Turandot from Symphonic Metamorphosis by Paul Hindemith

I thought it was time for another movement of Paul Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis, this time the second movement: “Turandot; Scherzo; Moderato.” Just like the other movements, this one was also inspired by the music of Carl Maria von Weber (Turandot).


After a note from the chimes, a flute introduces us to the theme. The strings have a pianissimo sustained chord underneath. Another chime, and a clarinet joins with the piccolo to repeat the first phrase, while the flute provides a harmonic line. The strings continue holding. At 0:26, the flute gives us the next part of the theme. While the clarinet joins in again at 0:41, this time both clarinets play (in octaves) and the flute and piccolo have the countermelody. While it repeats a good chunk of what we just heard, this line ends sooner. And the strings continue to hold. This entire introduction, while played at a brisk 128 or so beats per minute, feels unhurried. At 0:47, the percussion start beating out a rhythm as a transition into the bulk of the piece.

Before we dissect the next few minutes’ worth of music, keep Maurice Ravel’s Bolero at the back of your mind. In both pieces, the repeated melody travels throughout the orchestra, as does the accompaniment. The number of instruments playing increases over time, bringing with it a gradual crescendo.

At 0:56, the cellos and basses start off with the melody, alternating with the violas and cellos. Listen for the neat countermelodies first in the oboe and then in the flute. Also notice that the structure of the melody is what we heard from the introduction – the first motif is played twice, followed by the second motif, then the second motif, mostly. Underneath all of this is the humming of trills played by the clarinets and oboes.

At 1:21, we shift our focus to the woodwinds for the melody. The upper strings have some trills, but they’re not quite as persistent as the previous trills in the woodwinds. The lower strings have pizzicato quarter notes keeping time.

The horn takes over the melody at 1:44, and they’re the first brass sounds we’ve heard in this movement. They tag-team with the trumpet and then provide a bit of a countermelody in spots. It’s interesting that Hindemith adds the bass clarinet for one brief moment at 1:58. As a bass clarinet player, I think it’s great, but I’m curious as to why he did it since it doesn’t happen again in this section. Otherwise, the bass clarinet (and the other woodwinds) are back to trilling and some of the strings are doing their pizzicato thing.

Hindemith continues to add more instruments, especially in the brass for the melody. He also adds a new element to the accompaniment: triplet runs that travel up and down the string section (2:08). Continually adding voices results in a natural increase in volume.

We get our next big orchestration change at 2:31. Here, the strings take over the melody, the woodwinds get the triplet runs, the horns have trills, and the low brass have oom-pahs (previously heard as the string pizzicato quarter notes). The group keeps getting bigger and louder. At 3:01, the brass return with the echo of the melody. The brass fully take over at 3:20, leading to the apex of this section of the piece.

At 3:44, we reach the end of the first buildup. There are big trilled chords in the winds, the brass have a kind of a short fanfare, and the strings keep running with the triplets down toward the transition. Listen for the first violins at 3:50, they have a really neat triplet line that connects what we’ve been hearing to the new section of the piece.

The violins overlap just a bit with the new theme (B) introduced by the trombones. It’s a variation on the first theme, and a bit jazzier. Here we let the brass shine. Listen how the motif gets passed around throughout the brass and also for the mini two-note motif that is extracted and repeated. Around 4:47, they reach their largest point, followed by a conversation with the timpani at 4:52. They keep forging ahead, bringing back theme B to keep it in our ears.

Then at 5:05, we have a huge shift in orchestration and mood. The woodwinds take over, softly, as opposed to the fortissimo we’d just heard from the brass. They also pass the melody around, but in their own woodwindy kind of way. They’re not as jazzy or brash, and you really hear the difference in tone between the various instruments. But don’t think of the woodwinds as wimps. At 5:34, listen for the rather heroic-sounding trio of two oboes and the English horn. It’s seriously one of my favorite bits of this piece. The flutes, then the clarinets/bass clarinet get their turn at heroism before finishing their section of the piece.

