Posts Tagged ‘Hindemith’

Garfield Plays Hindemith

Hindemith playing his Heckel bassoon, 1940

Hin­demith play­ing his Heck­el bas­soon, 19401

Ger­man com­pos­er Paul Hin­demith wrote more than forty sonatas. In addi­tion to at least one sonata for each stan­dard orches­tral wood­wind, brass, and string instru­ment, he wrote for a num­ber of less-com­mon solo instru­ments, includ­ing the Eng­lish horn, the vio­la d’amore, and the althorn. Although he was pri­mar­i­ly a vio­la play­er, Hin­demith owned and could play many of the instru­ments for which he wrote; he appar­ent­ly had a par­tic­u­lar inter­est in the bas­soon. An entry in the Heck­el visitor’s log indi­cates that Hin­demith pur­chased a bas­soon from the firm on Octo­ber 9, 1927.2

Hin­demith wrote his Sonate for bas­soon in 1938, dur­ing a tumul­tuous time in his life. Per­for­mances of his music had been banned in Ger­many in 1936, and in May 1938 he was one of the com­posers sin­gled out for scorn at a Nazi exhib­it of Entartete (Degen­er­ate) Musik in Düs­sel­dorf. He soon decid­ed to leave Ger­many, and emi­grat­ed to Switzer­land in Sep­tem­ber 1938.3. The pre­miere of his Sonate for bas­soon took place in Zurich on Novem­ber 6 of that year, per­formed by bas­soon­ist Gus­tav Studl and pianist Wal­ter Frey. The con­cert also includ­ed his Sonata for Piano, four hands, per­formed by Frey and Hin­demith him­self.4

Bernard Garfield in the mid-1960s, with his black 7000-series Heckel

Bernard Garfield in the mid-1960s, with his black 7000-series Heck­el (more info)

The ear­li­est record­ings of Hindemith’s bas­soon Sonate were made in the Unit­ed States, to which the com­pos­er had emi­grat­ed in ear­ly 1940. As far as I can tell, the very first record­ing of the piece was made by Bernard Garfield (with pianist Theodore Lettvin) on EMS Record­ings, released in 1950. I con­tact­ed the Hin­demith Insti­tute in Frank­furt, and they con­firmed that the Garfield record­ing is the ear­li­est of which they’re aware. Leonard Shar­row also made an ear­ly record­ing of the piece for the Oxford Record­ing Com­pa­ny, prob­a­bly some time in the 1950s, but I have been unable to find pre­cise dates of record­ing or release.

Garfield, who will turn 93 this Fri­day, is best known for serv­ing as the Philadel­phia Orchestra’s Prin­ci­pal Bas­soon­ist from 1957 to 2000. He is one of my grandteach­ers — Jef­frey Lyman, with whom I stud­ied at Ari­zona State, stud­ied with him, among oth­ers. Garfield has also com­posed a num­ber of works, most­ly fea­tur­ing the bas­soon in var­i­ous com­bi­na­tions. His record­ings of some of the pil­lars of the bas­soon reper­toire are still in print, and are eas­i­ly obtain­able, includ­ing the Mozart Con­cer­to and Weber Andante e Ron­do Ongarese (both with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadel­phia Orches­tra).

But, his record­ing of the Hin­demith Sonate has nev­er been re-released, and is quite dif­fi­cult to find (this like­ly has to do with the fact that the own­er of EMS Record­ings, Jack Skur­nick, died sud­den­ly in 1952, leav­ing the company’s record­ings to lan­guish). I must admit that I wasn’t even aware Garfield had made a record­ing of the piece until San Fran­cis­co Sym­pho­ny prin­ci­pal bas­soon­ist Stephen Paul­son made a Face­book post about three months ago, ask­ing about its avail­abil­i­ty. It took me quite a while to track down a copy, although unfor­tu­nate­ly it’s a some­what worn and crack­ly one. But, I’m still hap­py to present a dig­i­tized ver­sion here:

Listen to Bernard Garfield and Theodore Lettvin - Hindemith <em>Sonate</em> for bassoon and piano (1950)

EDIT: Accord­ing to Antho­ny George­son, Garfield acquired the 7000-series Heck­el in the pho­to above after he made this record­ing; he’s using a 9000-series here.

EMS-4 Label


  1. Source: http://www.hindemith.info/en/life-work/biography/1933–1939/work/the-sonatas/ 

  2. Gun­ther Jop­pig, “Heck­el­phone 80 Years Old,” Jour­nal of the Inter­na­tion­al Dou­ble Reed Soci­ety 14 (1986), 73. 

  3. Gisel­her Schu­bert, “Hin­demith, Paul,” Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online. Link 

  4. Robert Peter Kop­er, “A Styl­is­tic and Per­for­mance Analy­sis of the Bas­soon Music of Paul Hin­demith,” (Ed.D. diss., Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Urbana-Cham­paign, 1972), 115.