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A Detective Story about the Hindemith Sonata for Double Bass and Piano In Memoriam Peter Falk

I ended my lecture at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance with the following statement: “Musical analysis is like a detective story: there is always a dead body and there is always a murderer. The interesting is, how he did it and why”.

I (the detective) started my investigation of the Hindemith sonata for double bass and piano, as one of my students played it and experienced intonation problems. This student was outstanding in all theory and ear training classes and he always played well in tune. I was determined to find out what the problem was and how I could help him. The solution to my students' problem was rather simple and it is already revealed in the title of that lecture: Tonality and A-tonality in the Sonata for Double Bass and Piano by Paul Hindemith. Once I realized the conflict between the tonal elements of the piece and the a-tonal elements, as I will demonstrate soon in the analysis of the second movement, I have asked my student to play equally tempered half steps and resist all temptations of tonal inflections. The problem was gone right away and I have used this recommendation for many other pieces as well.

Here, I have solved another murder case, and I know how he (Hindemith) did it, and you will know as well in just a minute but is this what really matters?

Last June one of my favorite actors passed away. I can still remember myself as a teenager watching Peter Falk as Lt. Columbo. The interesting thing about a good detective story is actually the detective's theory. Will he be able to prove his thesis? Isn't interpretation about using our intuition, finding the clues, putting them all together and creating a reality that works for us?

So here is my theory: It is all about Mahler's First Symphony.

I was thinking about Hindemith sitting down to write a Sonata for Double Bass. What would be the most famous bass piece he knows? What would he consider to be the “greatest hit” of double bass?

I would say that like many others at that time, he would think about the opening solo of the third movement in Mahler's first Symphony.

Let us go straight to my analysis of the second movement and see if my theory works.

This short movement is not only in the character of a Scherzo but a paraphrase of the traditional Scherzo and Trio form.

Measures 1-28 can be considered the first part of the Scherzo.

Throughout the "Scherzo" sections, the register of the Double Bass is about two octaves lower than the piano. This type of texture might raise questions about the various functions of the Double Bass in the music: is it just melody? Does it have a harmonic function?

Ex. 1- mm. 1-5 Bass Melody (sounds an octave lower)

mm. 1-5 Bass Melody (sounds an octave lower)

The Double Bass part in the example above is clearly in G and mostly diatonic.

The Piano part in those measures consists of a G pedal in its lowest voice, which gives a strong feeling of tonic.

The two upper voices move chromatically in parallel fourths, and the third voice, also moves chromatically, but in contrary motion to the upper two.