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German Wind Music: 1926 - 1951

Paul Hindemith - Symphony in Bb

The modern "concert band" repertoire originated with a handful of works by Holst and Vaughan Williams, (recorded by the RNCM Wind Orchestra on Chandos 9697) and continued in the tonal experiments of Percy Grainger (Chandos 9549 & 9630). This initiative was echoed in Germany under the leadership of Paul Hindemith, who in 1926, as Artistic Director of the Donaueschingen Festival, commissioned a series of works for wind band and contributed the Konzertmusik op 41 himself.

His attempt to enthuse German military band musicians about new music was not a success; the musical elite disliked this "open-air music", the bandsmen and their conductors disliked what they thought to be elitism, so he must have been delighted when, twenty five years later, an émigré in the US, he was asked by the US Army Band for a march. He became so engrossed in the medium that he produced this twenty minute Symphony in Bb, one of the masterworks for the wind band.

Symphony in Bb

The first movement, in sonata form, opens with a wide ranging opening theme for cornets and trumpets which dominates the movement. Various canonic devices are used with good humour, until a sinister second idea evolves, in unison at first, later as an accompaniment to massive brass chords. The second movement is in ternary form; a grim march is a background to long duet lines for cornet and alto saxophone. This gives way to a fleet virtuosic scherzando, which in turn becomes the accompaniment for the duet theme. The finale is a large-scale fugue, culminating in a triumphant return of the opening theme of the first movement.

Donaueschingen Festival

In the twenties, Hindemith had joined the artistic committee, of the Donaueschingen Festival, later becoming artistic director, and under his leadership the Festival tried to encourage different types of ensembles, concentrating first on quartet, later on vocal music and music theatre, and experimenting in music for mechanical instruments and in Gebrauchsmusik, a term which Hindemith came to hate, preferring Musik fur Sing-und Spielkreise. Basically this is music to be written for use by amateurs or professionals, the musical equivalent of the Bauhaus designs, simple and functional.

Hindemith's own conviction was that the ever-widening gap between composer and general public could be bridged if composers wrote with a particular purpose, encouraging the growth of amateur music. This creed led to his commissioning in 1926 works for military band from his colleagues Pepping, Krenek and Toch... The band was that of the training battalion 14th Infantry Regiment stationed in the town, and the conductor was Hermann Scherchen, to whom the works by Hindemith and Toch were dedicated.

Ernst Toch - Spiel op 39

Spiel, or Game, for Wind Orchestra, is scored for a small ensemble of orchestral wind and brass, with optional parts for tenor horn, baritone and two flugel horns. It can thus be played by orchestral wind or by the regular German military band of the period. The miniature Overture is in three parts, an energetic section with simple mixed metres, a flowing trio set against semiquaver runs in wind, with a da capo. The Idyll is also in ternary form, with something of the bitter-sweet nostalgia of the decade, an extensive lyrical oboe melody is heard twice, embracing a brief but poignant Mahlerian episode. The Buffo finale is the most discursive movement; despite paying lip service to a rudimentary sonata form, here we are in the realm of circus music, sheer high spirited fun aimed at interesting those serious-minded German military bands of the twenties in contemporary music.

Music Under the NAZIs

In England, after a brief flirtation with the world of the professional composer, the military returned to their ceremonial duties, while in Germany the wind band became a vehicle for the insidious politicking of the Third Reich, and anything experimental was banned. On 2nd November, 1935, a Black List was issued proscribing performances on radio or in theatres of over one hundred musicians, including composers such as Antheil, Berg, Bloch, Gal, Krenek, Lopatnikow, Satie, Schulhoff, Weill, and performers such as Godowsky, Horenstein, Klemperer, Schnabel.

The writing had already been on the wall; Schoenberg left for the States in 1933, Toch moved to London in the same year, thence to America in 1934, while Hindemith continued with his career until 1937 when he moved first to Switzerland, later to America. During the forties, Blacher and Hartmann both withdrew from public life but not from their implacable opposition to their political masters.

