Comments on Hindemith's Sonate,

Second Movement, Langsam

By Terry B. Ewell

The second movement of the Hindemith is usual because it is in three sections, each of which is quite different. If the first section, Langsam, or the last, Beschluβ, had been longer, I think that Hindemith would have titled each as a separate movement. In his quintet, he gives the short fourth movement its own number although it is no longer than the Langsam or Beschluβ. Here, however, he was not comfortable with providing three movements and instead just gives one.

I want to mention a historic recording of the Hindemith Sonate by Don Christlieb. It was recorded in 1972, and I think that this is the first publically released recording of the work. One of my favorite portions of the recording is the opening of this movement. Notice the shimmering vibrato and long line that is featured in his performance of the work. Too many crescendos or too many overly Romantic gestures are not appropriate for this work. This opening phrase should be appreciated for its simple beauty.

[Opening of the Langsam by Don Christlieb]

The opening to the second movement is marked Langsam, which is translated “slowly.”

I think that the most difficult part of this section is starting the first note exactly on time, with the correct dynamic, and a beautiful tone. This is something that you should practice with a metronome. Set the tempo for an eighth note = 100. Take two beats to breathe in and then start the F#4 exactly on the third pulse. You will need to practice this several times each day. Make this part of your routine work on this Sonate. Also when you rehearse with your pianist you should also practice starting this movement several times. Of course this will be without a metronome so you must give a very clear cue to your accompanist.

The piano accompaniment can be confusing if you are playing this for the first time. Notice that each eighth note beat features the divisions “triplet” or “duplet.” When I rehearse this section with my students I always shout out “tri-pl-let du-plet tri-pe-let du-plet” over and over several times. Here it is a bit slower with my counting:

[demonstration with the music]

I figure that if the student can accurately play while I shout out the rhythmic figures, they will be able to perform with the piano. The student must understand how these recurring divisions set the tempo for the Langsam section. Furthermore, the student must become comfortable performing their part over this rhythmically complex texture.

Be sure to play the 32nd notes accurately and in rhythm in the 3/4 measure before number 5. These should be played as written and not rushed.

Having now stressed rhythmic accuracy, this slow movement must be performed with a long musical line in mind and without stresses on each beat. Marcel Tabuteau coined the musical expression “drive” to indicate motion in music. I have addressed this concept in several of my articles and videos, which I encourage you to look at. [Show on Screen]

Play the first four measures as a single phrase that moves forward to the A3 on the downbeat of measure 4. Consequently it would break the phrase if you breathe in the middle of the third measure. Don’t breath until the sixteenth rest in the fourth measure. Use your vibrato and a slight increase in dynamics to guide the motion to A3. Notice that Hindemith highlights the importance of this note with a dash over it, asking for stress on the note. Similar to this first phrase, the entire movement should be played with long phrases, avoiding emphasis on every note change and moving toward the goal in each phrase.

I suggest that you breathe in the second measure of number 5 before the A octave. Absolutely do not breathe before the return of the melody, the recapitulation! If you breathe before the F#4 you will leave an audible break in the music since the piano part has an eighth rest at the end of the measure.

The most difficult rhythmic portion of this section is found four measures before number 6. The rhythmic figure is displaced forward by one eighth note each time it enters. Every student has difficulty with this passage so let’s practice it now at a slower speed.

[counting with music at half speed]

Note the way in which I put the beats in the music. This is a best practice that you should adopt from now on. When beats are subdivided, make the principal beat line longer and the division of the beat shorter. This helps your eye to organize the pulses and as a result you will better perform the music.

Notice that I do not include numbers or the “&” symbol. Simply showing the placement of pulses is best.

Slightly relaxing the tempo the measure before number 6 is appropriate here. But immediately return to the opening tempo at number 6.

The last measure in the piano part leads into the Marsch in an interesting way. Please view the next video to see how this works.


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