I am writing an essay on
Posted In: Professional Harpists
I seem to remember that Hindemith gave a brief description of the 1st and 2nd movements himself. He said that the image he wanted to convey in the 1st movement was that of standing in a European plaza in front of a large church or cathedral and hearing the organ play. He said that the second movement was an image of children playing in the same plaza.
I have not liked anything I have seen published about this Sonata that I can remember. Most people seem to get the tempo and transition wrong in the last movement. My theory/composition teacher in college was a Hindemith pupil, so I felt that gave me some insight, also because I read up on him. He studied medieval music a lot, so the markings at the end of the third movement show that the beat remains the same, constant. The ritardando is conveyed in the enlarging note values. If you slow down, it loses all its momentum and dies before it ought to. If you know what I mean. The harmonics are played where written if not notated otherwise, unless impossible to play. But if they sound better played lower, you can opt that as a personal choice. But not in Hindemith.
I can’t go into great deal without it in front of me. No chords should be played flat on the harp unless absolutely necessary. It is not a romantic tradition, it is an acoustic necessity. You cannot hear the component notes of a chord when it is flat. There is something about them that conveys a lack of forward movement. A broken chords enhances the forward movement. It is also more natural. It goes back to before Bochsa. Keyboard players of yore regularly broke chords, they just stopped doing at the same time they stopped playing ornaments correctly.
The rests are critical in Hindemith. If you can obtain Salzedo’s markings, his fingerings and muffles do much to clearly outline the music. Critics have
The last movement is based on a poem. You can underlay the text to the themes. That is significant. If you are singing it with your fingers, 60 is plenty langsam. He is also saying, don’t make too big a deal out of it. He expresses the emotions abstractly, formally, somewhat drily.
Would any body have transcribed the poem to English (or French) and tried to place it note to note in the last movement? That’s what was suggested in the American Harp Journal”s article. I am doing just that right now and I can’t seem to make the text fit perfectly to the melody. It would work only if I added slurs, but then it would certainly modify the inflexions and articulations of the melody. What do you think of all this?
The poem is apparently not easy to translate, being written in a kind of archaic German not in current use. I have showed it to two native German speakers, requesting translation; one was totally stymied by it, the other did not have any problem translating it.
I have a translation. It goes something like this:
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.
There is a review in the New York Times of a performance of the Hindemith Sonata by Heidi Lehwalder, which you should be able to find in their archives. It was on a program she did with Paula Robison, flutist. Heidi used the Salzedo editing. I was there. It was an outstanding performance.
One harpist said my performance of it on my master’s recital was the best she had heard, except for Kathleen Bride. It was a great compliment, but I naturally wanted her to say it was better, but she wouldn’t. I will finally perform it again this fall, and we will see how I do it now. I think I last performed it in 1988. It is one of my favorite pieces.
From Florence Sitruk: Just a quick answer: the foundation and I will work on a new edition, but to this point, the date for publishing is unknown, certainly more than a year from now. ) There are wrong things which concern dynamics, pedals (i.e. notes), etc..