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Paul Hindemith

1895 - 1963

Paul Hindemith (16 November 1895 – 28 December 1963) was a German composerviolistviolinist, teacher and conductor. Notable compositions include his song cycle Das Marienleben (1923) and opera Mathis der Maler (1938). Hindemith's most popular work, both on record and in the concert hall, is probably the Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, written in 1943.

(b. Hanau, November 16, 1895; d. Frankfurt, December 28, 1963)

German composer, performer, teacher, and theorist, influential though largely unloved, one of the most important musicians of the 20th century. In addition to being a powerful musical thinker and a formidable pedagogue, he was a world-class violist, an excellent violinist, and a capable conductor. He began taking violin lessons in 1902, and entered the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt at age 13. He commenced serious study of composition in 1912, and the next year became concertmaster of a local orchestra. Just two years after that he was appointed concertmaster of the Frankfurt Opera orchestra, and his String Quartet No. 1, Op. 2, was performed at the conservatory. In September of 1915 Hindemith’s father was killed at the front in Flanders. Drafted in August 1917, Hindemith was stationed first in Frankfurt, which enabled him to keep his orchestra job, and then sent as a military musician to Alsace, where he served for the remainder of World War I.

Following the war, Hindemith returned to the Frankfurt Opera and played viola in the Amar Quartet (his younger brother Rudolf was the quartet’s cellist). In 1921 the joint premiere in Stuttgart of his cheeky modernist operas Morder, Hoffnung der Frauen (Murderer, Hope of Women), to a text by Oskar Kokoschka, and Das Nusch-Nuschi caused a scandal; they were followed the next year by another one-act opera, Sancta Susanna, whose erotic subject matter raised eyebrows even higher. Hindemith gave up his post as concertmaster at the Frankfurt Opera in 1923 to devote more time to composition, and began cranking out a stream of chamber and small-ensemble works, including several written as solo vehicles for himself and his quartet partners.

In 1926 Hindemith’s first full-length opera, Cardillac (based on a story by E. T. A. Hoffmann) received its premiere. The following year he was appointed professor of composition at Berlin’s Academy of Music. The 1930s saw the growth of Hindemith’s reputation outside Germany, particularly in England and America. He was one of the distinguished group of composers—including Stravinsky, Honegger, and Prokofiev— who received commissions from Serge Koussevitzky for new works to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra; the result was his Konzerttnusik for Strings and Brass, which Koussevitzky premiered with the BSO in 1931.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933 they branded Hindemith’s music “culturally Bolshevist.” The following year they intensified their campaign against Hindemith after Wilhelm Furtwangler led the premiere of his three-movement Symphony Mathis der Maler (Mathias the Painter) at a concert of the Berlin Philharmonic. The conductor’s staunch defense of the music and its composer, published in the Deutsche allgemeine Zeitung, was answered three days later by a stinging rebuke in the Nazi party paper and a flamboyant denunciation by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who called Hindemith an “atonal noisemaker.” Thenceforth, Hindemith’s works received their premieres outside of Germany: the viola concerto Der Schwanendreher (The Swan-Turner; 1935) in Amsterdam, with Willem Mengelberg conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra and the composer as soloist; Trauermusik (Mourning Music; 1936), in London, with Adrian Boult conducting and the composer again as soloist; the opera Mathis der Maler in Zurich; and the ballet Nobilissima Visione (1938; based on the life of St. Francis of Assisi) in London, conducted by the composer.

The Nazis officially banned Hindemith’s music in 1936, and in May 1938 they accorded him a prominent place in their “Degenerate Music” exhibition in Dusseldorf. The following September the composer fled Germany for temporary exile in Switzerland. He settled in the United States in 1939, and from 1940 to 1953 taught composition and theory at Yale, becoming an American citizen in 1946. His important works of the 1940s were the Symphonische Metamorphosen nach Themen von Carl Maria von Weber (Symphonic Metamorphoses After Themes of Carl Maria von Weber; 1943) and the requiem When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d (1946), commemorating the death of FDR. In 1953 Hindemith moved back to Switzerland, where he finished work on the opera Die Harmonie der Welt (The Harmony of the World), about the life and times of the astronomer Johannes Kepler. During the final decade of his life, he was showered with honors and awards.

In his journey as a composer, Hindemith started out as a radical and ended up a conservative. That he took himself more and more seriously as time went by is scarcely surprising; current events and the European avant-garde’s increasingly dismissive attitude toward tradition gave him ample reason. What makes Hindemith’s case interesting is that in a certain sense it was his own music that he was reacting to, as he moved from such farcical, irreverent gestures as Das Nusch-Nuschi to reverent, high-concept, “serious” works like Mathias dei'Maler and Die Harmonie der Welt.

The criticism most frequendy leveled at Hindemith’s later music is that it sounds academic. It is true that he had a predilection for chorales, canons, fugal passages, and other “learned” procedures, for the rigorous working out of traditional formal schemes, and for contrapuntal textures. And it can be argued that even his best music tends to sound melodically “brittle,” his less-than-best downright arid. On the other hand, he composed idiomatically for every kind of instrument (writing sonatas for all of the major ones), showed an exceptional command of the orchestra, and made lasting contributions to the chamber, choral, organ, operatic, and symphonic repertoires. He also accomplished the by no means easy feat of writing music that was modern in style yet thoroughly approachable, with a distinctive sound that was immediately recognizable as his.

Key Works

Mathis der Maler [Matthias the Painter], symphony from the opera

00:00 - I. Angelic Concert (inspired by painting for Isenheim Altar)
09:04 - II. Entombment (inspired by painting of interment of Jesus)
14:10 - III. Temptation of Saint Anthony

Violin Concerto

Movement 1 : Mässig bewegte Halbe
Movement 2 : Langsam
Movement 3 : Lebhaft

Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Weber

00:00 1. Allegro
04:04 2. Turandot, Scherzo: Moderato
11:29 3. Andantino
15:55 4. Marsch

Symphony in B-flat for Band

I. Moderately Fast, with vigor 0:00
II. Andantino grazioso 7:05
III. Fugue, rather broad 12:42

Nobilissima Visione

I. Einleitung und Lied des Toubadour
II. Tuchkäufer und Bettler [03:28]
III. Der Ritter [07:13]
IV. Marsch [09:10]
V. Erscheinung der drei Frauen [13:24]
VI. Festmusik [18:29]
VII. Schluss des Festes [21:11]
VIII. Meditation [25:48]
IX. Geigenspiel/ Der Wolf [31:38]
X. Kärgliche Hochzeit [35:34]
XI. Incipiunt laudes creaturarum [38:56]

Concert music for brass and strings, op 50

I. Mäßig schnell, mit Kraft - Sehr breit, aber stets flie ßend
II. Lebhaft - Langsam - Lebhaft [07:52]

Kleine Kammermusik for wind quintet, op 24 no. 2

Sonata for Trumpet and Piano

I. Mit Kraft
II. Mäßig bewegt
III. Trauermusik

Sonata for oboe and piano

0:01 Movement I - Munter
3:52 Movement II - Sehr Langsam, Lebhaft

"Das Marienleben""The Life of Virgin Mary", Song Cycle after Rainer Maria Rilke

Geburt Mariä
Die Darstellung Mariä im Tempel
Mariä Verkündigung
Mariä Heimsuchung
Argwohn Josephs
Verkündigung über den Hirten
Geburt Christi
Rast auf der Flucht in Ägypten
Von der Hochzeit zu Kana
Vor der Passion
Stillung Mariä mit dem Auferstandenen
Vom Tode Mariä: Derselbe grosse Engel Wer hat bedacht Doch vor dem Apostel Thomas

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