities that radio and sound motion pictures offered to composers and engaged in the innovation of electronic instruments. In addition to these duties at the Academy, Hindemith regularly gave lessons at the music school in Neukölln, a Berlin working-class district. To him, fostering top musical talent included both working on basic technique and developing well-rounded individuals.

As of April 1933 his works and eventually he himself came under increasing attack by the National Socialists. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the artistic director and principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, defended Hindemith, stood up for him, and conducted the first performance of an orchestral version of Mathis der Maler. Nazi authorities, however, remained unrelenting despite Furtwängler’s intercessions on the composer’s behalf. For the time being Hindemith was released from his duties at the Berlin Academy of Music and officially entrusted with setting up a German type of music academy in Turkey’s capital city, Ankara. This project, for which the composer spent several months in Turkey each year, lasted until 1937. In March of that year he gave notice of his resignation from the Academy of Music and left at the end of the summer semester. He travelled several times to the United States and took up residence in Switzerland before finally deciding in 1940 to emigrate to America.

No longer preoccupied with educational or cultural obligations, Hindemith spent his time on concert touring, exploring his world, composing, and writing his principal work of music theory, Unterweisung im Tonsatz (The Craft of Musical Composition). At the same time Hindemith began revising and simplifying his compositional style. The Clarinet Sonata and the Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Piano stemmed from those years of reconsideration between his Berlin and American periods. So did his plan to compose a sonata with piano accompaniment for each instrument in the orchestra. Traditional music literature had such sonatas for string instruments but few for winds, a lack he sought to redress. Each of the sonatas in this series is conceived with the respective melody instrument and its possibilities in mind. Each piece also has its own form.

The Sonata for Clarinet brings out the instrument’s special kind of virtuosity, its tone colours in various registers, its brilliance, and its lyrical qualities. The piano is an equally important partner, expressing all the nuances from dialogue to tense altercation. The first movement and the third, which is slow, are the most elaborate in terms of their duration and abundance of ideas. By comparison, the second movement is like a capricious comment on the first. Hindemith shapes the fourth movement into a music-loving finale, which draws to a soft and discreetly humorous conclusion.

The Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Piano, which Hindemith composed in 1938, is conceived along different lines. The movements are as expansive as the work is long. None of them has a markedly fast basic tempo. The only hint of a brisk, light step is an episode in the finale. Hindemith wrote the first movement on his way back to Europe from the United States. He completed the second movement in Switzerland immediately thereafter. He then set the quartet aside for a time in order to help prepare the Zurich première of Mathis der Maler as an opera, the libretto for which he had meanwhile finished. After the première Hindemith resumed work on the quartet, completing it on 15 June 1938. It was first performed in New York on 23 April 1939, notably by the musicians of the orchestra with whom Hindemith had worked closely during his American years as well, the Boston Symphony.

After World War II Hindemith remained for a while in the United States and taught at Yale University. In 1949 he was offered a position as professor of composition in Zurich. This he accepted and initially divided his professional time between New Haven and Switzerland, finally settling for good near Lake Geneva in 1953. He retired from teaching altogether in 1957 and concentrated his attention on conducting and composing. In addition to writing new compositions, Hindemith revised his works from the 1920s, some of them radically. The opera Cardillac was the main large work to undergo such change. Of his chamber music works, one piece to go through that process was the Clarinet Quintet, Op. 30, which he had written in 1923 but never published. Rather than take the manuscript with him to the United States, he had kept it in Switzerland along with other works written during the same period. Hindemith almost completely recast the quintet. He retained the character of the movements, the key themes and motifs, and the humorous, ironic play with musical colloquialisms but rendered the work more “classical” overall. It is that version that he published in 1955.

Hindemith composed the Three Easy Pieces for Violoncello and Piano in 1938, the year in which he decided to leave Germany and live in exile, at first in Switzerland. They belong to the splendid series of works that Hindemith wrote for use in teaching music. Like Béla Bartók, he saw this side of his creative activity as crucial. How else should people who are learning to love music be actively introduced to the art of their day if not by means of pedagogical compositions? The fact that he limited the technical difficulties and focused on certain problems did not mean that he lowered his artistic standards. Hindemith was not a fan of having someone practice dry exercises for acquiring dexterity that would be applied later to music of genuine substance. To him, the manual and spiritual dimensions of music belonged together and should be developed together. The Three Easy Pieces are thus recital works for settings such as master-classes, character pieces in which the composer’s mastery, in Goethe’s words, shows in its restraint.

Habakuk Traber
English translation by David Antal

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