Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) was an influential German composer who explored the fringes of tonality through his music and who was teacher to many a great name in composition. He grew up and began his career in Germany, but a complicated relationship with the Nazi regime in the 1930s sent him elsewhere. During that period, he was invited to Turkey, where he helped to reorganize the music education system there. In 1940, he emigrated to the United States, where he taught primarily at Yale University. He became an American citizen in 1946, but moved to Zurich in 1953, where he remained for the rest of his life. He developed his own system of tonality that was not diatonic, but which ranks musical intervals from most-consonant to most-dissonant while still relying on a tonal center. While this approach sounds purely academic, it resulted in playful, accessible music in Hindemith’s hands. He was very interested in understanding instrumental technique, to the point that he is said to have learned to play every one of his instrumental sonatas (and there are many, including trumpet, clarinet, trombone, harp, tuba, flute, violin, viola, and bass) on the instrument for which he wrote it.
The Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber came into being in 1943, while Hindemith was living in America. He was first invited to arrange the music for a ballet on Weber’s themes. That project fell through when it became clear that he and the choreographer, Leonide Massine, did not see eye to eye. This left Hindemith free to take Weber’s source material in the direction he pleased. He used themes from Weber’s little-known piano duets and from his incidental music for the play Turandot, which had also inspired Puccini’s famous opera. Hindemith casts the Symphonic Metamorphosis in four movements. The final “March” made its way into the band repertoire in 1950 when the director of bands at Yale, Keith Wilson, completed his arrangement.
The original orchestral version conducted by the composer himself:
And the version we’ll be playing, arranged by former Yale band director Keith Wilson: