Solo Flute Repertoire: Bach, Ibert, Honegger, and Hindemith

On May 13, 2020, I gave my first ‘recital’ as a Masters student. My recital was initially planned for April 1st and the repertoire was WAY different I had a lot of chamber music programmed that couldn’t happen given the COVID-19 pandemic – all the music learned in my recital was done in less than a month (minus the Honegger).

Here we will be looking at excerpts from the 4 pieces on my program and how I approach theory and analysis – especially with an very short time frame to research, analyze and really take in the framework of these pieces. The 4 pieces being J.S. Bach’s Partita in a minor I. Allemande, Jacques Ibert’s Pièce for solo flute, Arthur Honegger’s Danse De La Chèvre, and Paul Hindemith’s Acht Stücke.

J.S. Bach Partita in a minor, Allemande

Recital notes: I will only be playing the first movement, the Allemande, from Bach’s Partita in a minor. However, each movement of this work refers to a dance. The allemande being a German style dance… Bach did not actually give a specific tempo as the performer would be very familiar with the dances during the Baroque period and would be able to play in that style. As this piece is for solo flute, the demands of the music are to act as the melody, harmony and bass all in one. There are also no rests or places to breathe marked by Bach, so the phrasing utilized in shaping the melody, harmony, and bass are imperative in creating natural space to breathe.

As the title would suggest, the Partita is in a minor. The first page of the Allemande uses the root (A) and third (C) on the stronger beats 1 and 3 to outline the minor tonality. Because the piece is for solo flute, the flute is acting as the melody, harmony and bass. Therefore, one of the compositional techniques Bach uses to keep momentum and engagement is through sequences. Sequences are taught to young children as a math principle: find the pattern and figure out what comes next. Musical sequences work similarly, they can be seen as a repeating pattern between intervals (melody) or rhythm units. In this excerpt, although there are repeated 16th notes (as seen throughout the entire movement), the motive is bracketed in green. From m. 14-15 the intervals are very similar (not always exactly, but the motive is still distinguishable) denoting a mostly chromatic sequence. The motive in the first group is G-F#-E-G, goes down to F#-E-D-F#, down to E-D-C-E, and ends on D#-B-C-A. By the end group, the intervals have strayed from the original group, but the placement of the notes G, F#, E, and D# on the strong beats (1 and 3) are prominent enough to draw the ear to their downwards motion. A similar sequence happens in m. 16, but is much more concise. The ascending chromatic pattern in m. 16 is G-G#-A-A# on each beat in the measure. Finally, a new pattern emerges m. 16-17 where the final 16th leads to the first 16th of the next beat. The E resolves down to D#, D natural down to C#, C natural to B, and finally Bb to A.

In this next excerpt, the tonality has shifted. It is common in Baroque music to modulate from the tonic to the dominant key, and then to eventually return to the tonic (the dominant in a minor is E Major). This excerpt is fully in the dominant (E Major) section: note the V4/3 over IV (which translates to a E seventh chord in 2nd inversion moving to an A Major chord) which is the pivot from em (denoted by the i) to EM. 

Like in the first excerpt, there is another sequence feature – this one is directly related to the Circle of Fifths. Measure 23 starts the sequence in E Major (1), m. 24 moves to A Major (IV), m. 25 is d minor 6/5 (vii6/5), m. 26 D Major 7 (VII7) LET’S PAUSE… I provided the Roman Numerals in parenthesis to denote the chords’ function in the dominant E Major. However, look at m. 25 and 26, the first red flag should be the different qualities of the 7 (D). In Major chord progressions, the 7 is usually fully-diminished so the fact that is is minor and then Major should be getting those alarm bells going. Hence, why this section can be looked as a sequence within the Circle of Fifths: E to A to d (D)… rather than a common chord progression. Continuing our sequence, m. 27 is in G Major which is extended all the way to m. 29 until our sequence ends in m. 30 in C Major. The sequence ends there because if you look at the following measure, the harmonic rhythm (or the rate at which the harmony changes) drastically increases and moves to a tonal area that does not fit in the Circle of Fifth sequence. 


Jacques Ibert Pièce for solo flute

Recital notes: Coincidentally, Ibert’s Piece for solo flute was composed in the same year as the Hindemith Sonata I mentioned earlier. This piece starts with a cadenza-like introduction that centers around the note “D”. Like Ibert’s well known Flute Concerto (composed 2 years prior), this piece is good for demonstrating virtuosity and freeness in playing. Despite studying at the Paris Conservatory, Ibert didn’t emulate any of the popular genres during the early 20th century, and in this piece you can hear how he’s style transforms multiple styles rather than honing in on just one.

Ibert was an early 20th century composer – a time were tonality was less rigid, an the exploration of serialism and atonality were becoming commonplace. The Pièce for solo flute goes through many tonal areas – like mentioned in my recital notes the opening is a cadenza-style featuring the note “D”; and the remainder of page one doesn’t strictly follow a traditional key/tonal center. In this first excerpt, the 9/8 “Vivo” is the first time in the piece that Ibert emphasizes a tonal area -in this case Db Major (the diatonic notes are Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C). Here I used green to visualize all the notes that were diatonic (in the key of Db) and any non-chord tone or chromatic note is highlighted in orange. By doing this, it is very easy to see the patterns within what may look daunting at first glance, especially in a key of 5 flats.

