Paul Hindemith's wide-ranging instrumental tastes are well known, as is his intimate knowledge of the performative, mechanical, and idiomatic properties and possibilities of each instrument for which he composed. This is certainly demonstrated in his extensive series of duo sonatas. In fact, fully half of Hindemith's compositions dating from 1939 are duo sonatas. Counted among these is the work under consideration here, the Sonata in B flat for Trumpet and Piano.
An established favorite in the body of brass repertoire, the Sonata for Trumpet and Piano was probably Hindemith's last composition of very productive year, and one of his favorite accomplishments from the period; as he wrote to a friend, "it is maybe the best thing I have succeeded in doing in recent times, and that is quite a good sign, since I do not regard any of my newest productions as of little value." The burst of creativity culminating in the Trumpet Sonata came at a fortunate moment, as circumstances -- particularly the outbreak of World War II and the composer's subsequent emigration to the United States -- would impose such difficult obligations as to prevent any compositional output until the following summer.
The work itself is cast in three movements, although in terms of length the first two together balance roughly with the last alone. One recognizes from the outset of the work's opening a clarity of thematic arrangement. The opening material, reflective of expressive marking in the score, "mit Kraft" (with strength), demarcates a sturdy melody made of more leaps than steps. This is later contrasted with a nimble figuration low in the piano, its underlying triplet feel and quick ornaments lending it a mysterious quality. The culmination of the movement occurs when these two elements fuse together: the trumpet returns to its firm opening melody at the same time as the piano works its triplet figuration into a shimmering frenzy. The moderately paced second movement conveys a vaguely march-like quality, one whose rhythmical nature is enhanced by the polychordal strands occurring separately in the treble and bass. As the movement proceeds, the trumpet and piano spin off into separate textural directions, the trumpet continuing its simple tune while the piano alternates between flowing triplet figures and angular countermelodies. As suggested by the subtitle, "Trauermusik" (music for mourning), the final movement assumes a somber tone, the emphasis on deliberate harmonic colorings and dramatic melodic iterations over intensifying accompanimental figures. The texture shifts between the overwhelming and the sparse, highlighting, on the one hand, pungent dissonances and bold lines, and on the other, pensive melodies and chordal colorings. The movement ends with a fitting musical allusion: a borrowed line from the chorale, "All Menschen müssen sterben" (All men must die).