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Sonata for solo viola, Op 11 No 5
21 July 1919; first performed by Hindemith on 14 November 1920 in Friedburg

'Hindemith: The Complete Viola Music, Vol. 2 – Sonatas for solo viola' (CDA67769)
Hindemith: The Complete Viola Music, Vol. 2 – Sonatas for solo viola
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Movement 1: Lebhaft, aber nicht geeilt
Movement 2: Mässig schnell, mit viel Wärme vortragen
Movement 3: Scherzo: Schnell
Movement 4: In Form und Zeitmass einer Passacaglia: Das Thema sehr gehalten

Sonata for solo viola, Op 11 No 5
Hidemith's first Sonata for unaccompanied viola Op 11 No 5 is the fifth of the five stringed-instrument sonatas which he began in 1918 while still serving in the German army on the Western Front, completed after his return home to Frankfurt in early 1919 and published together as his Opus 11. At that time it was an almost unheard-of gesture to group together so many works as subdivisions of a single opus, and it indicated Hindemith’s desire to put away Romantic attitudes, such as the idea that every composition was a complete and utterly separate work of art. Admittedly Brahms and Reger had sometimes published chamber works in pairs or threes, but by encompassing such a large number of fair-sized works Hindemith was going back to the examples of Haydn or even Handel, providing a collection from which performers might choose. He was quick off the mark in giving the first performance of the sister sonata (Op 11 No 4) for viola and piano, but he did not premiere the solo sonata, Op 11 No 5—perhaps inevitably the most taxing of them all—until 14 November 1920, in a recital in Friedburg, though it was sketched by 21 July 1919.

Op 11 No 5 reflects something of the influences which were still helping Hindemith to shape his personal identity in music. Brahms, Reger and César Franck are hinted at in the ‘lively but not hurried’ (Lebhaft, aber nicht geeilt) first movement; there is a tincture of Debussy (beloved by Hindemith’s commanding officer at the front) in the rhapsodic slow movement. Hindemith instructed his new publishers, Schotts Söhne of Mainz, to set this movement’s central section in smaller type, as a kind of evanescent parenthesis. The succeeding scherzo, too, has a touch of Impressionist fantasy, reminding us of the ‘moonstruck Pierrot’ depicted in Debussy’s 1914 Cello Sonata. These three movements are all quite short, but the finale is a massive variation movement headed ‘In the Form and Tempo of a Passacaglia’ (In Form und Zeitmass einer Passacaglia). Hindemith’s ultimate model is unmistakably the famous D minor Chaconne from Bach’s Violin Partita BWV1004, but viewed through a post-Brahmsian sense of sonority and architecture that produces a truly contemporary result. This ardent (and arduous) movement, a most impressive compositional feat, is the first example of a form which was to be one of Hindemith’s trademarks throughout his career, and it makes the Sonata something of a personal manifesto of artistic ambition.

from notes by Malcolm MacDonald © 2010

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