About this work
"Raging tempo. Wild. Beauty of tone is of secondary importance." The notoriety of this oft-cited performance note, attached to the fourth movement of Hindemith's Sonata for solo viola, Op. 25/1 (1922), unfairly overshadows the real musical value of work as a whole. Far removed from the angry, nihilistic outlook suggested by the indication above, the sonata is a vigorous, virtuosic tour de force whose technical and expressive challenges are amply repaid in the stunning sonic result. Hindemith, a violist of considerable abilities, wrote the sonata largely for his own use; it remained in his repertoire for the duration of his performing career, and he made a recording of it in 1934.
The first movement presents two main ideas that form the basis of the entire work: a stern theme in dissonant double stops, in which the interval of an augmented fourth is prominent, and a sinuous phrase that skates lightly up and down a chromatic scale. The second movement, which follows the first without pause, rhapsodizes at length on these ideas; intense chromatic harmonies add considerable tension and stretch the musical language to the limits of tonality.
The third movement, marked "Very slowly," is no less demanding on performer and listener, but its exploration of the themes is somewhat more relaxed; consonant intervals lighten the mood of the viola's long, yearning phrases. This relative calm heightens the wildness of the tiny whirlwind that follows, in which frantic double-stopped chords are launched from a furiously repeated pedal point. The finale is, unexpectedly, an elegy of some emotional weight; the elements of the preceding movements coalesce here into a darkly tinted, powerful lament.