Paul Hindemith

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MaestroDJS
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Paul Hindemith

Post by MaestroDJS » Sat Apr 16, 2005 9:09 pm

This is a beautiful weekend for spring cleaning, and for some reason I've chosen Paul Hindemith to accompany my household chores. During his lifetime, Hindemith was considered one of the very greatest of 20th Century composers, and his influence was considerable. Today the pendulum has swung in the opposite extreme, and his music is often underrated. A few of his works have become fairly well established in the repertoire, but most are overlooked.

My first encounter with Paul Hindemith was in 1977, when I happened upon the CBS/Odyssey LP reissue of his own recording of A Requiem for Those We Love "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd". This work made an immediate impression on me which remains undiminished more than a quarter-century later. It was also one of the very few LPs which I almost literally wore out. Thank goodness for the CD reissue. This work was commissioned in 1945 by Robert Shaw and the Collegiate Chorale. In a sense, this can be considered as a quadruple requiem. The text by Walt Whitman is an elegy in honor of the slain President Abraham Lincoln. Hindemith intended his work to be in honor of the recently deceased President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Hindemith conducted his own recording in April 1963. By the end of the year, President John F. Kennedy had been slain, and Hindemith himself had also died. Of the music itself, the simple but evocative Prelude produces an enormous effect based on a simple repeated motif. The hushed Arioso for mezzo-soprano is of serene beauty. The powerful Introduction and Fugue for chorus lies at the heart of the Requiem. This is one of Hindemith's most euphonious, emotional and spiritual works.

One of Hindemith's most popular works, Mathis der Maler (both the opera and the 3-movement symphony derived from it) is dramatic and inspired. Hindemith evolved a personal style that adjusted readily to traditional forms. The Prelude (Engelkonzert) is one of my favorite symphonic movements in the entire repertoire. It begins with a slow introduction in 9/4 meter, which leads into a traditional symphonic exposition with 3 themes in 2/2 meter. The development is a fugue, and at the climax all themes are heard together in counterpoint, including that of the slow introduction. The conflicting meters blend together perfectly. Hindemith is also well known for his delightful and exuberant Symphonische Metamorphosen über Themen von Carl Maria von Weber. Great as these 2 works are, unfortunately they tend to eclipse almost everything else he wrote.

Among Hindemith's symphonic works, Symphony in E-Flat is magnificent and really should be programmed more often. The brief but brilliant first movement gives way to a quasi-funeral-march 2nd movement, a scherzo and a sonorous finale. Symphony in B-Flat Major for Concert Band is one of the very finest works ever composed for this instrumental ensemble. Symphonia Serena is beautiful, and I love to hum or whistle the main theme from the first movement. Hindemith didn't number his symphonies, and two are based operas (or vice versa) and thus sometimes considered suites. One is more likely to hear the symphony (Mathis der Maler, Die Harmonie der Welt) than the corresponding opera, but they are written with such craftsmanship that they are undeniably symphonies. The late and somewhat maligned Pittsburgh Symphony is also a fine work. His suite from the ballet Nobilissima visione as well as his Symphonic Dances and Concerto for Orchestra can almost be considered symphonies too. All are incredibly well crafted, colorfully scored, full of musical inventiveness, and wonderful harmonies and melodies.

His sonatas for piano, for organ and for almost every other instrument present their sonorities and capabilities to best effect. He also composed many concerti and other concertante works. His Viola Concerto "Der Schwanendreher" and The Four Temperaments for piano and string orchestra are outstanding, and Violin Concerto in C-Sharp Minor shows Hindemith at his most lyrical. It is surely one of the finest but most underrated violin concerti of the 20th Century. Occupying a middle ground between chamber and concertante music is his very striking Concert Music for for Piano, Brass and Harps, while Concert Music for Strings and Brass is a highly successful experiment in unusual forms and instrumental combinations.