The percussion make their presence known (albeit softly) at 5:46, signaling the beginning of the end. Listen to the different rhythms being played throughout the percussion instruments. At 6:02, Hindemith gives a nod to the beginning of the piece by having the cellos and basses play a snippet of the original melody. This forms an ostinato foundation that will carry us through the next portion of the movement. Over time, Hindemith layers the other instruments, with a different motif, one section at a time to grow the coda. Around 6:22, the trumpet enters with its own rhythmic motif, followed by the horns then the rest of the brass.

The layers build and build until 6:46, where we hit a big chords and high trills, and we get a sense of reaching the acme of this piece. Hindemith won’t let us stop there, however. At 6:57, we start a downward fall from everything we’ve been building toward. The percussion are back with their various rhythms, and the rest of the ensemble starts wandering away with a series of “doot doot” chords. In contrast to the building up of layers that we’ve been hearing throughout this entire movement, Hindemith dismantles it all, section by section. The brass leave first, followed by the strings. The woodwinds trickle out, finishing with both flutes and piccolo, then one flute and piccolo, then just piccolo. The percussion fade away. They don’t actually slow down; their note values are written to give the effect of a slowdown (eighth notes to quarter notes to half notes). We finish with a soft, sweet chord from the low reeds, horns, and low strings.

If you’d like to hear the next movements, visit the Andantino (movement III) then the March (movement IV).

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Andantino from Symphonic Metamorphosis by Paul Hindemith

Over a year ago, I discussed the march from Symphonic Metamorphosis here on the blog and commented that I’d eventually talk about the other movements in this fantastic piece. Why wait any longer? Today I’ll be talking about the third movement.

As with the other movements of this work, Hindemith used a piece by Carl Maria von Weber as the foundation to build upon. In this case, it was a piano duet from a set of six pieces (Op. 10, No. 2). I did manage to track down a YouTube video of the set – click here if you’d like to hear the original piano form (it starts at 3:14 in case the link is wonky).

So without further ado, let’s listen to the piece:


There is no introduction to this piece; we begin with a clarinet solo on Theme A. It is melancholy, accompanied by minor trills in the low register of the flute and somber chords in the strings. The cellos come in with a descending line at 0:12, which adds to the mood. For the second half of the theme, the bassoon takes over the melody (0:17) with the second clarinet on the low minor trills. At 0:31, the clarinet returns so that we can repeat the entire theme.

Theme B begins at 1:03 with a horn solo; the strings and flutes answer. Immediately the clarinet makes a statement (1:10). Again, the strings and flutes respond (this time including horn). For the second half of the statement (1:20), the strings get to provide the melody. We’ve kept fairly quiet up until now – here we finally let out some sound and build up to forte.

Hindemith uses a very short transition into Theme C, only 1-2 seconds long. However, there’s a big change in mood (1:37). While we go back to being quiet, the melody itself has transitioned to a major key. It can be heard in the clarinet, bass clarinet, and cello. Instead of a call-and-answer type of setup, most of the non-melody instruments are sustained on a chord. The exception are the violas, who have running notes as an accompaniment/countermelody. Listen to that line – it’s not quite ready to give up the melancholy mood from earlier in the piece.

For the second run through Theme C, Hindemith switches the melody to the first violins, violas, and oboes (1:55). The second violins and cellos provide the running line, but not in unison. This adds another layer of tension to what was originally a happier-sounding melody.

At 2:13, we have a bit of a transition section. The winds (with the exception of the bassoon and contrabassoon) play the running line, moving together in parallel fifths. The strings have a new motif, which I consider to be the primary line in this section. The horns provide chordal support, although the first horn has a line that sounds more like a countermelody. While we’ve been in 6/8 time (counted in six instead of a faster two) since the beginning of the piece, Hindemith adds one 9/8 measure (counted in nine; 2:22). This adds just a bit more tension as we work toward finishing out this section.

We hear one last statement of Theme C (2:29). Hindemith includes the entire orchestra (well, except for first flute, but you’ll understand why in a moment). All lines are accounted for: melody, running accompaniment, and sustained chords. Despite everyone’s involvement, we’re still marked just piano here; it’s more of a sense of “fullness” than “loudness.” He inserts another 9/8 measure at the end of the phrase, giving us an extra moment for the first flute to lead us into the final section (2:48).

