Personalities | Paul Hindemith | Modern Era | Classical

(Poul Hin’-de-mit) 1895–1963
German composer and violist

Hindemith began his career as an enfant terrible, shocking conservative audiences with a ragtime based on a theme by J. S. Bach and a trilogy of one-act operas – Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen (‘Murder, Hope of Women’), Das Nusch-Nuschi, Sancta Susanna (‘Saint Susannah’) – that mingled themes of sexual obsession with quotations from Wagner and strangely beautiful lyrics. His full-length opera Cardillac (1926) was no less disturbing in its portrayal of a goldsmith so obsessed with his own work that he murders to regain it. This phase ended in the early 1930s, and his next opera Mathis der Maler (‘Matthias the Painter’, 1933) is a serious essay, to music of sometimes grave beauty, on the artist’s role in a society at war; a symphony drawn from it achieved lasting popularity. He had given the first performance of Walton’s viola concerto in London in 1929, and in 1935 composed his own, Der Schwanendreher (‘The Swan-Turner’).

Denounced by the Nazis, Hindemith emigrated to America and began to formulate a harmonic system based on a hierarchy of intervals. He also radically revised some of his earlier works in the light of this system, even equipping Cardillac with a modified plot. Once highly influential, not least as a modern but palatable alternative to Schoenberg, he was regarded as a conservative in his later years; new interest in him has been sparked by the rediscovery of his youthful works.

Recommended Recording:
Mathis der Maler’ Symphony, Nobilissima Visione, Symphonia Serena, etc., San Francisco SO (cond) Herbert Blomstedt (Decca)

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