I think his opera Mathis der Maler is one of the finest operas of the 20th Century. It is a masterpiece of psychological theater and a powerful political statement. There are few operatic scenes which affect me more than the intense 5th scene in which the major characters of the opera appear as tempters of Mathis (representing St. Anthony in his famous painting). I'm not as strongly drawn to his opera Cardillac but it too is very fine.

Dave

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Post by MaestroDJS » Sat Apr 16, 2005 9:13 pm

Maybe the Hindemith symphonies would be better known and appreciated had he numbered them. They could probably be numbered as follows:

Symphony No. 1 "Mather der Maler" (1934)
Symphony No. 2 in E-Flat (1941)
Symphony No. 3 "Symphonia Serena" (1946)
Symphony No. 4 in B-Flat for concert band (1951)
Symphony No. 5 "Die Harmonie der Welt" (1951)
Symphony No. 6 "Pittsburgh" (1958)

Hindemith composed his final symphony on a commission to commemorate the Pittsburgh bicentennial in 1959. In the 2nd movement Hindemith quotes the Pennsylvania Dutch song "Hab lumbedruwwel mit me lumbeschatz". This is apparently in the German dialect of the early Pennsylvania colonies. Does anyone know what this song title means? I think it means "My Faith is my Treasure" in Plattdeutsch, but it might also mean "I drubbed my wooden head with large pieces of lumber" or possibly "my beloved's lumber". Apparently in ancient Pennsylvania, giving one's beloved lumber was considered a sign of affection, and the larger the pieces of lumber, the more impressive the show. :lol:

Dave

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Post by Ralph » Sat Apr 16, 2005 10:43 pm

I had barely heard of Hindemith, and didn't know his music, until many eyars ago I was in Chicago with a moot court team and had a ticket to the CSO on Friday night. I sat in a $5 front row seat (all you could see was the conductor and some pairs of feet before they renovated that hall).

Lorin Maazel conducted and the first piece was "Mathis der Maler." I loved it from the first bars and the next morning I was at the old and now lamentably gone Rose Records on Wabash Avenue for the CD.

Since then I've listened to a lot of Hindemith, both recorded and in concerts. His chamber works especially are enjoyable.

Recently I heard several short operas composed during the Weimar period. Strange stuff!
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Post by Modernistfan » Sat Apr 16, 2005 10:48 pm

Yes, Hindemith is seriously underrated. He is rarely heard in the concert hall, except perhaps for the Symphonic Metamorphoses and the "Mathis der Maler" symphony. Luckily, there are very good to excellent recordings of most of his major works (even his operas now). For example, the series recorded on Decca by Herbert Blomstedt (mostly in San Francisco), is excellent, and is now available on a low-price "Trio" set.

You have to listen to a work he wrote for string quartet in the mid 1920's, whose original German title is: "Overtüre zum 'Fliegenden Holländer," wie sie eine schlechte Kurkapelle morgens um 7 am Brunnen vom Blatt spielt," which, translated, means, "Overture to "The Flying Dutchman" as sight-read by a bad spa orchestra at 7 a.m. at the village well." There have been at least two recordings of this insanity, one on Wergo, the other on Praga. Unfortunately, they seem not available now in the United States, but the Wergo is still available from England. (The Praga set, originally on 3 CDs, which I have, was reissued on 2 CDs, dropping that piece and some other works.) It is not so much a satire on Wagner's music as on sloppy orchestral playing. During the Weimar Republic, one could get away with that sort of thing, but a few years later . . . .

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Post by Guest » Sun Apr 17, 2005 1:39 am

We have Cardillac next season in Paris.

