Paul Hindemith’s Concert Music for Piano, Brass, and Harps
Notes by TŌN tuba player Jarrod Briley
Of the many fantastic composers throughout classical music history, I can think of few who wrote as expressively and effectively for brass instruments as Paul Hindemith. A German composer, violist, violinist, teacher, and conductor, Hindemith wrote extensively for every musical medium. Besides the 19 orchestral works and 14 concertante, he wrote a number of chamber works, solo pieces, vocal settings, operas, and even a few ballets. He is well known for his unique musical voice, which is tonal in the sense that it is usually written within certain formal keys and has harmonic motion like tonal music, yet he uses all 12 notes of the chromatic scale, breaking the “tonic” tradition. Although complex and sometimes confusing, it provides the audience with an exciting auditory experience that always pays off in grand form.
The Konzertmusik for Piano, Brass, and Harps, Op. 49 is one of the “hidden gems” of Hindemith’s repertoire. It was written in 1930, just before his Konzertmusik for String Orchestra and Brass, Op. 50, and precedes most of his popular orchestral works, such as the Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber or his Symphony in B-flat. The Op. 49 is a four-movement work that focuses primarily on the piano soloist and ten-part brass ensemble with the two harps playing a crucial supporting role. The work begins with a solemn solo in the tuba part accompanied by a horn choir, and is soon followed by the piano soloist with gentle ornaments surrounding the original theme. This first movement is lugubrious and heavy, reminiscent of a funeral procession interspersed by happy memories of the deceased, but never losing its dark and chaotic character. It closes with a reprise of the opening solo before quickly departing this idea for an invigorating and excited pianist opening the second movement. After a substantial development in the piano and raucous interjections from the brass, a gentler middle section has the brass instruments quietly accompanying rapid lines in the solo piano. Soon after, we enter a fugue-like revisit to our original theme with the brass sections handing off the melody between each other. The third movement is only piano and the two harps, returning to a calmer mood, yet sustaining the harmonic intensity. After a lengthy reprieve from the chaos of the previous movement, the pianists and harpists slowly fade into the distance. At the beginning of the third movement, the brass introduces the new rhythmic motif stately by itself, and is then followed by the entrance of the piano and harps again. Towards the middle, the harps overlay these running lines with a beautiful melody that, combined with the chaotic-ness of the piano, gives memory to a hazy dream of a shepherd in fields. As the end approaches, the piano is again joined by the harps in a gentle theme accompanied by the solo tuba. The pianist plays one final winding line to descend towards the final chord played by the brass section, closing on a beautiful C-major chord.