Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)
Concert Music for Piano, Brass and Harps Op.49 (1930)
In the year 1930, Hindemith composed a pair of works entitled 'Konzertmusik'. Of the two works, this is perhaps the lesser known, but is certainly of no lesser stature. The American patroness Mrs Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge commissioned the work, and although the title 'Concert Music' may be misleading, this work by Hindemith is actually a Piano Concerto. The brass section, comprising four horns, three trumpets, two trombones and a bass tuba combine with a pair of harps in a clearly defined accompanimental role.
The Introduction is dominated by a somber repeated motif introduced by the brass. This idea is passed around the ensemble, and is eventually taken on by the piano, where it is ornamented and developed. Softer contrasting sections are provided by the harps and piano, Hindemith having taken great care in his writing, addressing the obvious tonal differences between the brass and harps, and ensuring that instrumental combinations are equally weighted.
The Allegro is predominantly a dialogue between the piano and brass. It opens with a prolonged fugal flourish on piano based on a repeated rhythmic motif. When the brass enter, they do so with powerfully strident and thickly textured chords. The use of mutes creates a contrasting tone color that Hindemith exploits throughout the movement. The brass continue the fugue, the texture gradually thickening throughout the movement, the dissonant interplay surprisingly coming to rest on a sustained consonant chord.
The Variations open with a sonorous theme for piano and harps, the thinner texture giving some respite from the heavy brass sounds of the preceding movement. There are three variations, and the soft sustained effects create an almost Impressionistic haze. The final variation is the most vibrant of the three, the harps adding some luscious glissandos effects that add to the exotic feel of the movement.
Jolting the listener from their slumber-like state, the Rondo opens with a blast from the brass. With a dance-like character, the piano delights the audience with rapid semiquaver passages, the light feel occasionally broken by the brass. Midway through the movement, the harps come to the fore as Hindemith introduces a setting of the old German folksong "Reiters Abschied" (Horseman's Farewell). The opening rondo theme returns in a flourish on the brass, only to fade again to another new idea on piano, the harps subtly outlining sections of the theme. The piano, playing at a pianissimo dynamic finishes with a downward run extending the length of the keyboard, the final word though comes from the brass, who end surprisingly on a consonant C major chord.