Hindemith, Paul

Paul HindemithBorn 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. 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. From 1927 he taught composition at the Berliner Hochschule für Musik in Berlin.

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 Turkish State Opera and Ballet. Towards the end of the 1930s, he made several tours in America as a viola and viola d’amore soloist.

Hindemith’s relationship to the Nazis is a complicated one. Some condemned his music as “degenerate” (largely on the basis of 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.”

Other officials working in Nazi Germany, though, thought that he might provide Germany with an example of a modern German composer, who by this time was writing music based in tonality, and 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; he finally emigrated to Switzerland in 1938 (in part because his wife was of partially Jewish ancestry).

In 1935, Hindemith was commissioned by the Turkish government to reorganize that country’s musical education, and, more specifically, was given the task of preparing 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.

This development seems to have been supported by the Nazi regime: it may have got him conveniently out of the way, yet at the same time he propagated a German view of musical history and education. (Hindemith himself said he believed he was being an ambassador for German culture.)

 

Paul Hindemith – Wikipedia