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Re: Hindemith Sonata

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#146379

I have a translation. It goes something like this:
Bequest
by L. H. Christian Holty

Friends, when I am dead,
Hang up the little harp behind the altar
Where the funeral wreaths
Of many a dead maiden glimmer.
The sexton will then kindly
Show the little harp to visitors
And rustle the red ribbon
That is tied to the harp and
Twined among its golden strings.
“Oft,” he’ll say wonderingly,
“in the sunset the strings sound softly by themselves,
like the hum of bees.
The children, drawn here from the churchyard,
Have heard it and seen
How the wreaths quivered.”

Translation copyright 2011, Saul Davis, all rights reserved

The poem reflects a practice in olden times of hanging wreaths. There is a breeze at sunset that would cause the strings to sound, like an aeolian harp.

The harmonics are written where they are played. If you are inclined, you should get Salzedo’s markings from someone, as they are an excellent guide to interpreting this piece. Some chords are not broken, but most are, as they need to be on the harp, so that the listener can clearly distinguish the interior notes. It is also more rhythmic and flowing. Chords are not broken on the harp for romantic reasons, but acoustic. The practice of breaking chords goes back to the baroque period, predates the romantic era, and there is no reason to think flat chords are more modern. Salzedo himself, the quintessential modernist, said that all chords on the harp should be broken unless marked otherwise.
Tempos, as well as dynamics, are relative. To Hindemith, 60 was an ideal Sehr Langsam, so the movement is not moribund, but flows as if sung. In fact, the text of the poem can be perfectly underlaid the music so that it could be sung. When played at a funereal tempo, the notes don’t sustain long enough to keep the momentum going. It is not a molto adagio, I don’t think. I’ve heard it that way and don’t like it. Also, you have to watch the subdivisions and meter changes (hemiolas) very carefully. The beat remains the same throughout, so the subdivisions and triplets actually accelerate. The program that Hindemith wrote to accompany the piece is very pictorial, and for me, ruins it. To me, it is a depiction of what he was experiencing in 1939, a terrible time.