Hindemith

Born: 1895

Died: 1963

Paul Hindemith

Hindemith produced savage, anti-romantic scores, establishing him as the leading musical enfant terrible of the day. Richard Strauss complained to him: ‘Why do you write this way? You have talent,’ to which the cocky Hindemith replied: ‘Herr Professor, you make your music and I’ll make mine.’

When it came to a career in music, it seems young Hundemith ran into parental opposition and, aged 11, ran away from home to make his living playing the violin in theatres and cafés. With the money he made, he was able to put himself through the local music conservatory in Frankfurt aged 13. His self-determination to live life on his own terms never left him: he was leader of the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra by 1919, had his first music published while still a student, co-founded the Amar Quartet (in which he played the viola), renowned for its performances of contemporary music, and by the time he was 30 was regarded as one of the major creative figures in Germany. Hindemith’s status as a viola soloist – and he did as much as anybody to raise the profile of this Cinderella of the strings – led to his giving the first performance of Walton’s Viola Concerto in 1929.

Throughout the 1920s he produced savage, anti-romantic scores, establishing him as the leading musical enfant terrible of the day. Richard Strauss complained to him: ‘Why do you write this way? You have talent,’ to which the cocky Hindemith replied: ‘Herr Professor, you make your music and I’ll make mine.’ In 1927 he was offered the influential post of ­professor of composition at the Hochschule in Berlin. When he moved there, incidentally, three complete rooms of his new home were given over to his electric model railway: not only did he design its elaborate track layout but he also made up detailed timetables. He was fanatical about trains in general and was said to know the complete European train timetable off by heart. Eventually, his Jewish wife, his many Jewish musical colleagues and, finally, his opera Mathis der Maler (Matthias the Painter) – the theme of which deals with the then overtly sensitive subject of the defeat of German liberalism during the Peasants’ Revolt – led to his being denounced by the Nazis as ‘musically degenerate’. His music was banned and in 1934 he left for Turkey and then America. In 1940 he joined the staff at Yale and became an American citizen. After the war he flitted between Europe and the States, eventually settling in Switzerland. The flow of compositions and conducting engagements continued until his health declined in the 1960s.

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