Arnold Schoenberg - Theme and Variations Op 43a

The Theme and Variations was commissioned by Schoenberg's publisher, G. Schirmer. Never a composer to underestimate himself, he wrote enthusiastically:

It is not one of my main works, as everybody can see, because it is not a twelve-note composition. It is one of those compositions which one writes in order to enjoy one's own skill and to give a certain group of music lovers - in this case bands - something better to play. I can, however, assure that technically it is a masterwork. I believe it is also original and know it is also inspired. Not only can I not write 10 minutes without inspiration but I wrote this with really great pleasure.

Although scored with large forces in mind, Schoenberg treats the players as soloists with plenty of interest and challenge in each line, the ideal way of dealing with the problems of wind band scoring. The march-like Theme begins with a nine bar statement, moving seamlessly through G minor and A to Bb, the dominant of Eb.; a two bar rhythmic phrase in F# interrupts, repeated in F, before an energetic eight bar phrase completes the tripartite structure. This twenty-one bar theme is subjected to a set of seven very strict variations and a Finale.

Variation 1 continues the mood of the theme with a little more energy. Variation 2 is a fleet scherzo, 42 bars long instead of 21, and this is followed by a lyrical poco adagio with a duet for solo clarinet and baritone horn. A Waltz follows as Variation 4, in G major, before a more extensive duet for the clarinet and baritone, this time in Eb major, that flattened submediant so beloved of Schubert. Variation 6 is an energetic fugato, building to a climax which disappears into the sinuous lines of variation 7. The Finale refers to many of the melodic phrases from earlier variations including the fugato, before a final triumphant peroration.

Boris Blacher - Divertimento Op 7

Boris Blacher was born in China of German/Baltic parents, and studied in Berlin where he worked as a composer and arranger until becoming director of the composition class in Dresden in 1938. Forced to leave this post because of his opposition to Nazi policies, after the war he returned to Berlin and later became director of the Staatliche akademische Hochschule.

The Divertimento Op 7 was premiered in Berlin on 24 February 1937 the conductor was Felix Husadel, a colleague of Blacher at the Hochschule. The Band was probably from the Luftwaffenmusikkorps, since Husadel was Musik Inspector for the German Air Force at that time and this was one of very few groups to employ saxophones, generally regarded by the Third Reich as symbols of Western decadence.

The Intrada is a simple Rondo, looking back to the Towermusic of an earlier period; a canonic theme is stated on a solo trumpet, imitated by the rest of the orchestra, with a short contrasting phrase marked espressivo. The March is in a typical ternary form, a swaggering jaunty theme with a more lyrical trio section.

Karl Amadeus Hartmann

Symphony No 5

I sit and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all oppression and shame, I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny, I see martyrs and prisoners, I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon the poor; All the meanness and agony without end I sitting look out upon, See and hear.

In 1935, Hartmann's magnificent setting of these words in his First Symphony shows clearly the dilemma of the artist in Germany of the Thirties. He was to remain a vocal opponent of Nazism and any other totalitarian regime throughout his life. In his Sinfonia Tragica of 1940-43, he underlines his beliefs, by quoting from some of his banned colleagues, Berg, Hindemith, Webern, Bartok, and from Stravinsky he uses that unearthly opening primitive cry from Le Sacre du Printemps, an echo also of the second movement of this Fifth Symphony.

His Symphony no 5, Symphony concertante for orchestra, first saw light as a Concertino for Trumpet and Wind in the early thirties. In 1949, it was revised as Concerto for Wind Ensemble, Double Basses and 2 Solo Trumpets, and a further revision added cellos and subsumed the solo parts into the orchestral texture.

The first movement, Toccata, can be described as neo-baroque, a fast 3/8 with strong motor rhythms pervading the textures. The two solo trumpets are prominent within the texture, even in the rather ghostly night-time twitterings of the etwas ruhiger which prefaces a final brilliant coda.

