Paul Hindemith is German composer who is listed among the brightest representatives of modernism in music. He was a famous composer, violist, conductor, theoretician and educator being among the four modernism founders. His theoretic concepts incorporated different musical subjects, writings of early church and medieval philosophy. Hindemith was a proficient musician playing various musical instruments but his most favorite ones were viola damore and viola. His views on art influenced the music of such composers as Norman Dello Joio, Arnold Cooke, Franz Reizenstein and others. He wrote a variety of works, in particular song cycle Der Schwanendreher for viola and orchestra, opera Mathis der Maler, song cycle Das Marienleben. However, his most famous one is the Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber created in 1943. Although the Nazis forced him to leave Germany, Hindemith continued hosting concerts in the United States and Switzerland. Moreover, Paul Hindemith experimented with various musical genres such as orchestral works, chamber music, choral works, operas, ballets, solo concertos and lieder in addition to written essays and books. Thus, Paul Hindemith is listed among the most famous German composers, violinists, violists, conductors and teachers, being one of the modernism founders and playing a crucial role in the history of music. Hindemith has left a huge heritage of amazing and unusual musical works.

Paul Hindemiths Life and Career

The composer was born in 1895, in Hanau, Germany. His parents were Marie Sophie and Robert Rudolph Hindemith who had two younger children apart from him. Although the boy had rather strong predilection for music from an early age, he could not receive the needed musical education because of financial difficulties. Hindemith lived with his grandmother and grandfather who lived in in Silesia. However, when his young brother Rudolf was born the family moved much. First, they went to Offenbach and then to Muhlheim (The Famous People, n.d.). Thus, his childhood finished in Hanau.

In 1902, Hindemith went to school where he could attend lessons of music, in particular lessons in the viola playing from Eugen Reinhardt who was his schoolteacher. In 1905, the whole family moved to Frankfurt where the boy started attending violin lessons. His teacher was Anna Hegner, a violinist from Swiss (The Famous People, n.d.). Although Anna Hegner moved to another town in 1908, Hindemith did not stop his musical lessons and started taking up lessons in violin from other violin instructor Adolf Rebner. Unfortunately, the family of the young musician did not support him in his interest in music causing family conflicts, so that Hindemith eventually left home at the age of eleven. According to the Famous People (n.d.), during winter semester, Paul was accepted to Rebners violin class. Moreover, he took part in the Dr. Hochs Conservatory recitals in 1909 and 1912. Additionally, Arnold Mendelssohn gave Hindemith composition instructions and Bernhard Sekles taught him composition in 1913. In the same year, he played at the Swiss ensemble that performed in such cities as Lucerne and Lugano, and in December, the young man began to work as a concertmaster in the opera Neues Theatre in Frankfurt. Moreover, he became a member of Heiden (Switzerland) spa orchestra in 1914, and received a violin as a present of Joseph Joachim Foundation next year (The Famous People, n.d.). Furthermore, in August he got 750 marks as an award presented by the Mendelssohn Bartholdy Foundation in Berlin. Unfortunately, during this year, he lost his father who was killed in the war in Flanders. Three years after that tragic event, Hindemith as a martial musician went to an infantry regiment that was stationed in Alsace. After the end of the World War I, the future composer retired from the military service and in December of the same year arrived to Frankfurt.

On May 15, 1924, Hindemith married Gertrud Rottenberg, who was the daughter of Ludwig Rottenberg, the first Kapellmeister of the opera house orchestra in Frankfurt (The Famous People, n.d.) However, his personal relations did not influence his art, and Hindemith created the Amar Quartet playing the viola. Additionally, this quartet existed from 1922 till 1929 and during this period the musician became the committee member of the famous Music Festival in Donaueschingen. By taking part in the festival with his written String Quartet, Hindemith became famous, and in 1927, was offered a position of a professor at the Hochshule f?r Musik.

