Thursday, January 13, 2011

Paul Hindemith

The reason I wasn't writing here much in the past year is that my musical interests have shifted once again, going rather beyond the scope of this website. I still want some place to write down my little musical observations, so I guess the scope of this website will have to expand, as well.

I am generally more interested in what in jazz is called a combo and in the classical lingo chamber music. So in my recent explorations of classical I came across the Hindemith's sonatas for piano-and-every-orchestral-instrument-there-is; many of them staples of educational repertoire.
So I spent about a week trying to get my head around his music - specifically, the trumpet and piano sonata of 1939, and the horn sonatas. The first few times had me rather baffled. Last night I listened to it again with scores in my hands and finally found a point of reference I could grab onto. He sounds to me a lot like Ornette Coleman. Incidentally, it looks like I might be the first person ever to use the names of Ornette Coleman and Paul Hindemith in one sentence.
I think there are two main points of similarity, the very ones that made Ornette's music so distinctive and controversial. Firstly, it's the rhythm. Both Coleman and Hindemith are melodists, with their compositions hung on melodic lines that run through the pieces, giving them inner logic and consistency. However, the melodies conform neither to the 4-bar/8-bar length, nor even to a steady time signature. By ear, it sounds like a player is adding or subtracting beats at will to underscore or enhance a certain melodic point, to make it more expressive. On paper, these jumps and skips have to be notated by shifting from 4/4 to 3/2 to 12/8 and back. Ornette's themes are built on the very same logic. Strictly speaking, that approach is nothing new and is used by solo performers from just about any folk tradition - most visibly to an american listener, by Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson, or a tune like King Bee. Coleman was controversial not for inventing it, but for placing it into the context of a jazz combo.
Secondly, it's the harmony - the pliable, fluid harmonic development that follows not the conventional rules, but the melodic line. A lot of times piano accompaniment in the sonatas is primarily textural, not so much harmonic - a feature Ornette would've appreciated.

As before, it is worth noting that these are the case of the opposites converging. Hindemith is a highly schooled composer from the Western classical tradition who chose to speak through the medium of written music. Ornette Coleman comes from the aural/oral African-American folk tradition and to my knowledge he was musically illiterate. I guess the biologists would call it convergent evolution.

Here are some sounds to sample:
Sonata for Trumpet and Piano played by Thomas Stevens, on mediafire
It seems that classical music is best perceived in small amounts - preferably, is chunks intended by the composer. The CD this came from contains more stuff, none of it relevant to today's post and thus omitted.

Nonetheless, the completists might be interested in the Complete Works for Brass as performed by the Summit Brass and available on megaupload, 192mb, high VBR

Outside link:
Horn and Piano Sonatas at the most excellent Closet of Curiosities

1 comment:

  1. Ruy Mauricio de Lima e Silva NetoSeptember 11, 2012 at 7:28 AM

    I don't know if you had the chance to listen to Hindemith's more "popular" opus - The Symphony from Mathis der Mahler.If you didn't it's pretty likely that you'll appreciate it for it's a really dense and catchy work (I also must be the first to use "dense" and "catchy" in the same phrase...)I've heard it all through 1963, around 18 years old, and it impacted me a lot.Good luck!