Thursday, December 04, 2014

The "utility music" of Paul Hindemith; more church music; a personal milestone

Back in the late 1950s, I bought a paperback book on modern music, and learned that German composer Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) had been an exponent of “gebrauchsmusik”, of music that “works” or “utility music”.
As such, his music sound more obviously tonal and lush to the average ear.  It is often thick and unrelenting.  He is popular with conductors, and at a QA at the National Symphony recently (Nov. 20), someone said that NSO might put on the 30-minute Symphony in E-flat next season.
I have two Chandos recordings with the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Yan Pascal Tortelier.
The “Chan 9060” (1992) has the Symphony in E-flat, Nobilissima Visione and “Bues vom Tage”.
The Symphony, composed in 1940, appears to be his second  and has no key signature on the score, but is resoundingly tonal around E-flat (the slow movement is in A-flat minor).  It is lush and self-referential.  The slow movement is a bit of a dirge, and the finale is rather declamatory in the brassy ending.

The Suite “Nobilissima Visione” (1939) is based on a ballet  These pieces are more minimalist and effective. The “Introduction and Rondo” shows St. Francis at prayer. The March and Pastoral depicts medieval soldiers, but the Passacaglia, foreshadowing Britten, wraps up everything to an impressive close in G.

The “News of the Day” overture  was intended for a comic opera in 1928.  It is quite spunky.  None of this music seems to realize what was going on in Germany at the time. CNN anyone? 
The other disc, “Chan 9217”, from 1993, offers the Symphonia Serena, and “Die Harmonie der Welt”
The “Symphonia Serena”, from 1946, is the third symphony, in A Major.  I don’t get the title; it is not particularly serene.  The work is a bit like a concerto for orchestra.  The second movement, for winds, is based on a Beethoven march, and the slow movement, called “Colloquy”, is for strings, so Hindemith uses a structure also appearing in the Vaughn Williams Eighth.  In high school, I had an angel record of this work with the composer conducting the Philarmonia Orchestra, paired with the Horn Concerto, played by Dennis Brain.  The last movement of the Horn Concerto is a palindrome.  The concerto was surprisingly popular in the late 1950s; even high school bands knew of it.
The CD is rounded out with the symphony, “The Harmony of the World”, in E, and is related to an opera named the same.  The three movements, “Instrumentalists”, “Humana”, and “Mundana” are episodic and based on components of the opera. 
A couple of other notes:
On Sunday, November 30, 2014, Carol Feather Martin performed the impressive Toccata om “Veni Emmanuel” by Adolphus Hailstork, at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA.

I also made a personal milestone yesterday.  I got my the “religioso” episode from the slow movement of my Third Sonata entered by “voice” in Sibelius.  It’s still Sibelius 7.0 and an old operating system (10.6.8 on Mac) which I plan to upgrade this month.  Played on a computer, it sounds a bit like Prokofiev.  It needs human rubato.  
I remember that I composed this passage in the spring of 1962, after a particular classmate at GWU, an honor student, had been killed near campus when struck by a car. 

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