For the most part, the final section is a straight recap of Themes A and B, with no repeat of A. There are a few minor differences in instrumentation, and the minor trills we heard earlier have changed to short musical statements. It’s okay that there aren’t many changes here, as it lets us turn our attention to the solo flute.

The solo flute is the star of the last section. She plays an obbligato – an essential countermelody or accompaniment. Listen to how it flits and moves above the orchestra, almost like a butterfly or bird bringing a small sign of spring. The line covers a large range, low to high, with lots of peaks and valleys. But eventually, everyone eases into calm, the flute continuing just a bit more as the other instruments sustain a chord underneath, the melancholy mood never fully lifting.

From here, I encourage you to continue on to the fourth movement for a change of mood.


Sassy the cat


Postscript: I began this post a couple of weeks ago. Since then, we had to say goodbye to one of our beloved kitties, Sassy. She was a loving, silly, confident little girl and she will be missed. She had been in the shelter for four years when we adopted her. We like to think she was waiting for us.

Bonus Features: March from Symphonic Metamorphosis

I still have the Hindemith piece on my mind, so I thought I’d share a little bit more.

I’d mentioned in my previous post that Hindemith based much of Symphonic Metamorphosis on piano duets by Carl Maria von Weber. The march for Hindemith’s fourth movement comes from 8 Pieces (Op. 60, No. 7). You can find the sheet music over at the IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library.

While I couldn’t locate a piano duet on YouTube, I did find one recording of a double woodwind quintet playing a transcription of the piano piece. If you remember my post about Malcom Arnold’s Three Shanties, you’ll know that a woodwind quintet consists of flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon. A double woodwind quintet has two of each of those instruments.

And here’s a recording of the concert band transcription:

If you liked this piece, I highly encourage you to listen to all four movements. Preferably more than once, as there’s a lot to absorb. While I hope to talk about the other three movements eventually here on the blog, if you want to get a head start, here’s a full recording:

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March from Symphonic Metamorphosis by Paul Hindemith

Looking for recordings or some sheet music? Visit Sheet Music Plus and support the blog!

And now we move to a completely different style of march – the fourth movement of Paul Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber (sometimes seen as “Symphonic Metamorphoses”). The piece has four movements, and while I’d love to talk about all four, today I’ll concentrate on just the march. I may eventually talk about the others because there’s a ton of incredible music in there, but the march is the most well-known.

Paul Hindemith, 1945

Paul Hindemith, 1945

Symphonic Metamorphosis was inspired by some piano duets and other music composed more than a century earlier by Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826). While Hindemith retains much of Weber’s melodies, he puts his own distinctive spin on them. Hindemith composed the work in the early 1940s. It was originally intended to be used as ballet music, but he and his collaborator, Léonide Massine, parted ways. Not letting good music go to waste, Hindemith re-imagined the work into an orchestral suite. The suite remains popular with both orchestras and wind bands thanks to a transcription by Keith Wilson, Hindemith’s fellow Yale professor.



(the original video I linked to got deleted, so let’s try this one instead 9/26/13)

There are three words that come to mind when I hear (or play) this piece. Two of them are “intensity” and “activity”, which I think you’ll notice early on in the piece. I’ll fill you in on the third word later.

We begin with a short brass fanfare that’s powerful, yet at the same time, subdued. The trumpets and trombones announce themselves then quickly retreat, leaving us to hear a muted chord in the horns. This happens a second time (with a different melodic progression) before going into the main theme of the piece.

The main theme begins in the oboe, English horn, and bass clarinet (0:09), with a bouncy accompaniment in the strings. Bouncy, but not necessarily cheerful sounding. To me, this first section sounds rather eerie. The flutes and clarinets join in with the melody at 0:16 and we continue on, building a bit in volume. We taper as we reach the end of the theme, culminating in another muted horn chord at 0:33. There’s some back-and-forth between the clarinets, bassoons and oboes, then the trumpets and trombones interject their two cents, leading us back into a repeat of the main theme (0:42).

