Paul Hindemith (; 16 November 1895 - 28 December 1963) was a prolific German composer, violist, violinist, teacher and conductor. In the 1920s, he became a major advocate of the Neue Sachlichkeit (new objectivity) style of music. Notable compositions include his song cycle Das Marienleben (1923), Der Schwanendreher for viola and orchestra (1935), and opera Mathis der Maler (1938). Hindemith's most popular work, both on record and in the concert hall, is likely the Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, written in 1943.
Born in Hanau, near Frankfurt am Main, Hindemith was taught the violin as a child. He entered Frankfurt's Hoch'sche Konservatorium, where he studied violin with Adolf Rebner, as well as conducting and composition with Arnold Mendelssohn and Bernhard Sekles. At first he supported himself by playing in dance bands and musical-comedy groups. He became deputy leader of the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra in 1914, and was promoted to leader in 1917. He played second violin in the Rebner String Quartet from 1914.
Hindemith was conscripted into the German army in September 1917 and sent to join his regiment in Alsace in January 1918. There he was assigned to play bass drum in the regiment band, and also formed a string quartet. In May 1918 he was deployed to the front in Flanders, where he served as a sentry; his diary shows him "surviving grenade attacks only by good luck", according to New Grove Dictionary. After the armistice he returned to Frankfurt and the Rebner Quartet.
In 1922, some of his pieces were played in the International Society for Contemporary Music festival at Salzburg, which first brought him to the attention of an international audience. The following year, he began to work as an organizer of the Donaueschingen Festival, where he programmed works by several avant garde composers, including Anton Webern and Arnold Schoenberg. In 1927 he was appointed Professor at the Berliner Hochschule für Musik in Berlin. Hindemith wrote the music for Hans Richter's 1928 avant-garde film Ghosts Before Breakfast (Vormittagsspuk), and he also acted in the film; the score and the original film were burned by the Nazis. The score was recreated by Ian Gardiner in 2006. In 1929 he played the solo part in the premiere of William Walton's Viola Concerto, after Lionel Tertis, for whom it was written, turned it down.
Hindemith's relationship to the Nazis is a complicated one. Some condemned his music as "degenerate" (largely based on his early, sexually charged operas such as Sancta Susanna), and in December 1934, during a speech at the Berlin Sports Palace, Germany's Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels publicly denounced Hindemith as an "atonal noisemaker". The Nazis banned his music in October 1936 and he was subsequently included in the 1938 Entartete Musik exhibition (Degenerate Music) in Düsseldorf.
Other officials working in Nazi Germany, though, thought that he might provide Germany with an example of a modern German composer, as by this time he was writing music based in tonality, with frequent references to folk music; the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler's defense of Hindemith, published in 1934, takes precisely this line. The controversy around his work continued throughout the thirties, with the composer falling in and out of favor with the Nazi hierarchy.
During the 1930s he made a visit to Cairo and several visits to Ankara. He accepted an invitiation from the Turkish government to oversee the creation of a music school in Istanbul in 1935, after Goebbels had pressured Hindemith to request an indefinite leave of absence from the Berlin Academy. In Turkey, he was the leading figure of a new music pedagogy in the era of president Kemal Atatürk. His deputy was Eduard Zuckmayer. Hindemith led the task of reorganizing Turkish music education and the early efforts for the establishment of the Turkish State Opera and Ballet. He did not stay in Turkey as long as many other émigrés. Nevertheless, he greatly influenced the developments of Turkish musical life; the Ankara State Conservatory owes much to his efforts. In fact, Hindemith was regarded as a "real master" by young Turkish musicians and he was appreciated and greatly respected.
Towards the end of the 1930s, he made several tours in America as a viola and viola d'amore soloist.
At the same time that he was codifying his musical language, his teaching and compositions began to be affected by his theories, according to critics like Ernest Ansermet. Once in the U.S. he taught primarily at Yale University, where he founded the Yale Collegium Musicum. He had such notable students as Lukas Foss, Graham George, Norman Dello Joio, Mitch Leigh, Mel Powell, Yehudi Wyner, Harold Shapero, Hans Otte, Ruth Schönthal, Samuel Adler, Leonard Sarason, and Oscar-winning film director George Roy Hill. He also taught at the University at Buffalo, Cornell University, and Wells College. During this time he also gave the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard, from which the book A Composer's World was extracted (Hindemith 1952). Hindemith had a long friendship with Erich Katz, whose own compositions were influenced by him. Also included among Hindemith's students were the composers Franz Reizenstein and Robert Strassburg.
He became a U.S. citizen in 1946, but returned to Europe in 1953, living in Zürich and teaching at the university there until he retired from teaching in 1957. Towards the end of his life he began to conduct more, and made numerous recordings, mostly of his own music.
An anonymous critic writing in Opera magazine in 1954, having attended a performance of Hindemith's Neues vom Tage, noted that "Mr Hindemith is no virtuoso conductor, but he does possess an extraordinary knack of making performers understand how his own music is supposed to go".
He was awarded the Balzan Prize in 1962 "For the wealth, extent and variety of his work, which is among the most valid in contemporary music, and which contains masterpieces of opera, symphonic and chamber music."
After a prolonged decline in his physical health, although he composed almost to his death, Hindemith died in Frankfurt from pancreatitis aged 68.
Hindemith is among the most significant German composers of his time. His early works are in a late romantic idiom, and he later produced expressionist works, rather in the style of the early Schoenberg, before developing a leaner, contrapuntally complex style in the 1920s. This style has been described as neoclassical, but is quite different from the works by Igor Stravinsky labeled with that term, owing more to the contrapuntal language of Johann Sebastian Bach and Max Reger than the Classical clarity of Mozart.
