Comments on Hindemith's Sonate, First Movement

By Terry B. Ewell

The Sonate for Bassoon and Piano by Paul Hindemith is one of the 20th century masterpieces for bassoon. There are several aspects that lend to its popularity. Paul Hindemith is a widely respected and often performed composer with many chamber and orchestral works. This piece in particular is an excellently crafted composition during a period in time when not many chamber works for bassoon were available. But perhaps the most important reason of all for its popularity is that the bassoon part is playable by intermediate students on the bassoon. The most difficult aspect of the work is the piano part, particularly in the Marsch. Be aware that you will need a very accomplish pianist to perform this work!

I am very grateful for the assistance of my student Vincent Igusa and pianist Catherine Renggli, who perform this composition for the videos in this series.

The movement is marked leicht bewegt, which is translated “lightly moving.” The first section, thus, expresses impatience, a desire to keep moving forward. Notice that the first phrase features a crescendo. The second phrase drops back to piano and once again crescendos without any pulling back. The most common mistake made by students is to either slow down or decrescendo at number 1. No, this phrase must drive all the way to the end leading into the restatement of the opening theme by the piano. The second measure of number 1 should be presented as the climax of the bassoon phrase in the first section although the bassoon does not play in that measure.

The second section, the fourth measure of number 1, starts with a different character; it is lighter and much more playful. The dotted eighth, sixteenth, and eighth note figure appears here and in the last section, Beschluβ, before number 15 in the piece. Be sure to accurately perform this rhythm by always meeting the last eighth note exactly on the last third of the beat. Please see the last video on the Beschluβ in this series.

Please note that with just a few exceptions, the work by Hindemith should be performed with strict rhythmic precision. Rubato, that is, varying the placement of notes within beats or measures, is desired in only a few select portions of the piece. I will mention these sections as we progress through the videos. The task of the performer is to express the character of the composition through a musically and historically informed interpretation. Rhythmic precision is one of the characteristics that successfully presents this composition. Although the tempo of this section may relax a bit, the dotted eighth, sixteenth, and eighth note rhythms must continue to be precise.

Next we need to discuss the return of the opening section, the recapitulation before number 3. The term einleiten, which is translated “introduce” or “initiate,” appears two measures before the Wie am Anfang, which is translated “like the beginning.” This is an ambiguous musical passage that provides several options for the performer. Typically a performer would slow down with a diminuendo that finishes a section. That is a possibility here, however, I think this is the least desirable of the musical choices. Remember that the character of this movement is driving forward with motion. A ritardando here, even slight, appears to me out of character with the movement. Instead, I prefer to introduce the Wie am Anfang by moving the tempo forward slightly, particularly at the measure before the return of the theme. If you have slowed the tempo slightly in the middle section, a measure before the Wie am Anfang is a good place to come back to the opening tempo.

There is a mistake in the bassoon part four measures before the Wie am Anfang. The dotted quarter rest should be an eighth rest.

One measure before number 4, I suggest using the regular fingering for Db instead of the trill fingering. This is passage is slow enough and the regular fingerings provide full tone on all of the notes. Here are some alternatives.

The last portion of the movement again features motion going forward. Do not slow down until the last two measures. Even with the diminuendo in the last line the tempo should be steady with forward motion. The piano and bassoon should stop the end of the movement together. This is best accomplished by the bassoonist giving a cue when to cut off the note.

You might find it helpful to add the C# key to stabilize the Bb3, the last note.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Terry B. Ewell. All Rights Reserved.