The Violin Sonata in E major dates from 1935 and was first performed in Geneva by Stefan Frankel and Maroussia Orloff on 18 February 1936. Much had happened in the intervening years. Hindemith had risen to the height of his fame as a contemporary composer. He had embraced a more objective, neoclassical aesthetic through the 1920s, only to return to a more warmly expressive vein at the beginning of the 1930s; and he had fallen foul of the new Nazi regime, which wished to regiment both style and content in the arts. In June 1934 the State had begun imposing an unofficial ban on radio broadcasts of his music. A campaign of vilification followed in the Fascist press. In the furore over Hindemith’s opera Mathis der Maler
, originally intended to be premiered in Berlin, the composer was personally attacked by Joseph Goebbels at Nazi Party rallies. He took leave of absence from his professorship at the Staatliche Musikhochschule to lie low and complete the opera; although he did not formally emigrate from Germany for another three years, he spent much of the time abroad. In 1936 the violinist Georg Kulenkampff dared to play the new Violin Sonata in Berlin: it was a great success, but this only intensified the Nazi campaign against Hindemith. After this his new works could only be played in foreign countries (Mathis
, banned in Germany, was premiered in Zurich in 1938), while at home his works were featured in the notorious 1938 Exhibition of ‘Degenerate Music’ in Düsseldorf.
The Sonata in E major is very far from any sort of ‘degeneracy’: rather it seems a work of Apollonian clarity and balance of form. As with the Sonata Op 11 No 1, there are only two movements. The first of these is a peacefully flowing, sweetly lyrical invention with a beautifully sculpted main melody. This is a prime example of Hindemith’s mature style in which even the dissonances (here largely confined to the piano part) contribute to the clarity and direction of a tonality that combines the characteristics of the major and minor modes. The second movement opens with an eloquent slow theme that leads to a lively, scherzo-like episode full of dynamic optimism. At the climax the eloquent theme with which the movement opened is quoted, still within the faster tempo, and the quick music continues for a while before the slow section returns and flows into an impressive coda.
from notes by Malcolm MacDonald © 2013