Hindemith: Concert Music for Brass and Strings, Opus 50

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Paul Hindemith
B. Nov. 16, 1895, Hanau, Germany
D. Dec. 28, 1963, Frankfurt, Germany

Paul Hindemith’s reputation as a “modernist” was firmly established by the mid-1920s when, while he was not yet 30, he was the acknowledged leader of the avant-garde. True to the times, his works were anti-Romantic, highly cerebral, and experimental.

Hindemith wrote, “Nothing is more wearisome or more futile than the most antiquated of all manias: the rage to be modern. With all the appreciation that one may reasonably bring to technical innovations, we should nevertheless minimize the word new in the term ‘new art’ and emphasize rather the word art.”

The principal characteristics of Hindemith’s Concert Music are the juxtaposition, synthesis, metamorphosis, and exploration of the antiphonal and polyphonic relationships of two distinctly different orchestral units, the strings and the brass. In the process, the display of the myriad expressive nuances of each of the two choirs and the composer’s ability to contrast and fuse materials which are generic and idiosyncratic to each of the two separate units are remarkable. The result is a composition of incredible resourcefulness and logic and one which is neo-Baroque in its essentially horizontal (contrapuntal) texture as well as in its rhetorical grandeur.

Klaus George Roy points out, “The primary impact which this music means to make, perhaps, is one of athletic power. As we can watch and enjoy a race without knowing exactly how horse or runner or vehicle really operate, so we may simply absorb a share of the abundant creative energy here displayed, be refreshed by the music’s exuberant health.”

The work is in two distinct movements. The first is in five sections. The first section begins with a powerful subject for the brasses set against independent counterpoint for the strings. This is followed by a section for brasses alone, which is less rhythmically and more harmonically complex than the opening portion. The third section is for the strings, and exploits materials from both the previous ones. The measures of section four are for full ensemble with both choirs developing the material of section two. The final portion is also for the complete orchestra, with strings concentrating on the principal subject originally presented by the brass instruments in the opening measures.

The second movement consists of three sections, the first of which is a three-voiced fugue for strings. But then with a marvelously humorous touch Hindemith superimposes a Gershwinesque blues figure in the brass. There follows free development of these materials, a return to the fugue, and a final coda, which ends powerfully and emphatically.

The DSO last performed Hindemith’s Concert Music for Brass and Strings, Op. 50 in February 1999.

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Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, EMI 86095.

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