Hindemith: “Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber”
For piccolo, flutes I-II, oboes I-II, English horn, clarinets
I-II, bass clarinet, bassoons I-II, contrabassoon; horns I-IV,
trumpets I-II, trombones I-III, tuba; timpani, snare drum, bass
drum, cymbals, small cymbals, triangle, tambourine, small gong,
wood block, tom-tom, glockenspiel, chimes; strings
Composed 1943 (score dated August 1943)
First Performed 20 January 1944 by the New York Philharmonic, Artur Rodzinski conducting
Published by B. Schott’s Sohne (Mainz, 1945)
Duration about 20 minutes
Like much of Hindemith’s later music, the Symphonic Metamorphoses are meant to show off the post-Romantic orchestra -here with particular emphasis on the percussion. The themes for three of the movements come from piano duets by Carl Maria von Weber; the scherzo is based on the overture from Weber’s instrumental music for a production of Schiller’s Turnadot. (This is a free translation of the same play Puccini used for his opera.) Weber found the Chinese tune he cites there in Rousseau’s Dictionnaire de musique of 1768.
The Weber originals serve as mere starting points for Hindemith’s invention. Both the first and the last movements are marches, by turns whimsical and rambunctuous; both begin simply with Weber’s tunes and transform themselves -metamorphose -into intricate display as the role of Hindemith’s countermelodies grows ever more significant. The lovely Andantino, based on a Weber siciliana, consists of increasingly ornamented treatments of the melody first begun in the clarinet; the restatement is dominated by an obbligato for solo flute. The big movement, however, is the Chinese scherzo, where the simple tune works itself into a perpetual motion, ever grander in dimension. The wind and percussion work is for a time in the style of the Turkish band, with brash trills in the woodwind, snare drum, and triangle. When the percussion take over completely it is as though some huge musical clock has come unsprung, the last section discombobulating into irregular cycles of the constituent parts in multiple meters.