Symphony in B-flat for Band (Hindemith)
Symphony in B♭ 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 5 of that year by the U.S. Army Band "Pershing's Own" in Washington, D.C. (Anon. n.d.). The Symphony in B♭ is a 'cornerstone' piece for wind ensemble and is one of the most prominent and widely known pieces composed or arranged for band.
Symphony in B♭ for Band is scored for:
Each instrument plays an integral role in the musical progression of the symphony.
Although a symphony is traditionally a piece for large orchestra in four movements, or subdivisions of the larger composition, the Symphony in B♭ 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. It is important to note that the pre-Classical symphonies of the mid-18th century contained three movements, either of this form or its inverse, slow-fast-slow.
Movement 1 - Moderately Fast, With Vigor
The first movement begins with the cornets and trumpets on a vigorous main theme. The melody is colored by the high woodwinds playing rapid strings of notes. The piccolo, 1st flute, solo and 1st clarinets are playing triplets, or sets of three notes, while the 2nd flute, oboes, 2nd and 3rd clarinets 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.
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 B♭; however, it modulates between keys throughout the symphony. The piece does end on a sonorous B♭ major chord after a climactic unison run of notes, which gives the movement a satisfying conclusion.
Movement 2 - Andantino Grazioso
The second movement begins softer than the first and third. The solo cornet, answered by a solo alto saxophone, opens this movement, 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 movement ends with a run of notes that make a 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
The third movement of the Symphony is a fugue. 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.
Richard Franko Goldman, a bandmaster himself and a music critic of the mid-20th century, called the piece "singularly dead" (Goldman 1958, 128) and composers of music for concert band or wind ensemble "unsophisticated". He states that composing for band is difficult because "the agglomeration of instruments is irrational and exasperating"(Goldman 1958, 127).
He previously lamented that the piece falls "between the effort to be popular and obvious, and the intention to remain unsmiling and uncorrupted" (Goldman 1958, 127)
- The first Boston-area performance of Symphony in B♭ for Band was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on April 5, 1951 with conductor John Corley.
- There are two recordings of this piece conducted by composer; Philharmonia Orchestra (1956, EMI) and Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (1959, ORFEO).
- Anon. n.d. "II, 8: Symphony in B flat (1951) for Concert Band". Paul Hindemit.org (Accessed 5 April 2012).
- Goldman, Richard Franko. 1958. [Untitled record review of Hindemith, Symphony in B-Flat for Concert Band; Schoenberg, Theme and Variations, Opus 43 A; Stravinsky, Symphonies of Wind Instruments. Eastman Symphonic Wind Ensemble, cond. Frederick Fennell. 12" LP. Mercury MG 50143]. The Musical Quarterly 44, no. 1 (January): 126–28.
- Hindemith, Paul. 1951. Symphony in B flat for Concert Band (Score). Edition Schott 4063. Mainz: B. Schott's Söhne; New York: Schott Music Corp.
- Morgan, Robert P. 1991. Twentieth-Century Music. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.
- Weiss, Scott A. 2006. "Paul Hindemith and the Genesis of the Symphony in B flat for Concert Band". In Kongressbericht Oberwölz/Steiermark 2004, edited by Bernhard Habla, 379–88. Alta Musica: Eine Publikation der Internationalen Gesellschaft zur Erforschung und Förderung der Blasmusik 25. Tutzing: Schneider. ISBN 3-7952-1203-0