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Paul Hindemith: "Symphonic Metamorphosis"

Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber

I. Allegro

II. Scherzo (Turandot): Moderato – Lively

III. Andantino

IV. Marsch

Paul Hindemith

Born: November 16, 1895, Hanau, Germany

Died: December 28, 1963, Frankfurt, Germany

Original Instrumentation: Orchestra

Duration: 5 minutes

Composed: 1943

Arranged: 1972, Keith Wilson

Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber began life in early 1940, when Hindemith first took up residence in the United States after several years of public and private jousting with the Nazi government of his native Germany. (The Nazis officially called his music “degenerate,” though they may also have been responding to his private, but hardly secret, expressions of detestation regarding their policies.)

Hindemith sketched a series of movements based on themes by Weber, to be used in a ballet for a dance company run by Léonide Massine, who had already collaborated with Hindemith on the ballet Nobilissima visione. The project died when Hindemith and Massine had one too many artistic differences (not to put too fine a point on it, Massine’s staging ideas, which would have used backdrops by Salvador Dalí, were too weird for Hindemith, and Massine thought Hindemith’s score “too personal,” whatever that means), and in 1943 Hindemith redid the music into the Metamorphosis, in the process turning it into a splashy, colorful orchestral piece of the sort that American audiences in particular seemed to like. It was an immediate success when it was premiered by Artur Rodzinski and the New York Philharmonic in January 1944. It has remained perhaps Hindemith’s most popular work, even if critics often feel compelled to denigrate it.

Weber (1786-1826), an important figure in the development of German opera and a seminal influence on Romanticism, retained an importance among later composers that we would scarcely guess from the limited exposure that he gets in modern concert halls. The themes Hindemith used are from some of Weber’s most obscure works, and came to Hindemith’s attention because they could all be found in one volume of piano duets that he owned. Hindemith not only retained all but one of the themes almost exactly as Weber wrote them, but also preserved much of the formal structure of the pieces as well, so that it is possible to follow the general outlines of Hindemith’s score while listening to Weber’s music, or vice versa, and have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. Hindemith alters nearly everything else, making radical changes to the harmony and adding to the music both vertically (with different harmonies and new countermelodies) and horizontally (extending phrases or entire sections).

The surprising thing is that Hindemith’s end product, while staying so close to Weber, sounds so little like the original.

Paul Hindemith, Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, arr. Keith Wilson

University of Michigan Symphony Band, Michael Haithcock, conductor

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