Movement 1: Zwischen Berg und tiefem Tal: Langsam
Movement 2: Nun laube, Lindlein, laube!: Sehr ruhig
Movement 3: Variationen 'Seid ihr nicht der Schwanendreher?': Mässig schnell
He explained that in this concerto he saw the soloist as an itinerant fiddler who comes among convivial company and plays for them the repertoire he has learned on his travels: songs grave and gay, and finally a dance-tune—and like a good folk-fiddler, he embellishes the melodies freely and sometimes fantastically. This whimsical idea succinctly describes the procedures of the three movements: and it is clear from the unaccompanied solo which begins the first of them that the folksongs are always given Hindemith’s personal colouring. The movement is based on Zwischen Berg und tiefem Tal (Between mountain and deep valley), hinted at by the trombone in the slow introduction, and intoned by that instrument, among others, after the music has developed into a melodious but quite serious-minded faster movement. Nevertheless there is a much greater depth of lyrical feeling than in the earlier Kammermusik and Konzertmusik.
That quality is most patent in the beautiful slow movement. It opens with a touching but intense duet for viola and harp on the song Nun laube, Lindlein, laube! (Shed your leaves, little linden-tree!), which appears as a chorale on the wind instruments with melancholic comments from the soloist. The middle section, in complete contrast, lifts the spirits with a cheerful fugato on a children’s song, Der Gutzgauch auf dem Zaune sass (The cuckoo sat on the fence). This climaxes in a return of the chorale on the brass and a development of the opening duet. In the third movement the vigorous good spirits of the final dance-song provide the starting point for an extended set of cheerful variations, robust and tender, rounding off the work in highly convivial fashion.
Hindemith premiered this concerto under Willem Mengelberg in Amsterdam on 14 November 1935 and introduced it in several European and American cities during the following year. The poet Ezra Pound heard him at the Venice Biennale and afterwards wrote: ‘In this kind of music, no one, and least of all his great contemporary Igor Stravinsky, compares with Hindemith. From the viola lead grow all the sounds of the orchestra … the composer is impregnated with the sense of growth, cellular, as in the natural kingdoms. From the initial cells of the root-heart out to the utmost leaf of the foliage … the Schwanendreher is natural in its liveliness … you can use this new work of Hindemith to measure any modern music whatever.’
from notes by Malcolm MacDonald © 2011