Although his creative career was on a rather high level, his music was considered culturally bolshevist because of Hitlers rise to power. Moreover, all his concerts were banned and the composers various works were removed from the recital programs. Because of such persecutions, Hindemith started to perform his art in other countries, including the United States of America. Hence, his works were banned completely and the composer moved to Switzerland in 1936 (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015). Furthermore, in 1946 he became the US citizen and started teaching at American Yale University (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015). During this time he continued performing his music while travelling to Holland, Belgium, Austria, Italy and Switzerland where he also gave lectures apart from concerts. Allison (2013) states, The relationship between a creative mind and wider society was one of Hindemiths major preoccupations, and nothing is more representative of German resistance to Nazism from within than Mathis. In addition to lectures on music, Hindemith started giving poetry lectures at Harvard University and after that, the famous composer started working as a lecturer in Zurich in 1951. Finally, he moved to Boney situated near Lake Geneva.

Hindemith performed concerts in different parts of the world up to his death. In 1958, during the Octet world premiere in Berlin, he performed a viola concert in front of the audience for the last time in his life. However, he performed his concerts in Pittsburgh, New York and Waterville from 10 to 28 January in 1959. He organized the Beethoven-Halle opening concert in Bonn in 1963, and moved to Italy where he had many other performances.

World Success

In the course of his career, the famous musician received many awards, in particular Universities of Frankfurt, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), and Columbia in New York provided him with the title of honorary doctorate. Moreover, in 1958 the composer was given the artistic award of the Province of Nordrhein-Westfalen (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015) in addition to Prix Balzan award given in Rome in 1963. Unfortunately, on 28 December 1963, Paul Hindemith died in Frankfurt.

Different Genres and Styles of Hindemiths Music

Hindemith was one of the famous German composers and talented musical theorists who tried to revive tonality because many composers wanted to make various changes in it. Moreover, he wrote Gebrauchsmusik also called utility music suitable for daily occasions. He had a specific approach to composer meaning because he believed that music should be used for social needs but not for the soul satisfaction. According to Encyclopedia Britannica (2015), As a teacher of composition he probably exerted an influence on most of the composers belonging to the generation that followed him. However, at the early age the young composer had to earn his living by playing in theatres, different music bands, and cafes. Nevertheless, all of his jobs associated with music brought him only positive moments and future recognition. One of his early creative achievements was the acquisition of the leader position of Opera Orchestra in Frankfurt at the age of twenty.

Besides, Hindemiths own works became famous among international public due to various festivals of modern music. His early works included chamber music for the Amar-Hindemith Quartet, Die Junge Magd, which was a cycle written on Georg Trakls poems, and Das Marienleben created in 1024. In addition to these works, Hindemith created different operas. One of them is called Cardillac and was written in 1926 and based on the authors Das Fr?ulein von Scuderi (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015). Thus, at the end of the 1920s this musician became one of the most famous German composers of the contemporary world.

The postwar Germany needed music that would express the cultures functional trends and serve other practical purposes. For this purpose, Hindemith created his utility music that included works for brass bands, youth groups, radio plays, childrens games, etc. Moreover, together with Kurt Weill he wrote music for the radio cantata Der Lindberghflug (1928). In addition, the author of lyrics was the famous German dramatist Bertolt Brecht. After the Nazi party had come to power in Germany, Joseph Goebbels who was propaganda minister prohibited Hindemiths opera Mathis der Maler. It was caused by Spiritual Non-Aryan and even Cultural Bolshevist plots describing Matthias Grunewald, who was the painter fighting against the society in Germany ruled by Nazi regime (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015). Although Hindemith was forced to sign an oath of loyalty to Hitler (Music and the Holocaust, 2017) in 1936, his position in Germany was rather unstable. Additionally, his wife Gertrud had Jewish ancestry and all these circumstances forced Hindemith to leave Germany. He then created music education system on Western lines and taught at the conservatory in Ankara (193537) (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015). In this way, his life in Germany ended.

Early Works

The early musical heritage of Hindemith was rather iconoclastic and anti-Romantic. However, it included humor, inventiveness, and exuberance. For example, he wrote his outstanding Kammermusik series appointed to the small, astringent and unconventional group of instruments. Moreover, he composed other great masterpieces, including The Cello Concerto (1940), The Violin Concerto (1939), the operas Die Harmonie der Welt and The Long Christmas Dinner, and The Symphonic Metamorphoses After Themes by Carl Maria von Weber created in 1946 (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015). In contrast to Arnold Schoenbergs school of 12-tone, Paul Hindemith formulated harmonic system principles based on the traditional tonality enlargement. The bright example of such principles was his work called Unterweisung im Tonsatz.


