• Tasi Alabastro

Musical esoterica I didn’t know about until this month

Among the early synthesizers was the Trautonium, invented in Germany in 1929. (More info on the Trautonium at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trautonium )

The composer Paul Hindemith wrote a number for it in 1931, “Concertino for Trautonium and Strings”, which can be heard at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvg7H0co5Rw

At first, I figured a soprano sax could play the part in a pinch. However, there were a couple of spots, one of which first comes up at 1:24, where the Trautonium warbles in a way only an electronic instrument can do. There are hints of the sonic excursions to come, four decades later, with Eno and Fripp, also Vangelis’ score in “Blade Runner”. The strings provide a sweet contrast. I can imagine the Trautonium’s sound getting lost among winds and brass. The briskly-paced work clocks in under ten minutes, good for a short movie, cartoon or staged choreography.

Hindemith’s showcase of the Trautonium may have helped get it into production, and 200 were made between 1933-35–miraculous, given who came into power in Germany in ’33. Hindemith, among several other German artists, was branded a ‘degenerate’ by the Nazis not too long after they took over, and he wound up fleeing Germany in 1938.

After WWII, the Trautonium achieved its greatest fame in the score of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. Digging further, I found a mid-’80s German clip with the Trautonium’s inventor, Oskar Sala (d. 2002), who demonstrates his instrument’s capabilities beyond what I heard in the Hindemith piece. (Hindemith doesn’t appear to have composed anything else electronic after the ’30s.) The clip is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaWrdbvhg1Q . Now, I want one, but where would it fit? It’s also unlikely I could ever make it sound as cool as its inventor did.

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