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Variations on a theme by Hindemith

composer
1963; commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society to mark its 150th anniversary; dedicated to Hindemith and his wife

 
Following the premiere of Walton’s large-scale opera Troilus and Cressida at Covent Garden in 1954, the Partita was one of several orchestral works written between 1956 and 1963: the Johannesburg Festival Overture, the cello concerto, the second symphony and the Variations on a theme of Hindemith.

The variations were commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society, marking their 150th anniversary in 1963. The work fused a number of strands and formed one of Walton’s finest orchestral scores, but one whose subtleties doubtless led to it being misunderstood when it appeared, the composer’s familiar language in certain quarters now being considered somewhat passé.

The forty-year friendship between Walton and Hindemith culminated in this deeply felt homage from one great composer to another, made more poignant as Hindemith was to die suddenly at the very end of 1963, yet not before he had heard the variations and planned to conduct the work, which is dedicated to him and his wife.

The theme comes from the opening passage, including harmony, of the slow movement of Hindemith’s 1940 cello concerto. The resultant variations form arguably Walton’s most refined masterpiece, its expression not invariably discernible on the surface. The mastery demonstrated throughout is deeply impressive: here is control of structure, of pace, of emotional content, and an artistic maturity of expression without a bar’s exaggeration.

Hindemith’s theme is a note-row (eleven notes, the ‘missing’ twelfth—E flat—is heard in passing). Although nine variations are specified, the work has eleven continuous sections (including finale and coda) after the opening theme, of which the seventh, lento, quotes directly from Hindemith’s opera Mathis der Maler. Walton appears at times to absorb Hindemith’s own distinctive language before reverting to his own—implying an unspoken conversation between friends. Nothing is overdone, each distinctive variation naturally following from what preceded it: a profound tribute indeed to a lifetime colleague and to the Royal Philharmonic Society of London. Not every commissioned work results in a masterpiece, but one was certainly forthcoming on this occasion.

from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 2017

Recordings

Walton: Violin Concerto, Partita & Hindemith Variations
Studio Master: CDA67986Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Details

Part 01: Tema: Andante con moto
Part 02: Variation I: Vivace
Part 03: Variation II: Allegramente
Part 04: Variation III: Larghetto
Part 05: Variation IV: Moto perpetuo (Con slancio)
Part 06: Variation V: Andante con moto
Part 07: Variation VI: Scherzando
Part 08: Variation VII: Lento molto
Part 09: Variation VIII: Vivacissimo
Part 10: Variation IX: Maestoso
Part 11: Finale: Allegro molto –
Part 12: Coda: A tempo primo, ma meno mosso

Track-specific metadata for CDA67986 track 18

Coda: A tempo primo, ma meno mosso
Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-17-98618
Duration
3'01
Recording date
12 September 2013
Recording venue
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Recording producer
Andrew Trinick
Recording engineer
Graeme Taylor
Hyperion usage
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