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 Symphony in B-flat is a cornerstone of the wind band repertoire. Hindemith wrote it in 1951 on a commission from “Pershing’s Own” United States Army Band. Its three movements use classical and baroque approaches to form and thematic development in Hindemith’s unique harmonic idiom. Below, I’ll include my thumbnail analysis of each movement above separate videos of each, all by the extremely capable North Texas Wind Symphony.
The Symphony’s first movement, marked, “Moderately fast, with vigor” is in sonata allegro form. Hindemith introduces two themes immediately. The first is lyrical and rhythmically intense, spanning 10 bars. The second, a short burst of five 8th notes, is hidden in the bluster of the first beat of the movement, not emerging fully until the two themes merge. Another pair of themes is introduced at letter D. Together, they grow into semi-climax before being interrupted by another dotted-rhythm theme, which dominates the development until the second initial theme returns. The recapitulation of the first two themes is shrouded by changed textures, but the second pair of themes returns with confidence, ending the movement in a solid B-flat major.
The second movement is broadly in three sections. It begins with a dolorous duet between alto sax and cornet. There are hints of Hindemith’s Weimar Republic roots in the melody, which sounds like the lamentation of a tired cabaret singer. A much more lively middle section features tambourine accompaniment, suggesting some angry dance. The two contrasting feelings are thrown together in the third section.
The “Fugue” is actually two fugues. The first begins after a short introduction in which we hear the first fugue subject stated by itself. The second uses a broader, triplet-based subject. The two come together late in the movement, only to be joined by the first theme from the first movement as the piece heads to its cacophonous closure.