Selection from Hindemith: Ludus Tonalis plus program notes to the 4 submissions tonight...
Selection from J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book I:
Prelude and Fugue No. 8 in E flat minor
Prelude and Fugue No. 9 in E major
Prelude and Fugue No. 10 in E minor
Selection from Hindemith’s Ludus Tonalis:
Fugue no. 6 in E flat, with Interlude
Fugue no. 7 in A flat, with Interlude
Fugue no. 8 in D, with Interlude
Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier of 1722 and his treatment of the Fugue, is one of the great treasures of keyboard music. Since its completion in 1942, Hindemith’s Ludus Tonalis has built a reputation as a "Modern Well Tempered Clavier".
In a fugue, a theme is introduced which is then taken up and developed by the other voices throughout the piece. The fugue is just one musical form which allows the composer to build up textures through counterpoint: the simultaneous sounding of separate melodies against each other.
The “Ludus” in Hindemith’s title implies this whole process should be fun, and acts as a reminder that any formal construction in music turns out, in the end, to be a no more than a "game". I therefore urge the listener to spot the themes and see if they can track their progression through the different voices. This will also help guide you through some of the "foreign" tonalities you‘ll encounter along the way. At the same time allow yourself to sit back and enjoy the rich variety of moods that these composers have created to such great effect around such formal structures.
J.S. Bach Well Tempered Clavier
Bach stated in the title that his work was
"... for the use and benefit of inquisitive young musicians and for the special diversion of those already well versed in this study..."
Bach presents a Prelude and Fugue in each of the twelve major and twelve minor keys. The pieces are arranged in chromatic order (ascending the keyboard to the key of the next adjacent note). This arrangement was simply a device to demonstrate the compositional possibilities of the well tempered tuning system, relatively new in adoption at the time. The well tempered scale comprises adjacent notes tuned to a strict interval. This allows the keyboard to play in any key, freeing up the ability to modulate to other keys. It does however compromise on some of the resonances and tone colours (moods specific to a particular key) achievable when the player can divide the length of a string or pipe, for example.
Prelude no. 8 in E flat minor is a melancholic sarabande. Almost every device is employed in the fugue: swapping the theme several times between different voices, stretto (a close overlap of voices only a few beats apart), stretching (augmenting), inverting and changing note time values.
No. 9 in E major is a light, airy, pastoral prelude and a three part Fugue.
Prelude no. 10 in E minor involves a haunting melody punctuated by short chords and accompanied by constant broken chords in the left hand, leading to a presto. The energetic Fugue involves just two voices. Listen out for the fleeting hemiola (switching accents from three to two in a bar) and a sly breaking of the rules with parts moving in unison an octave apart.
Paul Hindemith: Ludus Tonalis
Though a selection stands programmatically well on its own, it is interesting to point out how Hindemith, following on in the romantic tradition, conceived his own piece as a complete cyclic whole. Hindemith first composed a set of fragmentary fugues, but at some point formulated the idea of tying them together, following a key progression that he had put forward in his Unterweisung im Tonsatz (The Craft of Musical Composition). In this treatise he discusses relationships between tones in terms of their "natural state" (attempting to divorce thought from any stylistic considerations). The fifth has the closest affinity, with the tritone (F sharp) sounding the most remote. The full progression is:
C, G, F, A, E, E flat, A flat, D, B flat, D flat, B, F sharp.
This is best demonstrated by playing the progression along with the base note C. You should sense a distinct move away from "harmony" and an increase in tonal "tension".
Bach's harmony is primarily based on the 3rd plus 5th (triad) and its first inversion. Whilst Hindemith's is based on chords such as the 4th plus 7th and its first inversion. This gives the counterpoint a contemporary "dissonant" sound.
Compositions following on from the Romantic tradition, increasingly blurred the relationships between major and minor. Hindemith therefore writes only twelve fugues, each linked to one another by an interlude, usually starting in the key of the preceding fugue leading to that of the next, and containing hints of the moods of each.
The piece starts with a Prelude and ends with a Postlude, written such that, turn the book upside down, and you have the Prelude again. This 180 degree rotation, beyond mere gimmick, is in fact technically very difficult to implement in any meaningful way. Hindemith limits himself principally to modulations between the keys of A flat, A, C flat, C and C sharp in the Prelude and Postlude, because these five scales encompass their original sound values when turned upside down. Added to this, the note C remains unchanged in 180 degree rotation, thereby providing the link to complete the circle of keys.
I start the selection with the quiet, cantabile Fugue no. 6 in E flat, followed by a black humorous march interlude.
fugue no. 7 is in A flat of moderate tempo and dotted rhythm. The next interlude is broad, orchestral and majestic.
Fugue no. 8 in D is dominated by the interval of the fifth, over 5 beats in complex rhythm. The next interlude provides a frenetic ending.
1) Sleeve notes Angela Hewitt Das Wohltemperierte Clavier Book 1, Hyperion Records.
2) "Hindemith's Ludus tonalis and Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier: A Comparison." Music Review 20 (1959): 217-27.
3) Preface, Giselher Schubert/Gunter Ludwig: Wiener Urtext Edition UT50128 Ludus Tonalis, Paul Hindemith