Music of Paul Hindemith is based on various styles but it was mostly influenced by the post-Romantic, Reger-like idiom. Moreover, the significant influence on his creativity was made by the early works of Arnold Schoenberg. Although his music style critics called it neoclassical, it was rather different from Igor Stravinskys style. Additionally, Hindemith made his own style Kammermusik applicable to Chamber Music and often created music for unusual instrumental groups, in particular for a trio of viola, piano and heckelphone, a concerto for trumpet, strings and bassoon, a sonata for double bass, etc. Thus, during the late period of his creative work, he wrote expressionist works.

In the 1930s, Hindemith began to compose for larger instrumental groups such as orchestral forces. For example, he wrote his opera Mathis der Maler including early works of neo-classicism combined with folk songs. However, before creating the opera, he had created instrumental symphony with the same title belonging to the most popular works played nowadays. Some of symphony portions were used in opera as instrumental interludes; others were applied in vocal pieces.


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Hindemiths new type of music called Gebrauchsmusik had political and social goals and was inspired by the famous German poet and theater director Bertolt Brecht. One of the bright examples is Trauermusik, which is a suite for string orchestra and viola belonging to Funeral Music written in honor of the English King George V. Other Gebrauchsmusik examples are the Pl?ner Musiktage, a Scherzo for viola and cello written in 1934, Wir Bauen eine Stadt, and others. One of his late works was Symphony inB-flat where Hindemith applied strong contrapuntal lines through the entire symphony making it a band repertoire cornerstone. Among the composers own innovations was the use of non-diatonic but tonal music. Similar to any other musical work, at first Hindemiths music is centered on a tonic but modulates from one tonic center to another. Moreover, the composer uses all twelve notes freely. Each chord is classified in six categories based on its discordant sound, depending on whether it includes triton or not, belongs to a tonal center or not, etc. However, Hindemith had been striving for melodies and phrases that did not exactly outline minor or major triads. One of the examples of such conception is piano work Ludus Tonalis (1940).

Jazz and Folk

The 20th century jazz music occupied an important place and each composer tried to capture new musical trends. In fact, Paul Hindemith was not an exception and first his jazz idioms emerged in instrumental works. An introduction in foxtrot form from his Kammermusik No.1 and piano Suite 1922 that includes such parts as Boston, Shimmy, Ragtime shows the German peoples desire to follow modern trends and their passion for music. Moreover, Hindemith had his own approach to the piano and used to teach that it was a kind of percussion instrument to be treated accordingly (Watkins, 1995, p.289). The opening with alternating hands, the stride bass hints in the left hand, and the bar line including persistent ties underline the presence of the piano rag style. However, the opposite movement of octaves on white and black keys in a complex of fives creates the feeling of lightness and this method of playing is similar to Poulencs use of contrary-motion diatonic measures in his Cocardes.

Free Atonality Elements

The combined use of quasi-futurist whistles and sirens with foxtrot in Hindemiths Kammermusik No.1 (1921) underlines the composers growing reputation as an avant-garde musician at Donaueschingen Chamber Music Festival in 1022. According to Watkins (1995), The works instrumentation (fl, cl, bsn, tpt, 2 vn, va, vc, db, pf, accordion, perc) and the composers directions that the performers should be situated out of sight of the audience solidified his position (Watkins, 1995, p.291). This work written for 12 solo instruments reflects the nature of this music that is no longer based only on the piano to conjure up the famous mode, and the players position could have various suitable alternatives for creating a free and relaxed atmosphere of dance salon in contrast to the traditional concert performances. Based on this music, Hindemith underlined the contrast between his written expressionist-tinged operas such as M?rder, Hoffnung der Frauen (1919), Das Nusch-Nuschi (1920), and Sancta Susanna (1921). Moreover, pervasive dissonance and the free atonality used by the composer in his String Quartet No.2 written in 1921 suggest that Hindemith might have successfully developed naturalistic union with Arnold Schoenberg. Although these works are characterized by his Expressionism tends brand, they only emphasized Hindemiths romantic base.

