About this work
Hindemith at his most deadpan is to be found in this small, five-movement wind quintet, which was published along with the Kammermusik No. 1, Op. 24, No. 1, though it shares neither instrumentation nor character with its raucous, jazz-influenced companion. The sense of humor so characteristic of Hindemith in the 1920s here shares the spotlight with notably resourceful and virtuosic writing for the small ensemble.
The first movement is a march, lighthearted and civilian in nature, with much cross-rhythmic play among the instruments and a dissonant polytonality that is more comic and friendly than challenging. Hindemith had the unique ability to master in a few hours' time nearly any instrument he picked up, and his innate understanding of the woodwinds results in music so natural to the instruments that it seems almost to compose itself as it's played. The march is closed by an amiable shrug from the clarinet.
A simple waltz, wryly subverted by polytonal flights of fancy and Milhaud-like "wrong" notes, pokes fun at the sentimental fare then popular in Europe. It's followed by a fairly serious slow movement, in which a dour theme in thirds, with a prominent "Scotch snap," frames a furtive middle section featuring a quietly ominous chord sequence over which a long-breathed theme arches.
The fourth movement is almost a fragment, less than a minute in length, in which dissonant, scolding chords are separated by mini-cadenzas for each of the instruments. The finale is a swinging, swaggering march in which open fifths in the lower instruments are answered by a broad arch of theme in major and minor thirds. The demands on the ensemble are greatest here, but the music, when well-played, is exhilarating.