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Post by Haydnseek » Sun Apr 17, 2005 10:03 am

My only recording of Hindemith’s music is a two disc set of the “Kammermusik” by Riccardo Chailly and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. This series of works was written in the 1920’s in the Neo-classical style that Stravinsky was also exploring. Perhaps Neo-baroque is a better description. They consist mostly of concertos lasting from 15 to 20 minutes long and the notes describe them as “sort of a 20th century equivalent of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.” They are intriguing works but not very lovable. I miss the charm and grace that Stravinsky brought to this style of music. Still, I come back for a listen every now and then and they’ve grown on me over time. The recording by the way is outstanding in every way. It is a mid-price "twofer" but only available as an import is you are in the USA.
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Post by herman » Sun Apr 17, 2005 11:13 am

I haven't listened to any Hindemith for quite a while, but back in the eighties there was, or so it seemed, an concerted effort to bring his music somewhat back to the fore. I have heard a cycle of his string quartets performed (quite a buncha) and of course his delightful Kammermusike. The funny thing is I never took the trouble to purchase the very well received Chailly recording. Perhaps I should.

I think the problem with Hindemith's reputation is the same as with Milhaud's. There is just too goddamn much of it, and it's very hard to seem the forest thru the trees, which is why in the vase of both composers only a handful of "name" works (Mathis der Maler / Schwanendreher / Creation du Monde / Boeuf sur le Toit) survive.

So David, if you want your works to live for generations, don't compose in the hundreds!

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Post by Guest » Sun Apr 17, 2005 2:23 pm

Ah yes; Paul Hindemith, quite literally an old family friend (and I still retain his hand etched Christmas Cards from the early 1950's) who I got to know in the late 1940’s in Colorado when he was on the faculty at the University of Colorado’s Summer School of Music (Colorado Springs). There was no one anywhere in the world who, at that point of time, came within light years of Hindemith’s knowledge of music in every sense of the word and as composer, I predict “His Time Will Come.” Very few in the last century come close!

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Post by FrankAderholdt » Mon Apr 18, 2005 4:11 pm

Ah, what a nice thread.

I got on a Hindemith kick six or seven years ago, and bought tons of CD's.

Being of German heritage myself, I love his "rugged seriousness." (I made up this term; I hope it communicates something.)

Hindemith apparently reveled in being a "craftsman" in the finest sense of the term. The term Gebrauchsmusik is often sneered at, as if "useful" music that performers enjoying playing is somehow beneath the Great Artist to whose Great Ideas everyone must bow. I always feel that Hindemith's music submerges his own ego in the service of the music and the musician.

Hindemith is serious (though not somber), well-ordered, technically precise. That may sound like damning with faint praise, but Hindemith is always satisfying to me. There's little or no "wow" factor but plenty of solid musical material, well-handled. And some of his harmonies, especially in Mathis der Maler, sound like no one else's. I'm not well-versed enough in musical theory to know how he gets that sound. I only know it can be haunting, mysterious, and impossible to forget.
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Post by Barry » Mon Apr 18, 2005 4:16 pm

I just heard his Concert Music for Strings and Brass recently performed by Sawallisch and the Philadelphia Orchestra. It's a very pleasant piece; lots of zip.
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Post by FrankAderholdt » Tue Apr 19, 2005 3:10 pm

I have a two-CD set (Sony) of Hindemith's sonatas for brass instruments. It's still in print, I believe. There are sonatas for French horn, trumpet, trombone, and tuba. The pianist: Glenn Gould, no less!

This is good stuff. Perfect examples of Hindemith's craft and philosophy of music. Solid musical ideas, well-written for each instrument. Again, "satisfying" is the word that comes to mind.
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Post by MaestroDJS » Tue Apr 19, 2005 7:25 pm

Hindemith's works receive too many perfunctory and not fully-understood performances. In the hands of knowledgeable and committed performers, every work of his I've ever heard is at least solidly good. His Symphony in E-Flat is a wonderful piece. I can't understand why it's not a concert staple. Of course, a lot of 20th century music is in that category: first-rate but under-exposed.

It sure is nice to start a thread like this which yields such an interesting array of responses.