The new style can be heard in the series of works called Kammermusik (Chamber Music) from 1922 to 1927. Each of these pieces is written for a different small instrumental ensemble, many of them very unusual. Kammermusik No. 6, for example, is a concerto for the viola d'amore, an instrument that has not been in wide use since the baroque period, but which Hindemith himself played. He continued to write for unusual groups of instruments throughout his life, producing a trio for viola, heckelphone and piano (1928), 7 trios for 3 trautoniums (1930), a sonata for double bass and a concerto for trumpet, bassoon, and strings (both in 1949), for example.
Around the 1930s, Hindemith began to write less for chamber groups, and more for large orchestral forces. In 1933-35, Hindemith wrote his opera Mathis der Maler, based on the life of the painter Matthias Grünewald. This opera is rarely staged, though a well-known production by the New York City Opera in 1995 was an exception (Holland 1995). It combines the neo-classicism of earlier works with folk song. As a preliminary stage to the composing of this opera, Hindemith wrote a purely instrumental symphony also called Mathis der Maler, which is one of his most frequently performed works. In the opera, some portions of the symphony appear as instrumental interludes, others were elaborated in vocal scenes.
Hindemith wrote Gebrauchsmusik (Music for Use)--compositions intended to have a social or political purpose and sometimes written to be played by amateurs. The concept was inspired by Bertolt Brecht. An example of this is his Trauermusik (Funeral Music), written in January 1936. Hindemith was preparing the London premiere of Der Schwanendreher when he heard news of the death of George V. He quickly wrote this piece for solo viola and string orchestra in tribute to the late king, and the premiere was given that same evening, the day after the king's death. Other examples of Hindemith's Gebrauchsmusik include:
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. It takes melodies from various works by Weber, mainly piano duets, but also one from the overture to his incidental music for Turandot (Op. 37/J. 75), and transforms and adapts them so that each movement of the piece is based on one theme.
In 1951, Hindemith completed his Symphony in B-flat. Scored for concert band, it was written for the U.S. Army Band "Pershing's Own". Hindemith premiered it with that band on April 5 of that year. Its second performance took place under the baton of Hugh McMillan, conducting the Boulder Symphonic Band at the University of Colorado. The piece is representative of his late works, exhibiting strong contrapuntal lines throughout, and is a cornerstone of the band repertoire. Hindemith recorded it in stereo with members of the Philharmonia Orchestra for EMI in 1956.
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Most of Hindemith's music employs a unique system that is tonal but non-diatonic. Like most tonal music, it is centred on a tonic and modulates from one tonal centre to another, but it uses all 12 notes freely rather than relying on a scale picked as a subset of these notes. Hindemith even rewrote some of his music after developing this system. One of the key features of his system is that he ranks all musical intervals of the 12-tone equally tempered scale from the most consonant to the most dissonant. He classifies chords in six categories, on the basis of how dissonant they are, whether or not they contain a tritone, and whether or not they clearly suggest a root or tonal centre. Hindemith's philosophy also encompassed melody--he strove for melodies that do not clearly outline major or minor triads.
In the late 1930s, Hindemith wrote a theoretical book The Craft of Musical Composition (vol. 1, Hindemith 1937), which lays out this system in great detail. He also advocated this system as a means of understanding and analyzing the harmonic structure of other music, claiming that it has a broader reach than the traditional Roman numeral approach to chords (an approach that is strongly tied to the diatonic scales). In the final chapter of Book I, Hindemith seeks to illustrate the wide-ranging relevance and applicability of his system in analysis of music examples ranging from the early origins of European music to the contemporary. These analyses include an early Gregorian melody, and compositions by Guillaume de Machaut, J. S. Bach, Richard Wagner, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, and finally, a composition of his own.
His piano work of the early 1940s Ludus Tonalis contains twelve fugues, in the manner of Johann Sebastian Bach, using all traditional devices like inversion, diminution, augmentation, retrogradation, stretto, etc., each fugue connected by an interlude to the next, during which the music moves from the key of the last to its successor. The order of the keys follows Hindemith's ranking of musical intervals around the tonal center of C.
One traditional aspect of classical music that Hindemith retains is the idea of dissonance resolving to consonance. Much of Hindemith's music begins in consonant territory, progresses rather smoothly into dissonance, and resolves at the end in full, consonant chords. This is especially apparent in his Concert Music for Strings and Brass.
His complete set of instructional books (in possible educational order)
Hindemith conducted some of his own music in a series of recordings for EMI with the Philharmonia Orchestra and for Deutsche Grammophon with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, which have been digitally remastered and released on CD. The Violin Concerto was also recorded by Hindemith for Decca/London, with the composer conducting the London Symphony Orchestra with David Oistrakh as soloist. Everest Records issued a recording of Hindemith's postwar When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd ("A Requiem for Those We Love") on LP, conducted by Hindemith. A stereo recording of Hindemith conducting the requiem with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, with Louise Parker and George London as soloists, was made for Columbia Records in 1963 and later issued on CD. He also appeared on television as a guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's nationally syndicated "Music from Chicago" series; the performances have been released by VAI on home video. A complete orchestral music collection has been recorded by German and Australian orchestras, all released on the CPO label, recordings all conducted by Werner Andreas Albert.
An annual festival of Hindemith's music is held at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. It features student, staff, and professional musicians performing a range of Hindemith's works.