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Violin Sonata in E flat major, Op 11 No 1

'Hindemith: Violin Sonatas' (CDA68014)
Hindemith: Violin Sonatas
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Movement 1: Frisch
Movement 2: Im Zeitmass eines langsamen, feierlichen Tanzes

Violin Sonata in E flat major, Op 11 No 1
The Violin Sonata in E flat major, Op 11 No 1, is the first of a group of six stringed-instrument sonatas which Hindemith began in 1918, while still serving in the German army on the Western Front, 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, but by encompassing such a large number of fair-sized works Hindemith was going back to the examples of Haydn or even J S Bach, providing a collection from which performers might choose. Collectively these sonatas are a fascinating crop of works that seem to chronicle the transition from the familiar sounds of late nineteenth-century Romantic music to something at once spicier and more objective.

The E flat major Sonata was included in the first-ever concert devoted entirely to Hindemith’s music, given in Frankfurt on 2 June 1919: a decisive event in his career, since it led to a contract with the Mainz-based publishing house of Schott, who would remain his principal publishers for the rest of his life. On that occasion Hindemith was the violinist, with his close friend Emma Lübbecke-Job at the piano. Hindemith originally thought of the work as a Sonatina; he sketched a third movement for it which he did not bother to complete, apparently feeling the two finished movements already created a satisfactory form.

The first movement is a lively affair, rhythmically driven in its outer sections, with a more lyrical central episode. Most of the material derives from the movement’s bold, fanfare-like opening—a pugnacious idea that is then contrasted with a gentler, extended theme that bespeaks the young Hindemith’s strong interest in the music of Debussy, whose work he had got to know well as it was an enthusiasm of his commanding officer on the Western Front. The movement’s harmonic language is often highly chromatic and tonally ambiguous—especially in the central episode, which wanders restlessly; the E flat tonic is emphasized at various points but is often cunningly obscured.

The second movement is a slow, solemn dance, grave and even a little ghostly in character, with an uncanny atmosphere that aligns it with the music of Ferruccio Busoni. The movement works towards a central climax, from which it unwinds towards the tonic E flat, eventually revealed in naked unison.

from notes by Malcolm MacDonald © 2013

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