Work: Der Schwanendreher
About This Work
Hindemith, whose interest in the viola was intense and lifelong, wrote a number of concertante works for the instrument which he often publicly performed himself and which greatly enriched the instrument's rather slender repertoire. Among the best
known of these is Der Schwanendreher, a concerto which takes a number of folk songs as its point of departure.
The work was written on the heels of the composer's monumental, medieval-themed opera Mathis der Maler (1934-1935); it is thought, in fact, that Hindemith's research for that work led him to the songs employed in Der Schwanendreher. The title of the work is shared with that of the tune that forms the basis of the finale; the "Schwanendreher" in question is a "swan-turner," a cook's assistant who turns the spit upon which a swan is roasted. (In his nearly contemporaneous Carmina Burana (1935-1936), Carl Orff likewise bases an entire movement on the theme of roasting swans -- in this case, from the animal's point of view!)
Hindemith -- no slouch as a violist -- casts the soloist in the role of "an itinerant fiddler who...presents everything he has brought with him from afar: songs grave and gay, and finally a dance-tune." The composer further indicates that the player might well embellish and alter the tunes according to his own fancy, which similarly describes the way he incorporates the original folk tunes into the musical fabric. Der Schwanendreher, an amiable and vigorous work, is a product of Hindemith's mature neo-Classical style, marked by clearer tonality and less dense polyphony than that in his music of the previous decade.
-- Joseph Stevenson
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