SCHULHOFF Erwin, Hot Sonata

Schulhoff composed his Hot Sonata (subtitled ‘Jazz Sonata’) in 1930, while he was working on his opera Flammen. In a series of pieces from the 1920s, he was one of the first composers to attempt a serious integration of jazz idioms into concert works, and the Hot Sonata is a particularly impressive example. It was commissioned by the German radio station Funkstunde A.G. in Berlin and the commission specified that the music should meet ‘the particular musical requirements of radio’ – in short, that it should appeal to a large audience. The first performance was given in Berlin on 10 April 1930 by the American saxophonist Billy Barton with Schulhoff himself at the piano, and the Hot Sonata was published in August 1930 by Schott in Mainz. 


In an advertisement for the new work, the firm announced that ‘today’s scant number of chamber music works for saxophone is augmented by this valuable composition. The name of Schulhoff guarantees the serious, artistic form of this sonata.’ This was not just publishing hyperbole: by 1930, Schulhoff had written several outstanding chamber works – including two string quartets and two violin sonatas – as well as a ballet (Ogelala), a jazz-inspired piano concerto and a number of piano pieces. The Hot Sonata is in four movements, with only metronome marks to indicate tempo. The first is moderately fast, the saxophone underpinned by a loping piano part which also introduces the deliciously spicy harmonies and syncopated rhythms that characterise the whole work. The short second movement is fast and scherzo-like. The third movement is a kind of blues, the opening saxophone melody marked ‘lamentuoso ma molto grottesco’ and this gives way to an ebullient finale. 


© Nigel Simeone


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