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Flying Dutchman’ as Played on Sight by a Bad Spa Orchestra...

Written By The Wagnerian on Wednesday 24 April 2013 | 12:33:00 pm

I've always quite enjoyed it to be honest

In 1925 Paul Hindemith wrote a short piece for string quartet that — when played well — provides seven minutes of some of the most excruciatingly painful music ever to offend the ear. Its title, rendered in English, is “Overture to the ‘Flying Dutchman’ as Played on Sight by a Bad Spa Orchestra by the Village Well at 7 in the Morning,” and if you’re a devoted Wagner fan you might want to stop reading now.

In Wagner’s original, the gleaming heroism of the horn motif is pitted against foaming strings evoking the stormy force of nature and the pitiless power of fate. If there’s heroism in Hindemith’s version, it’s that of a hung-over group of second-rate musicians hurling themselves against the technical challenges of a score that is already unfairly reduced from its full orchestral version.
The resulting mistakes are carefully written out. Players overshoot octaves resulting in squeaky ninths; rapidly repeated tremolando notes that add urgency to the orchestral score are rendered through dogged sawing; pizzicato passages trip over themselves in haplessly imprecise rhythms. The chromatic up and down scales with which Wagner paints the swirling stormy seas are slurred into haphazard glissandos because, really, who can be bothered to articulate all those notes?
At one point the players give up on Wagner altogether, launching into a jolly waltz before steering the Dutchman into his final, utterly dissonant port.