Paul Hindemith: Suite for Mechanical Organ (Triadic Ballet), fourth movement
From the album Paul Hindemith Organ Concertos / Suite for Mechanical Organ
The frenzy for all things mechanical in 1920s Europe possessed not only architecture, design, painting, and film, but also music and dance. Perhaps the most remarkable phenomenon of the whole movement was the Triadic Ballet, an abstract theater piece by Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer.
Although he was trained as a visual artist, rather than as a choreographer or actor, Schlemmer was the primary figure associated with stage productions at the Bauhaus. He welcomed the merger of the arts and hailed the “confusion of artistic concepts” as the sign of a dawning new order. Schlemmer understood his innovations in theater as a continuation of the experimental tendencies explored in the abstract film and stage production of the early 1920s.
First performed in 1922, the Triadic Ballet received its most famous presentation at the festival for new music in the small Black Forest town of Donaueschingen in 1926. The work comprised three major sections, each further subdivided into a series of short dances. Each section is characterized by a dominant color and mood: the first series is lemon yellow and “jovial-burlesque,” the second is pink and “ceremonial-solemn,” the third is black and “mystic-fantastic.”
A schematic overview of the individual dances in Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet
In Schlemmer’s costumes for the Triadic Ballet, the impetus toward abstraction that dominated the visual arts in the early 20th century is extended to the human body. He sought to reduce the body to its constitutive shapes in order to establish the basic dynamics of motion derived from the formal properties of the organism. Through their abstract shapes and their constriction of natural bodily motion, the costumes were intended to enforce a discipline and at the same time enable a new freedom of movement.
Sketches from Schlemmer’s essay “Man and Art Figure”
To accompany the 1926 performance, composer Paul Hindemith created original music for the Welte-Philharmonie mechanical organ by punching holes by hand in the paper rolls that controlled the instrument’s automatic playback mechanism. Although the rolls were destroyed in World War II, the music survives in this period recording of a reworking of the Triadic Ballet suite’s first movement.
Hindemith’s score is in the characteristic madcap style that marks much of the "mechanical music" of the period. While he would later champion the use of automatic instruments as a means of providing musical accompaniment to silent film (in 1928 he wrote a mechanical organ piece for the then-popular "Felix the Cat" cartoon), Hindemith would before long give up on composing for mechanical instruments, which were soon overshadowed by radio, phonograph, and the emergence of the first electrophones.
Response to the Triadic Ballet varied from acclaim to dismay and everything in between. One critic questioned why, in a world of automobiles, airplanes, and neon signs, the dancers should not themselves be automatons. He drolly noted that the only thing missing was a mechanical audience that automatically whistled and applauded.
Played 411 time(s).
June 03, 2012, 9:54pm