Friday, 9 May 2014

Piece of the day: 7 Trio pieces for 3 Trautoniums by Paul Hindemith

Firstly, I have to apologise to everybody for not posting for a while. Rest assured I am back and ready to carry on writing.

Onto our subject for today. I must admit I was pretty shocked when I heard these pieces. 

Paul Hindemith - 7 Trio Pieces for 3 Trautoniums (Courtesy of ollavogala)

These seven barely-minute-long pieces written by Paul Hindemith in 1931 are a fantastically rounded set of rarities. They are written in an almost textbook expressionist style, but they never quite leave tonality, always charmingly resolving to a lovely triad at the end. This perfectly matches how the Nazis viewed him as a degenerate atonal artist, but the secretly hoped that he would continue to write in his early tonal style and become an iconic mainstream German composer.

Piece number five is a particular favourite of mine, with its undecided key of G major/minor at the beginning and its quirky style, it makes for a fun (or funny) listen. And number six, for its beautiful middle section and the ethereal sound that it makes. And number seven. And number two. 
In fact I couldn't decide which one I like the most. I honestly love all of them!

But what is most outstanding of these three pieces is the instrument that they were written for. This bizarre electronic creature is called a "Trautonium". It was invented by Friedrich Trautwein in around 1929 and was developed by Oskar Sala until his death. Hindemith took a particular fancy to this instrument, composing various works on it including a Trautonium concerto with strings.

This strange looking instrument has a vague whiff of electric chair about it, methinks

The instrument works by pressing a suspended wire down to a board, thus allowing the flow of electricity to pass and to create a note (or something like that!). There is also a mixer attached to some later models, allowing for sound effect and other possibilities. The expressive capabilities of this instrument are massive, as the player can produce vibrato and control dynamics. However the most important detail is that the player can control the "colours" ("Farben") of the sound, producing a wide variety of sounds that can sound rich, wiry, dense or light. 

Hindemith used all of these fantastic features when writing these pieces. For me, they show a machine-like and industrialised black-and-white world of the early thirties. I like that.