Der Schwanendreher is accepted as one of the fundamental pieces of viola repertoire, along with those of Walton and Bartok. The title translates literally as ‘swan-turner’ that means the man turning a swan on the spit. The concerto was composed in 1935 and was premiered in Amsterdam by Hindemith himself on the viola solo on the 14th of November 1935 under Willem Mengelberg. Each movement of concerto is based on a different old German folk song. Throughout the work, mountains, valleys and growing leaves etc. are depicted. Generally, Hindemith’s compositions contain a high level of technical ability. However, the aim does not become the music which is not understandable or difficult for listeners. Despite this, his music requires high musical depth and accumulation because he is reflecting the troubles of his time in his music.
In January 22 1936, Hindemith would be playing the concerto for the second time with BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Adrian Boult at the Queen’s Hall in London. Nevertheless, on January 20, King George V of England died and unfortunately, because of that, the concert was cancelled. Thus, he composed ‘Trauermusik’ for showing his respect to the King. There were quotations from Mathis der Maler and Der Schwanendreher in Trauermusik. However, in 1937 Hindemith performed the viola concerto with a specially gathered orchestra under the conductor Carlos Chavez in Carnegie Hall. In his letters Hindemith reported his Schwanendreher concert which was performed by himself in Carnegie Hall and noted that ‘Stravinsky, who is in New York for rehearsals of his ballet and who sat in the front row at the concert, was also in the concert. He was telling everybody that Der Schwanendreher is an immensely important piece’ (15 April 1937). Since its appearance, the concerto was performed in almost every point of the world by great musicians, principally by Hindemith himself and this has a huge impact on being one of the fundamental pieces of viola repertoire.
• Bruhn, S., The Temptation of Paul Hindemith, Pendragon Press, New York, 1998, p. 53-54.
• Skelton, G., Selected Letters of Paul Hindemith, Vail-Ballou Press, New York, 1995, p. 89-90-100-103.