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Drei Hymnen an die Arbeit, Op 49

'Medtner: Arabesques, Dithyrambs, Elegies & other short piano works' (CDA67851/2)
Medtner: Arabesques, Dithyrambs, Elegies & other short piano works
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No 1: Vor der Arbeit: Allegretto molto tranquillo
No 2: Am Amboss: Allegro, molto pesante e poco rubato
No 3: Nach der Arbeit: Allegro vivace

Drei Hymnen an die Arbeit, Op 49
No one seems to be sure why Medtner chose Hymnen an die Arbeit (‘Hymns to Toil’, 1926–8) as the title of his Op 49. He was now living in France, but we can certainly discount the idea that it is a socialist slogan in anticipation of his only return to his homeland the following year. It would not be surprising to learn that it came from Goethe (like the title Tragedy Fragments), but there is no evidence for this. Throughout his life Medtner was preoccupied with philosophical and moral dilemmas, so it may simply have sprung from a protestant work ethic (he was brought up as Lutheran but later converted to the Orthodox Church). All three hymns are in C major, often associated with overtly religious themes in Medtner; in fact the first one, calm and devotional, is so diatonic that not a single black key is required on the first page. The second, At the Anvil, is fittingly muscular for the blacksmith’s trade, and the last is jubilant, leaving the piano ringing as only the great pianist-composers could, a vindication of Schoenberg’s famous pronouncement that there was still good music to be written in C major. These Hymns elicited from Rachmaninov a one-word telegram—‘Superb’. (An irrelevant digression: so faithfully did Medtner always finish his piano practice with a C major cadence that his dog learned to recognize it and would thereupon leap up in expectation of a walk.)

from notes by Hamish Milne © 2012

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