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Post by Donald Isler » Tue Apr 19, 2005 11:31 pm

I used to play his Second Piano Sonata, a very nice work. I should probably look at it again, and get to know more of his music.
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Post by Guest » Wed Apr 20, 2005 5:22 am

Come to think of it, the Symphonic Metamorphoses were the first thing I ever played with a proper, big orchestra of any quality. I still hear them with pleasure, if and when the chance comes up...

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Post by FrankAderholdt » Wed Apr 20, 2005 8:32 am

Naxos has an ongoing series of Reger's organ works. Volumes 1-4 have been issued so far, each with a different organist. So there's your budget entry to explore this aspect of Reger.

If you like J.S. Bach's organ works, chances are you'll like Reger as well. By comparison with Bach, of course Reger suffers a bit. But who doesn't?

Reger's music is often called "thick" and his orchestration too muddled. In the right hands, though, both the orchestral and organ works can be clear enough. MaestroDJS remarked that "Hindemith's works receive too many perfunctory and not fully-understood performances." I suspect Reger requires musicians of more-than-average skill who understand and appreciate the demands of complex counterpoint. Add that to a late-Romantic style, and without doubt you've got a challenge. Reger is worth the effort, though.

This composer needs some dedicated, world-class musicians to champion his cause.
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Violist, and Composer which comes first

Post by violinland » Thu Apr 21, 2005 7:53 am

We must not forget Hindemith the violist.

To hear real Mozart listen to the Mozart Duo with Paul Hindemith and another fine string player Simon Goldberg those were the days of the golden, (no pun intended) string sound on record. A special kind of magic, which has since long disappeared.

Or am I just too old?

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Post by Guest » Thu Apr 21, 2005 12:07 pm

The superb recording cited of the Mozart Duo for Violin and Viola (K. 424) as performed by Szymon Goldberg and Paul Hindemith was available at one time as part of a three disc Music & Arts set (CD-665) titled “The Art of Szymon Goldberg and Lili Kraus”. The set also had the other Mozart Duo (K. 423) with Frederick Riddle handling the viola part as well as the following Mozart Sonatas, K. 380, 481, 404, 296, 377, 378, 379 as well as Beethoven’s Opus 24, 47 and 96.

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Post by violinland » Thu Apr 21, 2005 1:47 pm

cello wrote:The superb recording cited of the Mozart Duo for Violin and Viola (K. 424) as performed by Szymon Goldberg and Paul Hindemith was available at one time as part of a three disc Music & Arts set (CD-665) titled “The Art of Szymon Goldberg and Lili Kraus”. The set also had the other Mozart Duo (K. 423) with Frederick Riddle handling the viola part as well as the following Mozart Sonatas, K. 380, 481, 404, 296, 377, 378, 379 as well as Beethoven’s Opus 24, 47 and 96.

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I still have all of the above on the original 78s. I heard the H/S Duo about two weeks ago, played on my EMG 1934 hand made gramophone. I have to tell you that I am still in love with the warm sound of the 78s - not all perhaps but this set in particular. The next outstanding performance of the same Duo was by Joseph and Lillian Fusch. That was on LP.

I am so glad you like the one I referred to.

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Post by Guest » Thu Apr 21, 2005 2:39 pm

I quite literally grew up with the Fuch’s duo or on occasion trio, when joined by ‘cellist brother Harry, who while not quite in the same league as his siblings, Joe and Lillian was good. You might be interested to know that the DOREMI label (DHR 7801/2) has just re-released Lillian’s pioneering viola version of the Bach “Cello Suites, done in the early 1950’s. Hopefully at some point in time the label will reissue the duo’s recording of the Three Martinu Madrigals, a recording that has yet to be equaled!

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Post by pizza » Thu Apr 21, 2005 3:07 pm

His contrapuntal work for solo piano, Ludus Tonalis is considered to be a landmark of twentieth-century piano music. There is a beautiful recording by Olli Mustonen who gives this very demanding work a fluid, note-perfect performance on a beautifully recorded Decca CD. Prokofiev's Visions Fugitives on the same disc receives the same excellent treatment by this marvelous pianist. Highly recommended.

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