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Music Appreciation: Andantino (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’d found a recording of the piano duet, but it’s since been removed from YouTube. So here’s my clarinet choir version of the piano duet)

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

Hindemith conducts Symphonic Metamorphoses 3/4

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.

In transition

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
Sassy

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.

Lori Archer Sutherland

Lori Archer Sutherland earned a Bachelor of Music in Theory and Composition degree from the Ohio State University and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She composes, performs, and teaches clarinet. She plays bass clarinet with the Crystal Lake Community Band and the Woodstock City Band, clarinet with Winds Off the Lake Woodwind Quintet, and is the founder and organizer of the Knock on Wood Clarinet Choir, where she plays an even bigger clarinet. Check out her site and podcast at tonaldiversions.com

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