Home » Uncategorized » Paul Hindemith and the Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber

Paul Hindemith and the Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber


Paul Hindemith (November 16, 1895–December 28, 1963) was a German composer, violist, violinist, teacher, music theorist, and conductor who was born on November 16, 1895, in Hanau, near Frankfurt am Main. Hindemith s family moved in 1902 to Frankfurt where he was taught the violin as a child.beginning in 1904 by Eugen Reinhardt and continued instructions under Anna Hegner in 1907. He had a younger sister named Toni and a younger brother named Rudolf. All three were musically gifted and even performed together as the “Frankfurt Children’s Trio” in 1910. In 1908, 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. He was forced to leave the conservatory in 1917 when he was called up for military service and spent most of his service as a member of a regimental band stationed about 3 kilometers from the front line. After returning from the war, Hindemith again took to the concert stage, having switched to viola in 1919. In 1921 he founded the Amar Quartet, playing viola, and extensively toured Europe. 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.

One of Hindemith’s notable vocal compositions is his song cycle Das Marienleben (1923). The next year he married Gertrud Rottenberg, the daughter of the conductor of the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra. Hindemith was among the most significant German composers of his time. His early works were in a late romantic idiom, and he later produced expressionist works, rather in the style of early Arnold Schoenberg, before developing a leaner, contrapuntally complex style in the 1920s. Most of Hindemith’s music employs a unique system that is tonal but non-diatonic. This style has been described as neoclassical, but is very 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. 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), although the score was subsequently lost, and he also acted in the film. 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.

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. It combines the neo-classicism of earlier works with folk song. During the 1930s he made a visit to Cairo and several visits to Ankara where, at the invitation of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, he led the task of reorganizing Turkish music education and the early efforts for the establishment of the Turkish State Opera and Ballet. In 1935, the Turkish government commissioned Hindemith to reorganize that country’s musical education, and, more specifically, to prepare material for the “Universal and Turkish Polyphonic Music Education Programme” for all music-related institutions in Turkey, a feat which he accomplished to universal acclaim. Hindemith, like Kurt Weill and Ernst Krenek, 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.

In the late 1930s, Hindemith wrote a theoretical book The Craft of Musical Composition (Hindemith 1937–70), which lays out this system in great detail. Towards the end of the 1930s, he made several tours in America as a viola and viola d’amore soloist. Hindemith’s relationship to is a complicated one. Some of the Nazis condemned his music, such as the opera Sancta Susanna as “degenerate,” 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.” Other officials working in Nazi Germany, though, thought that he might provide Germany with an example of a modern German composer. The controversy around his work continued throughout the thirties, with the composer falling in and out of favor with the Nazi hierarchy. He finally emigrated to Switzerland in 1938, partly because his wife was of partially Jewish ancestry. The dance legend Nobilissima visione, based on the life of St Francis of Assisi and first performed in London in 1938, is better known in occasional instrumental excerpts. His piano work of the early 1940s Ludus Tonalis contains twelve fugues, in the manner of Johann Sebastian Bach.

In 1940, Hindemith emigrated to the United States. Once in the U.S., after a series of lecture and teaching engagements which had been arranged by friends, he taught primarily at Yale University where he had such notable students as Lukas Foss, Graham George, Norman Dello Joio, Mel Powell, Yehudi Wyner, Harold Shapero, Hans Otte, Ruth Schonthal, and Oscar-winning film director George Roy Hill. During this time he also gave the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard, from which the book A Composer’s World was extracted in 1952. Hindemith had a long friendship with Erich Katz, whose own compositions were influenced by him. Hindemith’s most popular work, both on record and in the concert hall, is probably the Symphonic Metamorphoses of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, written in 1943. From 1945 to 1953, he conducted the Collegium Musicum. He became an American citizen in 1946, 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. He returned to Europe in 1953, living in Zürich and teaching at the university there. Towards the end of his life, after retiring from his post in Zurich in 1955, he began to conduct more, and made numerous recordings, mostly of his own music. He was awarded the Balzan Prize in 1962. After a prolonged decline in his physical health, though he kept composing until almost the last, Hindemith, he was taken ill in November, 1963, and transferred to a hospital in Frankfurt where he died on December 28, 1963, from acute pancreatitis at the age of 68.

My collection contains the following works by Hindemith:

Der Schwanendreher, Concerto after old folk songs for viola and small orchestra (1935).
Konzertmusik for Strings and Brass (1931).
Mathis Der Maler (1933): Symphony (1934).
Nobilissima Visione ballet: Suite (1938).
Symphonia Serena (1946).
Symphonie “Die Harmonie deer Welt” (1951).
Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber (1943).
Trauermusik for Viola and Strings (1936).

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources


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