Paul Hindemith: CDs & DVDs: Best CDs & DVDs of Paul Hindemith

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Paul Hindemith: CDs & DVDs - The Best CDs & DVDs of Paul Hindemith

Paul Hindemith: Overview

Paul Hindemith: Paul Hindemith (b. Hanau, 16 Nov 1895; d. Frankfurt, 28 Dec 1963).

Paul Hindemith was born in Hanau in 1895. Among the formative composers of 20th-century music he was thus the youngest. As a child he was a gifted violinist and violist, while his younger brother Rudolf played the 'cello, and his sister Toni the violin. There is some evidence that their father treated them rather as Leopold Mozart treated his children. Their musical education was forced, and they appeared in public when still very young as child prodigies, collectively billed as the Frankfurter Kindertrio. At thirteen, Paul entered the Hoch Conservatorium in Frankfurt-am-Main, where he studied composition with Arnold Mendelssohn and Bernard Sekles.

A certain confusion has surrounded his activities at the start of the war in 1914. He himself was not conscripted until 1917, after which he served for eighteen months in the German army, while the Paul Hindemith who went to the front in 1915 was his father, Robert Rudolph, who volunteered and was killed in action in Flanders in the summer of that year. Paul meanwhile (June 1915) had accepted the post of principal violinist in the Frankfurt Opera orchestra, and this he held, with the break for military service, until 1923. He was also by this time composing, and from his time in the army date his earliest published works, the Three Pieces for 'cello and piano, Op.8, the String Quartet Op. 10, and the first two violin sonatas of Op. 11. After the war he adopted for a while a certain satirical tone, in the one-act opera Das Nusch-Nuschi and the Kammermusik No.1, which contains jazz parody. But although Paul Hindemith's enfant terrible phase lasted some years (until Neues vom Tage in 1929) it was never for him a crucial or productive strain. Of greater importance are the many instrumental works of this period, which include the earliest of his so-called Gebrauchsmusik - that is, useful music - mainly for instruments and designed to form a ready and painless introduction to the mysteries of modern music for performers of amateur or professional ability. In these works we find Paul Hindemith developing new harmonic and contrapuntal techniques on which he was later to publish an important treatise (The Craft of Musical Composition', published 1937 and 1939). The basis of the style was a linear counterpoint of a mildly Bachian cut which was promptly dubbed 'Back-to-Bach' and was held to align Paul Hindemith firmly with the neoclassical 'school' of Stravinsky et al, though Paul Hindemith's aesthetic was quite unrelated to Stravinsky's. The characteristic work of the period is the song-cycle, Das Marienleben (1923, but drastically revised in 1948). But throughout the 1920s Paul Hindemith produced a series of smaller instrumental masterpieces which, being serious, technically solid and above all craftsmanlike, attracted less attention. In 1929 his theories about the function of music brought about a collaboration with Brecht (Lehrstuck), but this was not a success.

Paul Hindemith meanwhile was continuing his career as a performer, plus a new career as teacher. In 1921 the first Donauschingen Festival of contemporary music included a string quartet of his, and for this performance a quartet was specially formed, the Amar Quartet, with Paul Hindemith as violist. In due course the Amar was to become one of the celebrated quartets of the day. In 1927 he moved from Frankfurt to Berlin to be Professor of Composition at the Hochschule. But after 1933 he was soon a casualty of the Nazi propaganda machine. Early skirmishes were followed by a major scandal over Paul Hindemith's opera, Mathis der Maler, though apparently not on account of its political content (its central incident is the Peasants' Revolt of 1524). Despite the intervention of Furtwangler, who conducted the symphony based on the opera in Berlin in March 1934, the authorities refused to allow the opera to be performed, alleging among other things that Paul Hindemith had made defamatory remarks about Hitler, was an associate of Jewish musicians (this was undoubtedly true), and belonged at heart to the 'decadent' phase in German music of which Das Nusch-Suschi was a typical excrescence. In 1935 Paul Hindemith left Germany for the last time until after the war.

He went first to Turkey, where he spent a year organising the country's musical life, then made a series of three tours to the USA, the last of which was to be permanent, owing to the outbreak of war in Europe. In 1940 he joined the music staff at Yale, and in 1946 became an American citizen. Nevertheless, when the war was over, he soon toured Europe, visiting Germany as a conductor in 1949. In 1948 he was appointed to the music faculty at Zurich University, but not until 1953 did he at last decide to resettle in Europe, choosing Switzerland as the most natural and convenient country of residence. He continued conducting, without ever establishing himself (as he would have liked) as a repertory conductor. His health, however, declined rapidly in the 1960s, and he died of a stroke in Frankfurt in 1963.

After the war Paul Hindemith took many years to live down his failure to pursue the 'progressive' paths of his youth, which w ere, as we can now see, largely a digression. The mainstream of his music is represented by the instrumental works of the 1920s leading up to the operas Cardillac (1926) and Mathis der Ma/er, by which time the Paul Hindemithian style, with its characteristic fourth-based harmonies, its compound rhythms and rapid-flow ing polyphony, is established. This style is milder than that of certain earlier works, which approach atonality. But Paul Hindemith was never attracted by Schoenberg's theories or. it seems, by his music, and the later works, with their warm, comparatively opulent textures and generous rhetorical gestures, though far from the studiedly unpretentious world of the early Gebrauchsmusik pieces, are the natural outcome of his technical theories and of his views about the artist's role in society.

These, both as expressed in Mathis der Maler and as carried out in his own life, are effectively that the artist should cultivate his gifts and not meddle in politics. His dealings with the Nazis, w hich at times have a dangerously pragmatic appearance, were probably no more than the logical result of his fundamentally apolitical temperament. Music he considered had a duty to be useful first and beautiful second. He w as deeply serious about art, but a child of his time in deploring naked aestheticism. Nevertheless in due course he became a great and individual artist in spite of himself, and his finest works, from the early sonatas, through Das Marienleben, Cardillac, Mathis der Maler (especially the Symphony), Sobilissima Vis tone, the Konzertmusik for strings and brass, the Cello Concerto, and the Symphonic Metamorphoses, to the late opera Die Harmonie der Welt, form an oeuvre to which many of Paul Hindemith's contemporaries would be happv to put their name.

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