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Hindemith's Sonatas


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I quite like these pieces. I don't know anything else in the repertoire quite like them stylistically. I even went so far as to learn No.1. But one thing bothers me: how do you register the thing effectively? There seems to me to be a dichotomy - so much so that I've never played the piece in public. The contrapuntal texture is quite lean and transparent - the sort of writing that seems ideally suited to a classically voiced organ with terraced dynamics and manual/stop changes. Yet the dynamic markings in the music seem to demand an altogether more Romantic approach which includes a Rollschweller. To play the piece in the way it speaks to me (with "vertical" registration, but very expressive phrasing including a certain amount of flexibility) would mean ignoring a lot of the composer's directions. I must be missing something fundamental somewhere and I gave up long ago trying to make sense of it. Does anyone else have this problem?

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I quite like these pieces. I don't know anything else in the repertoire quite like them stylistically. I even went so far as to learn No.1. But one thing bothers me: how do you register the thing effectively? There seems to me to be a dichotomy - so much so that I've never played the piece in public. The contrapuntal texture is quite lean and transparent - the sort of writing that seems ideally suited to a classically voiced organ with terraced dynamics and manual/stop changes. Yet the dynamic markings in the music seem to demand an altogether more Romantic approach which includes a Rollschweller. To play the piece in the way it speaks to me (with a slightly clinical approach to registration, but very expressive phrasing including a certain amount of flexibility) would mean ignoring a lot of the composer's directions. I must be missing something fundamental somewhere and I gave up long ago trying to make sense of it. Does anyone else have this problem?

 

Not in terms of a decision whether or not to play it in public ! Have you listened to Gillian Weir playing it at the Mother Church, Boston, on Priory and/or read her notes which accompany it ? They seem to me to bear out the conclusion you appear to have reached (or perhaps not) that Sonata 1 is written with a different sort of organ in mind from the far more intimate Sonata 3 ( the one I know best). As far as I am aware the three were not conceived as an integrated set - they were hardly written as such at least - and so there is no real reason why Hindemith should have conceived them for the same sort of organ, not being principally an organist as I understand it, even if displaying considerable facility on a variety of instruments. If the piece makes sense in terms of the type of organ it appears to have been conceived for, then is the problem you experience not similar to (if not quite identical with) that experienced by those trying to make sense of Bach on instruments unlike the ones for which the music was conceived, except you seem to be approaching it from the other end from what is usual ?

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Yes, I think I'm approaching it from the direction most people seem to approach Bach from.  B)

 

=====================

 

Bachwards?

 

Actually, I heard a fabulous performance of no.3 on the totally unenclosed Flentrop at Doesburg Cathedral in the Netherlands (the one at the front), and it was a joy, even without much in the way of terraced dynamics or expression beyond adding or subtracting stops and couplers.

 

Whatever Hindemith intended, I think that, like the music of Bach, it is able to stand apart and transcend whatever limitations an organ imposes.

 

On paper, the Preludium by Zoltan Kodaly would seem to be impossibly romantic in concept, yet I can get this to work brilliantly on the little neo-baroque job I play, simply by changing manuals, carefully adding or subtracting stops and making full use of the couplers as dynamic aids.

 

MM

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Hindemith wrote the first Sonata on his way to America on the ship. The others followed pretty quickly.

 

Robert Noehren recorded the pieces at St. John's Church in Buffalo NY in 1940 under Hindemith's supervision. For the third sonata, Hindemith agreed to a registration of Flutes 8 & 2 for the mezzo-forte marking (last movemnt), adding 8 6 2 principals for forte; melody on a 4' reed.

 

The first sonata obviously needs a lusher appraoch; Neohren recalls Hindemith saying "I want more sound" until he finally kicked the cresc. pedal open and Hindemith was satisfied with that! There are in fact two manuscripts of the piece with registrations worked out for different organs: one neo-classical, and then for Methuen. The neoclassical versions is the bare bones - although the piece has lots of different levels, these can easily be managed on a three manual organ by manual changing with discrete changes of registration here and there. The Methuen version looks like Reger, there are stops flashing on and off continuously.

 

There are no crescendo markings in the first two sonatas, and only a few in the third - in fact the one I find the most difficult to register on a neoclassical instrument. The rather cool opening gestures of the first two sonatas seem not to want mixtures, or not big ones, at any rate; in fact, Hindemith wanted 8+2 onlyy for the second sonata too. So not really forte at all.

 

My son demands my attention.........

 

Cheers

Barry

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
Hindemith wrote the first Sonata on his way to America on the ship. The others followed pretty quickly.

 

Robert Noehren recorded the pieces at St. John's Church in Buffalo NY in 1940 under Hindemith's supervision. For the third sonata, Hindemith agreed to a registration of  Flutes 8 & 2 for the mezzo-forte marking (last movemnt), adding 8 6 2 principals for forte; melody on a 4' reed.

