Friday, July 8, 2011

Hindemith Sonata for Oboe and Piano

Way back when I was in high school, shortly after the earth cooled, my oboe teacher had me working on the Hindemith Sonata for oboe and piano.  He liked 20th Century music quite a bit, and always had his oboe students working on unusual pieces.  I never performed it.  My interests lay more in the music of composers like Mozart, Bach, and Cimarosa. I did perform some of their works.  It was a lot more fun to spend hours working on the Mozart Oboe Quartet than  atonal music.

That was many years ago, and after many moves from one place to another, one country to another, and back again I began to try to recover some of my musical past that got left or lost along the way.  The Hindemith Sonata is one of those pieces.

Hindemith lived 16 November 1895 – 28 December 1963 and was a German composer, conductor, violinist, violist, teacher, and music theorist.  He had a complicated relationship with the Nazis, sometimes in favor and other times not - as is true with all artists living under the despotic, socialistic systems of the 20th century.  He finally emigrated to Switzerland, and then the US in 1940. His wife was Jewish, so that  was definitely a good move.  In the mid-30s, he spent some time in  Turkey helping them to develop their music education program. 

In 1946 he became a US citizen, and then in 1953 moved back to Germany, living there until his death. All of the bio info is from Wikkipedia.  Click on the word "Wikkipedia" to see the article about Hindemith.

The Sonata for Oboe and Piano - or  Sonate Für Oboe Und Klavier - was written in 1938.  Hindemith wrote sonatas for many, if not all of the instruments of the orchestra. It is an atonal.   Here is the Wikkipedia definition of that kind of composition. 

"Atonality in its broadest sense describes music that lacks a tonal center, or key. Atonality in this sense usually describes compositions written from about 1908 to the present day where a hierarchy of pitches focusing on a single, central tone is not used, and the notes of the chromatic scale function independently of one another (Kennedy 1994)."
- Wikkipedia

I suppose that it is a kind of egalitarian approach to music theory and harmony. 

Here is a note from the Music Minus One, Oboe Classics - for the Intermediate Player compiled and edited by Elaine Douvas.  She includes I. Munter (Lively) in her book.  

"Hindemith's style is 'neo-classical' and 'contrapuntal.'  That means he wrote complimentary, architecturally constructed, independent lines similar to Bach.  Clarity and line are essential to bring out the counterpoint."

She suggests that many oboe students try to play this piece too heavy.  It is actually light, lyrical, sparkling, and dancing - her words.  I think that she is on the right track.  Many musicians make the same kinds of errors of interpretation with Bach and other Baroque composers, playing their pieces too heavy and serious.  

Personally, I do not think that Bach and Hindemith are in the same category of genius, but I suppose that he believed himself to be using ideas borrowed from Bach, but brought into the 20th century.   

The piece has 2 movements.  The second movement begins with a very slow passage.  The first two phrases are supposed to be played on one breath each.  I am focusing on these two phrases for now.  This is for personal reasons. For one thing, I think it is the prettiest part of the whole sonata.  Then, it is a challenge for me because of the breathing difficulties I have because of asthma.  It is good for me to make myself play these phrases as they should be done - no cheating.  

The first phrase consists in 28 beats at  ♪=54.  Kinda' slow, but I can do it.  It begins p and grows over the first 3 measures to mƒ, then decrescendo back to p.  I love my Fox 300 oboe which is an asthmatic's dream. :-)  Anyway, I'm having fun with this. 

The 2nd phrase is similar to the first, but enough different to not make it redundant. It begins pp, grows over 21 beats to f and then back to p in 11 beats.  So, 32 beats at 54.  I'm having a harder time making that one on one breath consistently, so we'll see.  

Then there are 4 beats rest followed by a 22 beat phrase.  The last 6 measures of the first part of movement II are made up of 4 short phrases broken up by rests.  Hindemith did have some mercy on this poor oboe player.  The marking of the movement is "Sehrlangsam"  which must mean something like "slow as sorghum molasses, making the oboist languish."  

Here is a recording of Movement II.  The guy cheated and breathed in the middle of the phrase!  ...or maybe my teacher was too demanding...just because Roger Cole could do it...I think that the oboist in this recording captures the light, lyrical, sparkling, dancing nature of the piece. I don't think that the brain fishing drawing complements the piece all that well, though.

I just checked this post out, and see that the brain fishing version of this sonata is no longer on You Tube.  Too bad. I liked it.  :-(  

This version by a frenchman is quite nice, I think.  Lovely, even.  He really does capture the light, lyrical nature of this piece, I think.


RobinDesHautbois said...

I'm very happy to see you blogging about the oboe! I hope this means more practicing, though I imagine asthma is more problematic than muscle strains for playing..... eeaaasy reeds!

Naturally I had to practice the Hindemith when at Conservatoire... I didn't do a very good job because I just couldn't understand it or feel its phrasing the way your you-tube performer obviously does.

Hindemith is one of the composers of that generation where music was about intellectualism rather than inspiration..... thank God those days are over: Hindemith wrote some decent things, but others in his trend.... well, let's just leave it at that!

At any rate: my best encouragements!

Mrs. Webfoot said...

Hey, Robin. It's good to see you. Yes, I am practicing again, and having fun with it. Actually, playing the oboe is good for me, but yes, I am using pretty easy-blowing reeds. My Fox 300 oboe is quite responsive and blows very freely. I love it.

I think that the muscle pain would be worse than asthma for playing an instrument, actually. You have a lot of determination!

Yes, we all had to do the Hindemith at one time or another. It makes more musical sense to me now than it did when I was in high school.

Thank you for the encouragement!