Hindemith wanted to simplify the Expressionist tendencies and was looking for the new ways to create something new in particular jazz rhythms occasionally used in his Hin und Zur?ck (1027), and Neues vom Tage (1928-29). These two operas belong to Zeitoper category, also known as operas with libretti used from the existing social significance of famous modern musical idioms.

Music for Use

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In the mid-1920s, Berlin Dadaists contributed to the general reaction against emotion and sentiment, and all these changes led to a more useful and positive commitment, detached and cynical thought it may have been, which acquired the name of Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity (Watkins, 1995, p.292). These movements resulted in Hindemiths new belief that music ought to be used for social needs and this view contributed to the emergence of Music for Use (Gebrauchsmusik). Additionally, his opera Wir bauen eine Stadt (1930) is an example of such an approach intended for the amateur show. The continuing role of popular materials and folk in the music of Hindemith was observed by critics in his opera Mathis der Maler. According to Watkins (1995), The congeniality of jazz rhythms to Hindemiths musical language was sporadically evident in his later works, as in the syncopated fugue subject of the second movement of his brilliant Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Weber (Watkins, 1995, p.292). Thus, this work is ranked among the most famous Hindemiths works.

Mathis der Maler

Opera Mathis der Maler was performed in 1938 in Zurich because it was banned in Nazi Germany. However, some parts from the opera were used by Hindemith in his Mathis der Maler symphony performed in Berlin in 1934. While in opera ternary aria, folksong duet and plainchant hymn articulate the opera opening scene, while arioso and recitative are used as well to blend the separate alliances into music with a flawless forward-moving continuity. Moreover, more central to the Mathis is the harmonic values consolidation dramatizing a subscription to the tonality premises. Some years later, in Unterweisung im Tonsatz (1937), Hindemith expressed his feelings regarding not exclusively the tonal logic importance in music, but also his belief that the triad can never be avoided for more than a short time without a complete confusion of the listener (Watkins, 1995, p.343). Thus, the composer created a three-movement symphony having the same title for practical reasons where each part represented a panel from Isenheim altarpiece written by the painter Mathias Grunewald. These are Concert of Angels, Entombment, and Temptations of St. Anthony. For Hindemith, The Temptations became the main idea, in particular the operas dramatic climax that later came to the composer made a resolution to the number of structural difficulties. For example, in this opera each of the characters emerged in a symbolic form and corresponded to certain characters in the Temptation written by Grunewald. Although each of them wanted to be part of the peasants Revolt, the painter returned to God-given calling. Thus, the first part of this symphony is written as an opera prelude, while the second one is played as an instrumental interlude attending watch of Matthias over the Regina death. According to Hindemiths views, Old folk songs, war songs of the Reformation period, and the Gregorian chant were the nourishing foundation of the Mathis music (Watkins, 1995, p.344). In addition, the nature of folk tunes belongs to an important stylistic determinant, and Reginas folksong from the first opera scene is a bright example of such approach. Furthermore, the following two quotations in particular Es Sungen Drei Engel, appearing in the opening movement interpretation, and Lauda Sion Salvatorem that is a plainchant emerging in the finale, are ostentatious for the symphonic interpretation. In addition, in his opera Hindemith had changed the tonal plan from C to E chromatically but returned it later. However, the orchestral version tunes are created to serve a dialectic and tonal organization different from the theatrical version, thus marking the piece as an evident follower to the narrative dramas of symphonies written by Mahler.

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To summarize, Paul Hindemith was a famous German composer, violist, violinist, conductor, teacher and music theorist. His creativity covered a variety of styles, in particular neoclassicism, expressionism, late romanticism, and his own new approaches to music styles and tonal system. He wrote music in different genres including operas, instrumental works for different instruments, duets, quartets, vocal cycles, and many others. Among his works are eleven operas including Mathis der Maler, ballets, song cycle Das Marienleben, concerto Der Schwanendreher for viola and orchestra, and the Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber.

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