I am excited to release the background information and performance considerations on the flute excerpt from Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber as the fifth installment of the orchestral excerpt series!
*One quick note before we start: Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis is not yet within the public domain, so I will not be sharing any images of the score or the flute part. I plan to write a blog explaining public domain and copyright rules in music sometime in the future – stay tuned!*
Symphonic Metamorphosis began in 1940 as a number of movements loosely based on melodies and motives from obscure piano duets by Weber. They were initially intended to be used in a ballet for a company run by choreographer and dancer Léonide Massine. However, the project never came to fruition due to artistic differences between Massine and Hindemith. In 1943, Hindemith revisited and revised the movements into what we know now as Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber.
The piece has a total of four movements. The first, Allegro, is based on Weber’s Huit Pièces pour le pianoforte à quatre mains op. 60, no. 4, from 1818. The second, Turnadot (Scherzo), utilizes a melody that Weber took from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 1767 Dictionaire de Musique , which Rousseau based off of an original Chinese tune. Of all the melodies Hindemith borrowed, this is the most significantly altered, and is repeated a total of eight times in different settings. The third movement, Andantino, is from Weber’s Andantino con moto from Six Pièces pour le pianoforte à quatre mains Op. 10, no. 2 (1809). The technically demanding and long flute solo (which we’ll get to in a second) is included in this movement. Like the first movement, the origins of the final movement, Marsch, also lie within Weber’s Op. 60 duets, though this time from no. 7. While the themes of each movement are almost exactly as Weber wrote them, Hindemith drastically altered the harmonies, extended phrases and sections, and added countermelodies.
The flute’s solo in the third movement is actually one of these countermelodies. Though the first six notes of the solo are unaccompanied, the clarinet enters at the first full bar with the melody, which is adapted from Weber’s Six Pièces pour le pianoforte à quatre mains Op. 10, no. 2. Weber’s piece is in the public domain, so here are measures five through eight of his Op. 10 no. 2 that Hindemith used as the melody in the third movement:
After the clarinet presents this theme, it is repeated in the bassoon. For these eight bars, make sure this melody is more apparent than the flute solo – be wary of adding too much rubato or drawing too much attention to the flute’s line. In the second half of the twelfth measure, the flute takes over and the texture thins. This is where is is more appropriate to add rubato, as the flute solo carries the orchestra from here until the end of the movement.
As you work on this excerpt, make sure to incorporate a lot of slow practice to allow you to focus on coordinating the fingers and the air. (Hint: start with everything slurred!)
This excerpt also includes a lot of large interval leaps at the same dynamic levels. This is tricky on flute – the high notes tend to be much louder than the lower ones! I recommend utilizing harmonics to help with this issue. For example, in the sixth bar of C (with all of the slurred figures up to high F’s), practice using a harmonic fingering for high F (such as a low F or a Bb) and overblowing. This will help you aim your air in exactly the right place for the high F’s without sacrificing the dynamic. Once that feels comfortable, switch back to the regular fingering for high F! You can utilize harmonics in many other places in this excerpt to help you get those large interval leaps to be as smooth, consistent, and matching in dynamic as possible.
Achieving an even and legato articulation across the registers is also a particularly challenging aspect of this excerpt. Experiment with which syllables you are using to articulate in each register, and don’t sacrifice the delicate character of the movement by articulating too harshly.
The movement is most commonly performed around 100 for the eighth note (a recording of Hindemith himself conducting the Berlin Philharmonic is just under 100), and is quite literally the flutist’s version of gymnastics. Best of luck to you as you navigate your way through Hindemith’s cartwheels and backflips, and let me know if you have any more ideas on how to execute this gymnastic routine in the comments!