Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Nothing to Heckel at here

Paul Hindemith loved writing pieces for performers of unusual instruments, helping them to build a repertoire. I've written before about his piece for trautonium, but there's also a piece featuring the heckelphone - a woodwind instrument close to the oboe family but operating in a lower register and sometimes sounding a bit clarinet-ish. The Trio for Heckelphone, Viola and Piano, Op.47 of 1928 is such a personable work (and gets better with each hearing), so it's worth listening to for reasons over than mere curiosity. 

The composer delays introducing the heckelphone, beginning the first of the Trio's two movements with a substantial piano solo, labelled by the composer as a Recitative but really a playfully contrapuntal piece of writing. The heckelphone appears, along with the viola, as we enter the lovely Arioso, where it sings an expressive melody notable for its plunging sevenths to the accompaniment of the piano. The latter introduces the section's attractive second subject with its pleasing chromatic touches. The viola joins the heckelphone for the movement's closing Duet - a fast, fun passage with some of the abandon of Ives's violin sonatas. 

Hindemith calls his second movement a Potpourri - as, indeed, it is. Its first section gives us a jaunty tune over a perpetual accompaniment, with heckelphone, viola and piano weaving the tune around each other in exuberant counterpoint. Hindemith plays this delightful game for some time, changing its textures, before the music becomes swiftly fugal. The piano then leads us into pastures new, where the strictness of contrapuntal writing gives way to the freedom of toccata-style writing. and the others follow cheerfully before everything ends with a brilliant coda. 

Typically, despite the dissonances and the harmonic daringness, the composer's music still manages to sound diatonic. It is far from atonality.

Please try and see what you think.

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