Symphony in B-flat for Band

"Symphony in Bmusic|flat for Band" was written by Paul Hindemith, an influential German composer known for writing music in a variety of genres, including orchestral, opera, chamber, ballet, vocal and many more. The piece was completed in 1951 and premiered on April 5th of that year by the U.S. Army Band "Pershing's Own" in Washington, D.C. (Morgan 1991).

Not many composers endeavored to write significant pieces for band; there was no demand or market for them while chamber music, symphony orchestras, operas and ballets were so popular in the late 19th century. Arnold Schoenberg and Paul Hindemith were the first composers to show the public that music written for band, not just orchestra, could be precise, thematic and beautiful.

"Symphony in Bmusic|flat for Band" is often called the 'cornerstone' piece for wind ensemble and is one of the most prominent and widely known pieces composed and arranged for band. What makes Paul Hindemith stand out as a composer for band is his outstanding use of the various instruments that comprise a band. Each instrument's Timbre, or sound quality, is different from any other; by changing the instrument playing a melody, the tone color of that melody is different. Hindemith writes the same melody throughout an entire movement with no interval or rhythmic changes, yet it seems like a different melody with each separate set of instruments that play it. The tone color of a melody can also be significantly changed by the number of instruments playing; for example, the solo oboe playing the second theme in movement one sounds significantly different than the full clarinet section playing it a few bars later.

Paul Hindemith often employed the concept of gebrauchmusik, or "utility music" to his compositions. He believed that every piece of music composed should have a social or political purpose. In writing "Symphony in Bmusic|flat For Band", Hindemith created one of the first important wind pieces in history, adding an important facet to the wide variety of orchestral music already in existence.

Instrumentation

"Symphony in Bmusic|flat for Band" is scored for:

Woodwinds
*Flute
*Piccolo
*Oboe
*Emusic|flat Clarinet
*Bmusic|flat Clarinet
*Alto Clarinet
*Bass Clarinet
*Bassoon
*Alto Saxophone
*Tenor Saxophone
*Baritone Saxophone
Brass
*Cornet
*Trumpet
*French Horn
*Trombone
*Baritone
*Tuba
Strings
*Bass

Percussion
*Timpani
*Bass Drum
*Cymbal
*Glockenspiel
*Snare Drum
*Tambourine
*Triangle

Each instrument plays an integral role in the musical progression of the symphony.

Analysis

Although a symphony is traditionally a piece for large orchestra in four movements, or subdivisions of the larger composition, "Symphony in Bmusic|flat for Band" consists of only three movements. Symphonies generally follow a formula in which the first movement is fast, the second slow, the third a minuet or other dance-like style, and the fourth fast. Hindemith's symphony follows the same basic formula with a few modifications. The first movement is moderately fast, the second begins slow but changes tempo, and the third is fast. As musical techniques developed throughout the years, musical form became more loosely defined and subject to change and interpretation.

Due to Hindemith's ability to compose in a variety of different musical styles, "Symphony in Bmusic|flat for Band" contains parts that are representative of a big-band piece and other parts that are more chamber-like in style. An example of the latter would be half way through the third movement where the instrumental voices are few and soloistic. Because each instrument is so exposed and featured at least once throughout the symphony, masterful musicianship and balance is required to breathe life into the piece.

"Movement 1 - Moderately Fast, With Vigor"

Movement one begins with solo cornet accompanied by trumpet on a vigorous main theme. The melody is colored by the high woodwinds playing rapid strings of notes. The clarinets are playing triplets, or sets of three notes, while the flute and piccolo are playing sets of four notes. The rhythm of two and the rhythm of three played against each other is effective at creating tension in the music, and is a trend throughout the entire symphony. This technique was often used by Johannes Brahms, who influenced Hindemith's music along with Arnold Schoenberg and Bach.

The second theme begins with solo oboe and is reiterated by tenor saxophone, bassoon and clarinet separately. The number of instruments playing fragments of the theme starts to build as the piece progresses along with the dynamics. A third more fluid, ominous theme in the woodwinds surfaces afterwards with a strong counter melody in the brass.

The piece is written in the key of Bmusic|flat; however, it modulates between keys throughout the symphony. The piece does end on a sonorous Bmusic|flat major chord after a climactic unison run of notes, which gives the movement a satisfying conclusion.

"Movement 2 - Andantino Grazioso"

This movement begins slower and softer than the first and third; however, the solo cornet opens this movement as well, which gives the movement a linking tone color to the first movement at the beginning. The use of vibrato in the brass and woodwinds gives the piece a more virtuosic feeling throughout.

Before the halfway point, the tempo and overall feel of the piece abruptly changes. Added trills and turns in the music give the piece a more ornamented and whimsical feel. The low brass enters with a fanfare soon after the shift to bring the piece back to its original tempo and feeling.

The piece ends with a run of notes that decrescendo from mezzo piano to piano, which is a soft ending compared to the first movement. The higher voices end the piece to eliminate the heavy timbres of the low brass and woodwinds from the airy ending.

"Movement 3 - Fugue"

Movement three of "Symphony in Bmusic|flat for Band" is a fugue. A fugue is a polyphonic composition based around two or more themes that jump between several instruments. Hindemith's fugue was influenced by Johann Sebastian Bach's contrapuntal style. Counterpoint, or the act of having two or more melodies played at once that sound good together, is an essential part of the character of the piece. The main theme of the fugue never ceases; it is constantly being played throughout the piece, at least in fragments, by each of the different instruments.

At the climax of the movement, the trumpets and trombones enter with the main theme from movement one slowed down; this is played top of the main theme of the third movement on French horn, alto saxophone and clarinet. Meanwhile, the bass clarinet, bassoon, baritone saxophone and bass are playing the second theme from the third movement. All of these themes on top of each other combined with the different textures of the instruments builds the sound to a roar and a conglomeration of themes from all three movements ends the piece grandly.

Critical Reception

Although most regard "Symphony in Bmusic|flat for Band" as an extremely important and influential piece of music, not all agree that it was masterfully executed. Richard Franko Goldman, a music critic in the mid 20th century, called the piece "singularly dead" and composers of music for concert band or wind ensemble "unsophisticated." The notion of a wind ensemble being on the same level as an orchestra was preposterous, as "...the agglomeration of instruments is irrational and exasperating." The sonorities of a concert band were not commonly heard and enjoyed by the general public and were therefore looked upon as inferior to the smooth sound of strings in an orchestra.

He goes on to lament that the piece falls "between the effort to be popular and obvious, and the intention to remain unsmiling and uncorrupted."

Trivia

*The first Boston area performance of "Symphony in Bmusic|flat for Band" was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on April 5, 1951 with conductor John Corley.

Sources

*Morgan, Robert P. "Twentieth-Century Music". W. W. Norton & Co. New York, NY; 1991.
*Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
*Hindemith, Paul. "Symphony in B flat for Concert Band - Score". Associated Music Publishers, Inc. New York, NY; 1951.
*Goldman, Richard Franko. "Hindemith: Symphony in B-Flat for Concert Band; Schoenberg: Theme and Variations, Opus 43 A; Stravinsky: Symphonies of Wind Instruments - A Review". The Musical Quarterly. Oxford University Press; 1958.


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