Hindemith “Symphonic Metamorphosis”

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)

Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber (1943)

Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)

Turandot March (1809)
Selection from 6 Pieces for Piano 4-Hands, op. 10 (1809)
Selections from 8 Pieces for Piano 4-Hands, op. 60 (1818)

Weber op. 60, no. 4 (piano I)

Weber op. 10, no. 2 (piano I)

Weber op. 60, no. 7 (piano I)

Hindemith criticized himself in his later years regarding his naïveté about the National Socialists’ rise to power in Germany. At the time, he was dismissive of the Nazi party and at times even openly scornful–quite a dangerous prospect when teaching at a presigious Berlin conservatory–but he believed that their influence would be short-lived and insignificant. But from Hitler’s election in 1933, he was in mortal danger. His music was too progressive for the new regime (“degenerate,” it was later called) and perhaps worst of all, he had fallen in love with and married a Jewish woman. By 1934, no less than the bloodthirsty Joseph Goebbels had spoken out against him, saying, “Purely German his blood may be, but this only provides drastic confirmation of how deeply the Jewish intellectual infection has eaten into the body of our own people.” The Nazis eventually banned all performances of Hindemith’s music in 1936. By this time he had fled to Turkey, where he helped many Jewish musicians escape, eventually moving to Switzerland, and finally arriving in America during February of 1940, where he became a professor at Yale.

Although he was to live in the United States for over a decade, even becoming a citizen, he never relinquished his German influence. The Nazi party had evicted him, not the Motherland herself, and he remained German at his core. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his choice to utilize the themes of Carl Maria von Weber in what would eventually prove to be his most popular work.

Weber is often cast as the initiator of the German Romantic tradition (if one disqualifies Beethoven for his nearly life-long residency in Austria). On the other hand, he was firmly grounded in the Classical tradition–he studied composition with Michael Haydn, younger brother of the more famous Joseph, and his first cousin was Constanze Weber, wife of Mozart. In Weber’s works, then, we often see evidence of both the balanced construction of the Classical era as well as the bombastic enthusiasm of the Romantic. And even though the only major work of his to remain in the common repertory is one opera, Der Freischütz, his influence could be felt decades after his death. For instance, Wagner admired Weber greatly and adpted the latter’s use of motives to create his own famous leitmotifs, and Mahler actually edited several of Weber’s operas.

So when Hindemith chose to set Weber melodies, he was setting himself as the next inheritor of this distinctly German tradition. But the tunes he chose to set were not among Weber’s most famous or admired–the Turandot March isn’t particularly popular (it doesn’t really compare to Puccini’s opera on the same topic), and the piano duets of opp. 10 and 60 would be nearly forgotten today if it weren’t for the Symphonic Metamorphosis. The fact that the themes were not particularly beloved allowed Hindemith to truly “metamorphose” them with impunity. Each movement takes a different work and transforms it. The opening movement (Allegro) borrows from the fourth of Weber’s piano duets, op. 60, the second movement (Turandot:Scherzo) transforms music from Weber’s incidental music to the Schiller play Turandot, the third (Andantino) uses the second piano duet from op. 10, and the final movement (Marsch) returns to the op. 60 duets, this time with the seventh of the eight.

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~program notes by Jessica Davis, copyright 2012
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