The Glenn Gould Collection, Vol. 14:
Glenn Gould Plays Hindemith
Piano Sonatas Nos. 1, 2, 3
Five sonatas for brass instruments and piano, with
Gilbert Johnson, trumpet
Mason Jones, horn and alto horn
Abe Torchinsky, bass tuba
Henry Charles Smith, trombone
Das Marienleben, Op. 27 (1922/23 version)
With Roxolana Roslak, soprano
Glenn Gould, piano
Review By Joe Milicia
highlight among the 20 multiple-CD sets in Sony's new "The Glenn Gould
Collection" is the 4-CD box of music by Paul Hindemith, a composer the
Canadian pianist greatly esteemed. As I described in my Enjoy
the Music.com review of the
Arnold Schoenberg set (also four CDs), the series features remastered
sound, engaging booklet essays, and handsome graphic design, at bargain prices.
The one serious drawback is Sony's failure, as with the Schoenberg set, to
include the German text and translation for the vocal music, in this case the
song cycle to poems by Rainer Maria Rilke that fills the fourth disc of this
collection. Still, it's a pleasure to have these historic but insufficiently
celebrated recordings together in one place.
According to the booklet notes, Hindemith's Mathis
der Maler Symphony made a great impression upon the 15-year-old
Gould, who in his own words "hated ALL FROM SONY SONY SONY music after
Wagner" but "came alive to contemporary music" after hearing the
composer's recording of the piece. Gould championed him in CBC broadcasts
throughout his career and — though this seems incredible — won his only
Grammy during his lifetime thanks to Hindemith: for the Best Liner Notes of
1973, in the form of an essay called "Hindemith: Will His Time Come? Again?"
Disc 1 is devoted to the three piano sonatas of
1935-36, which Gould recorded at the end of 1966 (Nos. 1 and 3) and 1973 (No.
2). Hindemith began writing them in Ankara (of all places), where he was helping
to develop a music education program, at a time when his music was being banned
in Nazi Germany. While the Second and Third Sonatas are compact four-movement
works, 15 and 18 minutes long respectively, the First is ON FROM SONY menu
header a grander scale, 32 minutes and in five movements. It's subtitled "The River Main," but lest the reader think it's a Moldau-style
musical portrait of the river that flows through Frankfurt, Hindemith's home
town, I should mention that the title alludes to a poem by Friedrich Hölderlin,
in which the poet, feeling homeless, fantasizes about the glories of ancient
Greece but finishes by recalling the "calm blessings" of the Main, near
which Hölderlin too spent his youth.
Gould wrote in that Grammy-winning essay that
Hindemith found "the true amalgam of reason and ecstasy: repose." Gould's
performance of the first movement of the "Main" Sonata — marked "Ruhig"
and played in a profoundly restful though also mournful manner — is a perfect
illustration, as is the second movement "In the tempo of a very slow march."
The third, opening "Lively," is more mercurial; an interesting online
commentary by pianist Charles Fierro hears contrasts between "rude parade
music" and "memories of tender old songs." The fourth movement is a
variant upon the first, while the finale is vigorous in a distinctively
Hindemithian way: whether it portrays the Main "joining your brother, the
Rhine, then flowing joyfully down to the sea," to quote Holderlin's poem, I
hesitate to suggest, but it does draw us toward an affirmative conclusion.
Gould's unsentimental but committed performance suits the music extremely
I found myself especially liking Gould's
performance of the very different Second Sonata. It's easy enough to say that
this sonata follows a form common to Hindemith's middle and later periods:
moderately brisk first movement, scherzo, slow movement in the form of a halting
march, energetic finale (though in this case with a surprising slow conclusion).
But I find it very difficult to pin down the music's affects: are the fast
parts serious or quietly witty? Are slow sections lamenting or simply sober?
However we attempt to analyze it, the music is rich in feeling, brought out by
The Third Sonata is yet different, with an
especially attractive opening movement, starting out briskly and genially, but
becoming quieter and slower as it concludes. Following a very rapid and brief
scherzo we have one of Hindemith's moderately paced marches, whose memorable
tune is subjected to a number of surprising transformations, beautifully
characterized by Gould. The finale is an elaborate fugue in which of course
Gould is in his element, offering clarity, verve and a sense of structure.
The idea of recording Hindemith's five sonatas
for brass instruments and piano came from CBS producer Andrew Kazdin, who worked
with both Gould and the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble; the result was a double-LP
set. I won't attempt to write an extensive comment on each sonata (written
between 1939 and 1943, except for the Bass Tuba Sonata of 1955, and recorded
1975-76), but it's important to say that each one has a strong individual
character, and that Gould is a sensitive partner to each of the brass players,
themselves first chairs of the Philadelphia Orchestra at the time.
The Trumpet Sonata is a serious affair, with a
powerful first movement (indeed, to be played Mit
Kraft) and a funeral-march finale, ending "Very restfully". The
Trombone Sonata contains a Lied des Raufbolds,
translated as "Swashbuckler's Song," though most dictionaries go for "ruffian, "hooligan" or
"rowdy person": in any case, the trombone part
is appropriately swaggering. Curiously, the movement that precedes it is almost
entirely for piano, with the trombone making only four mournful interjections.
The Tuba Sonata has an exceedingly droll first movement and an ingenious
set of variations for a finale.
The Horn Sonata is a complex, predominantly
melancholy work, but I'm finding myself more drawn to the Alto Horn Sonata
(both played by Mason Jones). The latter work is full of musical surprises and
contrasts — enough so to be memorable even if it were not written for an
instrument so rarely heard by itself (the alto horn is mainly used in concert
bands and has a mellower sound than the orchestral horn), and even if it did not
oddly call for the players to recite a poem between the slow movement and the
finale. Jones speaks his lines straightforwardly, like a good student in an
English class, while Gould offers a hushed, studied reading, before leaping into
a vigorous passage for piano alone.
Finally, the set offers a very full (79-minute)
disc with a performance of the 15-song Das
Marienleben, based on poems by Rilke portraying the life of the
Virgin Mary. Hindemith wrote it quite early in his career (1922-23), then
extensively rewrote it decades later, publishing a new version in 1948; but
Gould championed the original version, calling it "the greatest song cycle
ever written." He first performed the cycle with Lois Marshall in 1962 and
talked of recording it with her, but eventually chose the Ukrainian-Canadian
Roxolana Roslak. Is Das Marienleben
the "greatest song cycle"? I wouldn't want to venture an opinion without
devoting a great deal of study to it; but (to offer a newcomer's impression)
it is a work of many lovely, though often austere, passages, with typically the
vocal line moving more slowly than the pianist's counterpoint. As with his
recordings of Schoenberg songs, Gould is a superb partner (not an "accompanist," though never attempting to dominate the proceedings).
Roslak's voice is well suited to the cycle, capable of soaring in climaxes but
providing sweetness in lyrical passages, though one might question whether or
not she offers enough variety of tonal quality to sustain our interest through
the entire work.
Sound quality is excellent for the era, though a
degree lacking in the vivid presence heard in the best recordings of recent
years. In the brass-and-piano recordings in particular the ideal would be a more
"live" imaging, though I don't want to imply that the sound is truly
muffled. Michael Stegemann's three booklet essays on Gould, including one
called "A Dozen Dames" on female singers with whom he collaborated, are
fascinating but do repeat certain points. And I regret the absence not only of
Rilke's texts but also of the complete Gould essays from the LPs, including "The Tale of Two ‘Marienlebens.'" But the bargain price is some