This time through, we continue the back-and-forth, bickering on louder and louder until 1:18, where we get a recap of the opening fanfare. However, instead of a muted horn chord, the woodwinds add a statement of their own, borrowing the fanfare’s rhythm. The brass make one more statement, then the strings give us a flurry of activity that leads us what sounds like the main theme (1:25). Here, the strings have the melody, the woodwinds have the bouncy accompaniment, and the low brass adds some rhythmic chords to support it all. But we don’t get the full theme. We only get a few seconds of it before Hindemith takes us off into a new direction. And while we hear a soft chord again, this time it’s the flutes and clarinets – not the horns (1:36). There’s some back-and-forth between the drums and woodwinds, then the strings give us a neat phrase that leads us to our next section.

Here, we start to hear some happiness poke through (1:46). We have the woodwinds fluttering around above with triplets – they’re very busy up there. But they’re just the accompaniment. The melody lies below in the horns. They play through their theme once, then it’s repeated with accents from the trumpets and additional accompaniment from the strings. A cool, two-note phrase in the low brass at 2:10 helps get us into the development section of the piece.

At 2:11, Hindemith plays around with the horn theme. The upper woodwinds take over, but you’ll hear that it’s not the same melody that the horns were playing. The rhythm is similar, and the melody sounds kind of the same at first, but it quickly morphs into other melodic content. Meanwhile, the strings are sawing away below in triplets. This builds up to 2:21, when the strings take over the melodic line and the woodwinds and brass do a lot more triplet-ing. The horns come blazing in at 2:27, continuing to build until…

We repeat back to the quieter bit that we were hearing at 2:11 (but now we’re at 2:31). We go through this section again, and the horns again take over and build us up…

But Hindemith knocks us back down to piano with a haunting, sustained phrase in the woodwinds at 2:52. That sounds an awful lot like a slower version of the opening fanfare, doesn’t it? While the winds move on to the second part of the fanfare theme, the low strings enter with a haunting line of their own. At 2:55, try to listen for the lowest note. Waaaay down there. Lower. Hear it? That’s a contrabassoon. It’s awesome.

We return to the first theme, this time with trombones (3:04). The strings are plucking away at the bouncy accompaniment, and the clarinets and bass clarinet comment in triplets. We feel a bit eerie again. But Hindemith hasn’t forgotten the happier sound from 1:46. The trombones start the second phrase of the theme, but instead of staying in unison, they break out into a beautiful major chord (3:18). It doesn’t last long, but I love that part.

The theme continues, but doesn’t get to finish. Hindemith stalls by repeating an idea: from 3:23 to 3:26, he essentially repeats that idea (with different notes) three times. By the way, listen for the oboe at 3:24 – you’ll hear the fanfare again! Then he moves forward at 3:33-ish, but he doesn’t rush to a resolution. He continues to build and grow, then places a very effective rest (silence) that leaves you holding your breath in anticipation for the next note. (See, kids, once again it’s just as important to end your notes with purpose as begin them!)

Triumphant. That’s my third word.

Man, this last section never fails to get my emotions stirring. It’s so bold, so triumphant and heroic; it’s an amazing bit of music. Here we have full brass on the main melodic material, with the woodwinds and strings flying around in triplets. The horns are playing their hearts out, adding some neat flourishes to the theme (specifically 3:43-44 and 3:46-48). Then they get one of the best lines ever written for horn – a basic, yet extremely effective, chromatic scale that builds from 3:52-57.

We get one last run through the horn theme, still on full power, but it doesn’t immediately finish up. The first part of the fanfare theme comes back again at 4:12 as a call-and-response between the horns and trumpets, with some flourishes in the woodwinds and strings. We hear it twice, then Hindemith takes us through one final buildup to the end, giving us a last bit of fanfare (4:24). The brass hold on to that fanfare while the strings and winds flurry up to the final, decisive statements of the piece.

What a ride!

Want to hear a bit more about this piece? Visit the “bonus features” post!

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