This Sunday, my organ voluntaries (prelude, communion and postlude) will feature works by Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), one of Germany’s most important composers in the early part of the 20th century. Yet his output for the organ was minuscule compared to the total of his musical compositions. I’ll be playing one movement from each of his three sonatas for organ: Sonate I (Lebhaft); Sonate II (Ruhig bewegt) and Sonate III (So wunsch ich ihr). Two of the sonatas were written in 1937, and the other was written in 1940, after he emigrated to the United States. He spent thirteen years teaching at Yale University, and among his most famous students were Samuel Adler, Werner von Braun (yes! the rocket scientist!), Norman Dello Joio, Emma Lou Diemer, and Lukas Foss.
Although the organ sonatas are well-crafted and certainly suited to the organ, it may come as a surprise to find out that Hindemith was a string player who played the viola and violin, and not the organ. I learned that when Hindemith was at Yale, he would sit at the organ and after turning it on, simply use the crescendo pedal rather than drawing out individual stop knobs. You can go back and read my post about the crescendo pedal by clicking here.
The fact that Hindemith was not an organist is fascinating to me, because I wonder how it is that composers can write for an instrument they don’t play. Over the weekend quite a few LCHers went to Darel and Georgine Stark‘s spectacular recital at the Atherton Studio at Hawaii Public Radio. One of the major works on the program was the world premiere of “Awake Humanity to Nature’s Beauty” by local composer, John Carollo. It featured soprano, violin, cello and piano in various combinations. John happens to be my neighbor, and I asked how it was that he could write so idiomatically for the violin when he himself does not play the violin. I’ll save his answers for a future post.