 

The first sonata obviously needs a lusher appraoch; Neohren recalls Hindemith saying "I want more sound" until he finally kicked the cresc. pedal open and Hindemith was satisfied with that! There are in fact two manuscripts of the piece with registrations worked out for different organs: one neo-classical, and then for Methuen. The neoclassical versions is the bare bones - although the piece has lots of different levels, these can easily be managed on a three manual organ by manual changing with discrete changes of registration here and there. The Methuen version looks like Reger, there are stops flashing on and off continuously.

 

There are no crescendo markings in the first two sonatas, and only a few in the third - in fact the one I find the most difficult to register on a neoclassical instrument. The rather cool opening gestures of the first two sonatas seem not to want mixtures, or not big ones, at any rate; in fact, Hindemith wanted 8+2 onlyy for the second sonata too. So not really forte at all.

 

My son demands my attention.........

 

Cheers

Barry

 

 

Absolutely fascinating. Thanks very much for this posting.

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Hindemith wrote the first Sonata on his way to America on the ship. The others followed pretty quickly.

 

There are no crescendo markings in the first two sonatas, and only a few in the third - in fact the one I find the most difficult to register on a neoclassical instrument. The rather cool opening gestures of the first two sonatas seem not to want mixtures, or not big ones, at any rate; in fact, Hindemith wanted 8+2 onlyy for the second sonata too. So not really forte at all.

 

 

 

Hi Barry,

 

I had always thought the sonatas were spread over several years, so tonight I pulled out my old LPs of the complete Sonatas as performed by Lionel Rogg on the Grossmunster, Zurich and Simon Preston. The notes to the Rogg recording state that Sonatas 1 and 2 were written in 1937 while number 3 was composed in 1940 and was the first important work completed by Hindemith after he arrived in the United States. Is this now known to be wrong ? The notes to Preston's recording do not mention chronology but do suggest (I think) that there are more marked crescendos and decrescendos in the 3rd sonata than the other two. I have to say this surprised me.

 

I think in another thread comment has been made on how the first recording one hears/owns of a piece tends to serve as the benchmark performance by which all others are judged. In a similar way I think the information one assimilated from the notes to that first performance tend to become imbedded in the mind as the truth about the piece, at least for those of us who are not professional musicians constantly in touch with the latest scholarly thought and writing.

 

At one stage I could just have gone to the library to look this up but our local public library has a fairly limited music section and I think it simpler to ask here than to make the trip up to Belfast.

 

Best wishes,

 

BAC

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Hi Barry,

 

I had always thought the sonatas were spread over several years, so tonight I pulled out my old LPs of the complete Sonatas as performed by Lionel Rogg on the Grossmunster, Zurich and Simon Preston. The notes to the Rogg recording state that Sonatas 1 and 2 were written in 1937 while number 3 was composed in 1940 and was the first important work completed by Hindemith after he arrived in the United States. Is this now known to be wrong ?

 

No, this is correct, I didn't really mean to suggest otherwise - I was wrong about his writing the first sonata on the way to America, I was told that when I studied the piece with MH, but he might have made it up........he went to America in 1940 of course. I have no information about first performances, although Noehrens stories do seem to indicate the registration was still pretty much up for grabs at the time of the 1940 recording. Other tales reveal that Hindemith lost interest in his pieces very soon after their completion, so perhaps that was indeed their first "outing". I must look up the date of publication; in 1937 Hindemith was of course living in Switzerland, and it seems unlikely that Schott in Mainz would have taken the risk of publishing anything by Hindemith at that time, as he was already severely out of favour. Perhaps I can find out more.....oh how interesting, it really DOES seem to have been, Nazis notwithstanding! I don't really know anything about an association of Hindemiths with any particular European organist, does anybody?

 

Ifound this on the web, an abtract of an article in het Orgel 1999: " Hindemiths remarks about this organ indicate that he fancied the ideas of the Orgelbewegung, but did not quite understand the details: ‘Ich bin kein Orgelfachmann.’ Since 1927 Hindemith tried to construct a theory on which to base his compositional technique. In 1937 he published this theory, entitled Unterweisung im Tonsatz. According to the Unterweisung, the triad is the beginning and the end of all music. Hindemith compares it with the three primary colours in painting and the three dimensions in architecture. In the same year, Hindemith published his first two organ sonatas as well. The first one is characterised by very precise indications with regard to articulation and phrasing; the second Sonata is less complicated and less representative for Hindemith’s style. The third Sonata was composed in 1940, after Hindemith had emigrated to the United States. It is based on three ancient German folk songs. Remarkable is the large number of crescendi- and decrescendi-indications, which require a register crescendo."

 

Getting interesting!

 

Barry

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