Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) was a composer, theorist, violist, and conductor who, along with Kurt Weill and Ernst Krenek, became a driving force of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement in post-WWI Germanic music. Hindemith studied violin from an early age at the Hoch Conservatory with Adolf Rebner, leader of the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra, first violinist of the Rebner string quartet, and professor at the Conservatory. He eventually added composition to his studies at the Conservatory after obtaining grants from several wealthy Frankfurt families. As a performer, he joined the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra and Rebner’s string quartet in addition to performing the solo violin part in the German premiere of Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat. Upon returning from his service in a regimental band during WWI, he rejoined the Frankfurt Opera and Rebner quartet as a violist rather than violinist.
In 1919, Hindemith organized a concert of entirely his own works, and Schott offered to publish his music. While his earliest works exhibited a late romantic language, his post-WWI works transitioned from Expressionism to the Neue Sachlichkeit, a style that rejected Romantic expression and focused on “objective” music-making through motivic development, polyphony of musically independent lines, and use of familiar elements from popular music or the Classical and Baroque eras. After the Nazis came to power, they banned much of his music citing “cultural Bolshevism,” and by 1936, a ban was placed on all performances of Hindemith’s music. He resigned from his teaching post at the Berlin Hochschule, made several trips to the United States looking for employment, and eventually emigrated to Switzerland in 1938.
Hindemith completed the Sonata for Flute and Piano (1936) before resigning from his post at the Berlin Hochschule. He composed the work for his colleague, flutist Gustav Scheck, but the Nazi regime forbade the premiere performance. The Sonata is one of a set of 26 sonatas completed between 1935 and 1955. Hindemith sought to expand the concert repertoire, particularly for wind instruments, and used these pieces as technical exercises on the theoretical concepts from his Unterweisung im Tonsatz. Georges Barrère premiered the work in Washington, D.C. on April 10, 1937 as part of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge’s eighth festival of chamber music at the Library of Congress during Hindemith’s visit to the United States that year. The three-movement sonata demonstrates Hindemith’s unique harmonic language, Neo-Classical idioms, and the Neue Sachlichkeit style. Each movement is an exploration of motivic development using primarily three musically independent lines, and the expanded third movement concludes with a parody of a military march.
Molly Barth, professor of flute at University of Oregon, has one of the best recordings on YouTube of this work:
Schubert, Giselher. “Hindemith, Paul.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed March 22, 2014, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/13053.
Toff, Nancy. Monarch of the Flute: the Life of Georges Barrère. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.