Monday, February 4, 2013

Paul Hindemith

Paul Hindemith was a German violinist, violist, teacher, composer, author, and conductor, born (in Hanau) on November 16, 1895.  He is much better known as a composer, though he spent much of his early life making a living as a violinist and violist.  He is one of several great artists who played in dance bands and musical theatre groups – far removed from the classical music arena - as a young man.  Eugene Ormandy, Vasa Prihoda, Elias Breeskin, Alfredo Campoli, Theodore Thomas, Albert Sammons, Alma Rose', and Jacques Thibaud did the same thing.  He began violin lessons with Eugene Reinhardt and Anna Hegner as a child but later entered the Frankfurt Conservatory (Hoch Conservatory) in 1908.  His violin teacher there was Adolf Rebner (pupil of Jacob Grun and Martin Marsick.)  Hindemith also studied composition there with Arnold Mendelssohn and Bernhard Sekles.  In 1914, Hindemith became assistant concertmaster of the Frankfurt Opera.  He was 19 years old.  In 1915, he played the Beethoven concerto in public although it is not known to me where or with whom.  Two years later, he was made concertmaster of the Frankfurt Opera.  From 1914 onward, Hindemith also played second violin in the Rebner String Quartet.  Between 1918 and 1920, he served as a musician – probably as a violinist - for the German military - World War One was over by then.  In 1921, he founded his own String Quartet – the Amar String Quartet – in which he played viola.  He was 26 years old.  He continued his activities with this quartet until 1929.  By 1923 he had resigned his position with the Frankfurt Opera and was gaining fame as a composer - by 1927, he was already teaching composition in the Advanced School for Music in Berlin.  In 1928, he wrote a film music score for a film by Hans Richter.  The score was subsequently lost.  On October 3, 1929, he gave the world premiere of William Walton’s now-famous viola concerto after Lionel Tertis refused it.  Walton was on the podium.  Hindemith frequently toured as a solo viola player, including several times in the U.S.  Part of Hindemith’s history includes his relationship to the infamous Nazi Party.  He was both denounced and embraced by the officials controlling anything to do with art and propaganda at the time.  Between 1935 and 1937, he traveled to Turkey to help with that country’s musical education programs.  In 1935 also, he quit his teaching position in Frankfurt – some sources call it an extended leave.  In 1938, he left Germany for Switzerland – his wife was part-Jewish.  In 1940, he settled in the U.S.  He mostly taught at Yale and Harvard.  Hindemith also devoted much of his time to writing about his music theory – or system - of composition.  In 1953, he returned to Europe, settling once again in Switzerland.  He took up numerous and frequent conducting assignments, going as far as Japan with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1956.  Among much other music, most of which has been recorded, Hindemith wrote 8 operas, 3 ballets, 14 concertos (for various instruments), 11 large-scale orchestral works, 7 string quartets, and 7 viola sonatas.  His most popular work is probably the Symphonic Metamorphosis for orchestra on themes of CM von Weber.  You can listen to it here.  I’ve only played it once in my life.  Hindemith died (in Frankfurt) on December 28, 1963, at age 68.  

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