“Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber” by Paul Hindemith will be the featured selection by the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra under the baton of conductor-in-residence Linus Lerner on Feb. 12 and Feb. 13.
The four-movement work could be labeled a symphony, a concerto for orchestra or a ballet. The scoring is for a traditional orchestra augmented with English horn, bass clarinet and contra bassoon. Percussion requirements include: snare drum, field drum, tom tom, bass drum, chimes, wood block, cymbals, bells, gong and triangle. At 21 minutes, the work is not long but it is packed with melody, adventure, beauty and difficulties that demonstrate the brilliance of the composer.
German composer Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) was born in Hanau, where he started violin lessons early followed by acceptance to the Frankfurt Konseratorium. He later specialized in viola and viola d’amore. As a Germanic composer, he followed in the footsteps of Brahms, Wagner, Richard Strauss and Mahler. From 1927, he taught composition at the Berliner Hochschule für Musik. In 1930, he was invited to Turkey by Mustafa Ataturk to restructure the music establishment and formed the Turkish State Opera and Ballet. In the late 1930’s, he made several tours as a performer to the United States.
He was in and out of favor when the Nazis came to power in Germany. Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, in a speech in 1934, accused Hindemith of being an “atonal noisemaker.” Many others, including Nazi officials, felt Hindemith should become the dominant German composer. Actually his music is tonal with liberal inclusions of folk themes. The government refused to allow his Opera Mathis der Maler (the painter) to be performed. Berlin Philharmonic conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler championed Hindemith by commissioning him to compose a symphony with the same title based upon the opera, and it became one of his greatest works. He emigrated to Switzerland in 1938, partly because his wife was Jewish. Then in 1940, he emigrated to the United States.
He taught mostly at Yale University where he developed his compositional theories. While there, he taught such top American composers as Lukas Foss, Norman Dello Joio, Ulysses Kay, Samuel Adler and numerous others. It was at this time that he was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, under Rodzinsky, to compose “Symphonic Metamorphosis.” At that season’s opening concert, the Philharmonic closed the program with the Hindemith piece. This work is his most popular, most performed and most recorded work. His music runs from romanticism to expressionism to neoclassical relating to the contrapuntal form of Bach.
What to listen for
The title of the Metamorphosis is incorrect as Hindemith did not use themes by Weber but entire works. The piece opens with a march using the first movement of Weber’s “8 Pieces for Two Pianos,” part 4 (1818), which is a joyful, brisk march featuring woodwinds and strings with a dramatic ending.
“Turandot” is the Oriental title of movement II, and here the Weber piece of the same title was an orchestra work for a Schiller translation of Gozzi’s “Turandotte.” Weber’s music comes from Rousseau’s Dictionary of Music. The movement takes up a third of the entire work. This music opens with chime pitches of F-D-C-A, each followed by woodwinds and a six-measure speeding up by percussion.
The entire movement is built on the opening melody with variations galore. There is a very effective counterpoint use of trills in woodwinds and horns. At the midway point, listen for a nine-measure triplet figure in first violins that becomes gradually softer. Here the trombone starts a fugue that features, little by little, everyone. The kettle drums (timpani) will play a solo melody using the F-D-C-A from the opening. The music becomes full orchestra followed by the timpani melody again with percussion gradually fading to a final quiet F. The brasses really get to shine in this section.
Part III is Weber’s “6 Pieces for Two Pianos,” no. 2 (1809) and is transposed to Bb minor from C minor by Hindemith. This lovely music is the “slow movement” and is in six time. The music is carried mostly by woodwinds, strings and horns.
The last 12 measures have a never-ending flute obbligato that is a real challenge. The final Movement IV, is another march in A-B-A form and is also from the same piano work as the First Movement, only this time No. 7. The finale is the fun section for the players.
Also on this program will be two works by Maurice Ravel: “Concerto for Piano in G Major” and “Bolero.” Opening the concert will be Percy Grainger’s “Colonial Song No.1.”
If you go
What: Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra concert
When & Where: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at DesertView Performing Arts Auditorium in SaddleBrooke and 3 p.m. Feb. 13 at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Oro Valley.
For ticket and other information, visit www.sasomusic.org.