Michael McCooe- Composer: Hindemith

Paul Hindemith is one of the most renowned composers of the 20th Century. His notable works include his song cycle Das Marienleben (1923), opera Mathis der Maler (1938) and the Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, which he wrote in 1943.

Early career

The German composer, violist, violinist, teacher and conductor was born in Hanau, near Frankfurt, on 16th November 1895. He was taught the violin as a child and went on to study conducting and composition at Frankfurt’s musical conservatory.

Playing in dance bands and comedy groups, Hindemith became deputy leader of the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra in 1914 before taking over as leader three years later. He also played second violin in the Rebner String Quartet from 1914.

He was recruited to the German army in 1917, initially as a bass drummer in the regiment band, though a year later he was deployed to the front in Flanders until after The Armistice.

Establishment as a composer

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In 1921 Hindemith founded the Amar Quartet and toured Europe playing the viola. A year later, his pieces were played in the International Society for Contemporary Music festival at Salzburg, bringing his music to an international audience for the first time.

He was appointed professor at the Berliner Hochschule für Musik in Berlin in 1927 and went on to write the music for Hans Richter’s 1928 avant-garde film Ghosts Before Breakfast, a film which he also acted in.

During the 1930s, Hindemith visited Cairo, Egypt and various Turkish cities in an attempt to reorganise Turkey’s State Opera and Ballet at the invitation of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, then Turkish Prime Minister. He left a lasting impression on young Turkish musicians of the era, and he also toured around the US to widen the impression of his music.

Hindemith leaving Nazi Germany

Hindemith’s relationship with the Nazi regime was complex and confusing, and was a factor in his later career movements. He  was generally held in high regard for his futuristic, modern compositions with reference to folk music by the regime. Despite this, Germany’s Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebells described him as an “atonal noisemaker”.

He fell in and out of favour with the Nazi party, eventually deciding to leave for Switzerland in 1938, partly due to his wife being of Jewish ancestry. This also believed to have benefitted Germany, as he was able to act as an ambassador of German classical music around Europe.

He and his wife emigrated to the US two years later, predominantly for Hindemith to teach at Yale University. He also taught at Harvard, from which the book A Composer’s World was based (Hindemith 1952).

Later life

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He became an American citizen in 1946, but returned to Europe in 1953. Towards the end of his life he began to conduct more and made numerous recordings, mostly of his own music.

Hindemith’s health declined over several years, though he was able to conduct up until a few days before his death in Frankfurt, at the age of 68, on 28th December 1963.

You can listen to some of my favourite classical pieces on my Michael McCooe SoundCloud profile, which is updated regularly.