Kurt Weill & Paul Hindemith
Early Chamber Music
* Kurt Weill:
- String Quartet (1918)
- String Quartet, op. 8
* Paul Hindemith: Minimax
Leipzig String Quartet
MDG 3071071-2 Total time: 68:08
Summary for the Busy Executive: A fine reading of Weill's op. 8. The
rest of it, why bother?
This CD presents early work by two of the most prominent German
composers after the war. Add Schoenberg, Berg, and Toch, and you
basically have the A-team. Weill's early maturity always astonished
me (he was born in 1900). He wrote many of his best-known masterpieces
before the age of thirty. Hindemith, about five years older and almost
entirely self-taught, had found major success as performer, teacher, and
composer. Indeed, before Weill had finished his studies with Busoni,
Hindemith was running one of the most important new-music festivals in
None of the works here typify the maturity of these composers. Weill's
earlier quartet in b-minor stands firmly in the late Romantic era. It
reflects his current studies with Humperdinck. The most interesting
movement is a Mahlerian Laendler, and it brings to mind Lotte Lenya's
reminiscence of the first time she met Weill, to the effect that she
knew he was a composer because, like the other young composers she knew,
he dressed like Mahler. The rest of it is good student work, but nothing
more. The Hindemith counts as little more than a jape. He wrote it for
a private gathering of friends and supporters - a party piece. The title
Minimax puns on a well-known fire extinguisher and on the names of the
von Fuerstenbegs, Max and Wilhelmine (Minzi), the "protectors" of
Hindemith's Donaueschingen Festival. Every movement title puns on
something. For example, the second movement - "Ouvertuere zu 'Wasserdichter
und Vogelbauer'" (water-tight - or water-closet - and birdcage) - refers
to von Suppe's "Poet and Peasant" (Dichter und Bauer) Overture.
Unfortunately, the titles are more interesting than the music itself,
which could have been written by any competent composer of the period.
Significantly, Hindemith never published it and asked that his unpublished
works never be played after his death. It does nothing for his currently
low reputation and isn't fair to the "real" music he wrote during the
same year, like the Fourth String Quartet and Das Marienleben. He should
have destroyed it, rather than rely on good will.
The best work by far on the CD is Weill's String Quartet, op. 8, written
five years after the b-minor while the composer still studied with Busoni.
It's not yet the sound we associate with Weill - neither the sour and
acid of the European music, nor the bittersweet nostalgia of the American
- but it *is* the work of a great composer-to-be. Weill withdrew the
first two of the original four movements and substituted a new first
movement before premiere and publication. Unlike the earlier quartet,
the work belongs wholly to its time and shows many influences, some
superficially contradictory: a pinch of Expressionism, something of the
so-called "New Classicism," even some twists on Mahler. Somehow, Weill
synthesizes all these strains into something his own. The first movement,
an "Introduction," foreshadows the "Melodrama" of Die Dreigroschenoper.
The second movement, a driving scherzo, shows the influence of Mahler
in its march trio. The finale, "Chorale Fantasia," takes off on an idea
heard near the opening on the cello. The most elaborate of the three
movements and longer than the other two movements put together, it takes
the idea through several different imitative, though not strictly fugal,
treatments, song-plus-accompaniment, and rhapsody. One interesting
feature, a distinctive rhythm, shows up years later in Dreigroschenoper,
again in the "Melodrama." Throughout the quartet, one notices Weill's
maturity and poise, his striving for balance and variety, both emotionally
and in his technical handling of the medium. The simplest textures nudge
up against some fairly fierce and inventive counterpoint. There's also
a psychological coolness to it that nevertheless suggests a disturbance
beneath the surface. Above all, Weill knows how to keep things moving.
His use of rhythm in the service of form is nothing less than masterful.
The Leipzig Quartet plays beautifully, at times perhaps too beautifully.
They don't seem to understand that Minimax is crude fun. On the other
hand, they deliver a lovely account of the least satirical movement,
"Dandelion at the Brook's Shore," a concert waltz. If it is satire,
nobody knows its target, and it may well be a Hindemith original. If
so, I have to say I didn't know the old man had it in him. They do a
professional job on the Weill b-minor quartet, but it's not a work that
will wow too many, no matter who plays it. However, give them real meat,
like Weill's op. 8, and they deliver a sensitive, penetrating reading,
full of exquisite detail.
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