"Der Schwanendreher" (The Swan Turner) is a concerto for viola and small orchestra and occupies a place at the core of the viola concerto repertoire, along with the concertos by Walton and Bartók. Each movement is based on a separate medieval German folk song, thus, it is sometimes referred to as the "concerto after folk songs". The concerto was premiered 1935 in Amsterdam by the Concertgebouw under Willem Mengelberg with Hindemith as soloist. In the work Hindemith hauntingly reflects his harassed situation in Nazi Germany. Pain, separation and being an outcast are the subjects of the songs used. Hindemith's statement is particularly clear in the second movement: here his instrument, the viola, plays the melodies of two lines of folksongs bearing the texts: "Nicht länger ich's ertrag" (I can bear it no longer) and "hab' gar ein' traurig' Tag" (I have an utterly sad day). This composition draws its title apparently from ‘Seid ihr nicht der Schwanendreher’ (Aren’t you the Swan Turner?) folk song which appears in the final movement.
Scored for solo viola and large chamber orchestra, the "Kammermusik No. 5", Op. 36/4 is scored for a substantial number of woodwind and brass players. It was written in 1927. With the composer as soloist the work was introduced in 1927 at the Krolloper Berlin with the Staatskapelle under Otto Klemperer. In this appealing four movement work the viola is required to play almost continuously. The first movement always reminds me of Martinu with it's motoric neoclassical wit. The extended second movement Langsam is particularly effective with the soloist maintaining a wistful and rather yearning quality against dark and generous wind accompaniment. The entertainingly boisterous final movement 'Variante eines Militärmarsches' includes, rather tongue-in-cheek, a rather tawdry Bavarian military march that brings things to a conclusion.
Bearing a dedication to "Darius und Madeleine Milhaud", the "Konzertmusik", Op. 48a is scored for solo viola and large chamber orchestra. It seems that the Berliner Philharmoniker under Furtwängler with Hindemith himself playing viola gave the premiere of the original six movement version of the work in March 1930 in Hamburg. A revised five movement version was given in September that year at Graz played by the Städtisches Orchester Graz under Oswald Kabasta with the composer again as soloist. All three works here are magnificent...well I think so anyway!