This ternary form is used in the second movement, Melodie, which is a lengthy exploration of the rhythm and melodic outline of the opening bassoon cry of Stravinsky's Le Sacre, framing a Scherzo, muted pianissimo scramblings in trumpets, trombones and tuba. The intense sadness of that unearthly cry from Le Sacre pervades the material, on clarinet, later on bassoon, and this material frames an energetic scherzo. The Rondo returns to the motivic patterning of the first movement, neo-Baroque but with warmth and lyricism that often evades other composers who used this technique. There is no contrasting central section here, but a surprising cadenza, in which each solo woodwind duets with the first trumpet before a ten bar highly charged coda.

Lost Concertino Surfaces

for Trumpet and Seven Solo Instruments (Schotts)

Hartman's Concertino was composed around 1933 and premiered by Professor Nikolay on August 12th 1933 during a Musical Congress in Straatsburg (Strasbourg, France), conducted by Dr. Hermann Scherchen. After the performance Hartmann took the score with him and tried to find other brass players who would be interested in his composition, but he could not find anyone with the technical skills demanded by the piece. After years of searching, Hartmann visited Amsterdam in 1956 and gave the score, written with a lead pencil, to the first trumpeter, Marinus Komst, of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Unfortunately Komst did not perform as a soloist in those years; perhaps this was his reason for not having returned the score. After some time Hartmann forgot whom he left the music with.

After retiring from the Orchestra, Komst gave the Hartmann score to one of his former students who also chose not to perform the piece. This trumpeter also studied with Freddy Grin at one point. It was Grin who eventually convinced his former student to return the score to Frau Professor Elisabeth Hartmann, who was almost 90 years old then. She was extremely thankful to finally be able to see the music that has been mentioned so often by her late husband, who truly lamented having lost the Concertino then.

Donaueschingen in the 20th Century

The town of Donaueschingen was a musical centre throughout the 18th and 19th centuries; composers such as Kalliwoda and Fiala worked there, and an enormous library of Harmonie was built up, including what in all probability is Mozart's original arrangement of Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail for Wind Octet, recently discovered.

In this century, Prince Max Egon zu Furstenberg founded the International Festival of Contemporary Music from 1921, still thriving today, although now in competition with younger trendier avant garde centres such as Darmstadt. Hans Werner Henze writes in his recent autobiography of the premiere of his ballet Ondine:

With this score I had reached a position that could hardly be further removed from that of the so-called Darmstadt School, so it is scarcely surprising that at its first performance at Donaueschingen on 20th October 1957, under Hans Rosbaud's outstanding direction, three representatives of the other wing - Boulez, my friend Gigi Nono and Stockhausen - leapt to their feet after only the first few bars and pointedly left the hall, eschewing the beauties of my latest endeavours.

Goldman on Schoenberg, Hindemith & Stravinsky

It is interesting now with hindsight to read music criticism from the fifties of the works of Hindemith and Schoenberg. Richard Franko Goldman wrote in Musical Quarterly in 1958 a review of the Fennell Mercury 1957 MG50143 recording of the Hindemith, Schoenberg and Stravinsky masterpieces, and uttered what today must seem heresy:

All band people are grateful to Schoenberg and Hindemith... it is in a sense ungraciousÂ…to wish that they had written better onesÂ…the Hindemith, indeed, sounds very much like a poorly done transcription... no amount of special pleading will ever make the Theme and Variations very interesting.

Goldman ends his article full of enthusiasm for the Stravinsky Symphonies of Wind:

In contrast to the other two, warm and life-lit, a pleasure to hear, with beautiful ideas and beautiful sounds.

You can find more information about German wind music between the Great Wars from John Charles Carmichael whose thesis on The Wind Band Music of Hindemith, Krenek, Pepping, Toch and Others from the 1926 Donaueschingen Music Festival: An Analysis of Historical and Artistic Significance remains a standard reference work.