This next excerpt from Ibert’s Pièce is building a climatic resolution on the final page (visually, you can tell those tiny 32nd notes are going somewhere). Our last excerpt was in Db Major, this one has moved to a tonicization (not a fully-fledge modulation) of the IV (Gb Major) – this is clear because of the downward arpeggios (the yellow denoting notes diatonic to Gb). The ‘F’s are functioning as a supertonic or a 7th scale degree that is creating a rising tension. The swells on the 6s to 7s to 9s emphasizing the 7th briefly calm down for 2 measures before a sequence of minor 3s ascends to an E natural where the piece relaxes (and resolves) to return to a familiar theme stated in the beginning of the piece.


Arthur Honegger Danse De La Chèvre

Recital notes: This is the earliest 20th century piece on my program, composed by Arthur Honegger in 1921. The title Danse de la Chevre translates to Dance of the Goat. The piece starts very delicate with a series of tritone phrases – as if the goat is just waking up from a dream. Quickly, the “goat-like” or more active theme comes during the Vif or the 9/8 section with a skipping/dancing goat. At the end, the piece returns to the delicateness and serenity of the introduction, as the goat has tired itself out and is going back to sleep.

Important to note that there are several versions of Honegger’s Danse De La Chevre that are in circulation this particular score is from the 1932 edition. The piece was composed in the early 20th century and the intervallic relations (and lack of tonality) are indicative of Honegger embracing serialism.

The opening motive is highlighted in purple and it lasts 2 bars (each time it is restated it uses the opening 4 notes to lure you in before launching into a new idea). This motive starts with a tritone (TT) from C to F# and is followed by two Perfect 4s. And interesting discovery I made was how Honegger follows the motive, in phrase 1 (m. 1-2) note that the motive goes down a 2nd (E down to D). While in phrase 2 (m.3-6) note that the motive goes up a 2nd (E to F). Then in the phrases following the 1 bar Vif, phrase 4 (m. 8-9) the motive goes down a tritone (E to A#) whereas in phrase 5 (m. 10-13) the motive goes up a tritone (E to Bb). Wow. At a first glance it might just look like crazy, random music, but when analyzed critically it is actually symmetrical and systematic.

At the end of the piece, the motive comes back (note that it is an exact copy just shortened) before the B resolves to the C harmonic.

The slower section before the recap (Lent) is weaved throughout the piece each time it uses the echo effect – repeating material at a softer dynamic, but to keep the intrigue Honegger adds a tag at the end to differentiate the fragments. For example, m. 55 compared to m.57 (where Honegger presses on the breaks and starts to makes things slower and softer). And m. 58 compared to m. 59-60 (where there is one last – slower – iteration of the Vif theme).


Paul Hindemith Acht Stücke

Recital notes: One of Hindemith’s most well-known works is his Sonata for Flute and Piano which he composed in 1936. About ten years before he composed this Sonata, he wrote a piece for solo flute called Acht Stucke which translates to 8 Pieces or movements. These 8 movements are very short – some of the shortest movements in the piece such as the 2nd movement are only 40 seconds long. Also, these movements don’t have a stable tonal center and not all movements have an indicated meter so the motives and gestures within movements is what shapes the piece.

Welcome to Hindemith were key signatures don’t matter and the tonality is irrelevant. How does one cope? In my analysis for movement IV of this piece, I realized the rhythm was the true star of the piece so how did I learn the rhythm? By making a song:

Is it silly? Yes. But when the tonal patterns and rhythmic sequences are so brief there needs to be some way to connect ideas to form a coherent piece. I can’t be entirely sure if this what Hindemith intended when composing this movement, but if there is an evidence to suggest he DIDN’T intend this then send that my way. All jokes aside, let’s look at a more structural movement…

In movement VIII, there is some semblance of musical structure. The beginning is repeated at the end, and there seem to be two distinct sections (the presto and the offset section).

Both in the opening and end, the specific pitches aren’t so important (more so the intervallic relationships) it is clear with m.1-2 that 3-4 is similar while expanding the ‘motive’ by getting louder, faster and expanding the range. The F# don’t serve much tonal significance rather the note acts as an anchor to ground the piece as it ascends to A6 before dropping to D4.

The presto section beginnings suddenly quiet and with an indicated meter. There is a brief sequence with the downwards G-F#-F motion in m.8-9 and m. 11-12, but it is fleeting. There is more anchoring (similar to the opening) now on E as the melody ascends.

The register descends and the volume gradually diminishes. As a new section emerges, here the quarter note and eighth note are offset. The measures were the quarter note starts on beat 2 as a pickup are the string tying this section together. Note the pitches highlighted in yellow Eb D and the 3 repeated C#s (each C# rising more than the last). The rhythmic content for these highlighted pitches is all the same until the 3 C#s where the material is expanded yet again to return to a restatement of the opening.


Thank you for making it through this maiden voyage of explaining how my brain comprehends music theory. If you have any questions, additional thoughts or want to see the lyrics to the other Hindemith movements comment down below!

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