Great Composers: Paul Hindemith

Great Composers: Paul Hindemith



he possessed one of the most unique harmonic languages in the entire 20th century which allowed him to write pieces very quickly and for very odd ensembles on the classical nerd and today we're talking about Paul Hindemith [Applause] Hindemith was born in central Germany in November 1895 the Hindu myths were poor and DePaul lived with his grandparents for a time before beginning school in 1902 from this point forward he learned music he was introduced to the violin while at school and he ended up studying that instruments at the local conservatory thereafter he served as a freelance violinist in the front for an area it was always necessary for him to make enough money to pay his own way as such he did whatever gig came his way a string quartet or some pop orchestra it didn't really matter to him as World War 1 rage across the continent Hindemith found himself drafted in 1917 two years after his father had been killed near Flanders Hinda MIT's post as a century meant that he didn't see as much front-line action as some other people but he still had some near-death experiences involving grenades nevertheless he was able to stay somewhat musically active as he was a base drummer in a local band and kept playing string quartets with some other string playing soldiers Hindman was primarily a violinist up until this point in his life he was a composer in that he wrote music but he wasn't a professional composer because he wasn't getting his primary source of income from his writing but we think of Hindemith today as not a violinist or composer violinist but as a composer violist this change happened sometime around 1919 around the same time 0/2 sonata in F for viola and piano he had also written a few string quartets at this point in his life and one of them was selected for performance at the first ever till now a Shingon Festival in southern Germany this was a significant boon to Hindemith compositional career in aspirations particularly in the field of chamber music and the exalted medium of the string quartet unfortunately the quartet that was slated to perform this piece didn't like it and they refused to play it in order to prevent this piece from going completely unplayed Hindemith decided to take matters into his own hands and he formed his own quartet the Amara quartet he was the violist in this quartet which was named after its first violinist nico amar who said that he didn't really understand Hindemith music but he really liked it he thought it spoke unique way the quartet remained active as a group all through the 1920s and performed and recorded a surprising amount of music not just Hindemith Hindemith began rising up to the ranks as a composer just as he rose up to the ranks as an esteemed of violist at this point in history there just hadn't been that many professional violist s' as in professional touring reveal lists like the viola was their primary instrument up until this point the viola was a secondary instrument something that violinists played and this is how it got a reputation as being sort of a second-class instrument as a consequence of the increased number of great vo lists Hindemith in Germany as well as Lionel Curtis and the composer Frank bridge in England composers began writing ever more challenging parts for the viola featuring it in their 10 charity using it as a more prominent instrument in their string quartets writing sonatas for its etc intimate like these other musicians realized that the viola was extremely underutilized and he wanted to be one of the folks who was not only performing all this new rep but he was actively contributing to it Hinda MIT's compositional output is extremely widespread and we'll get to the details of his mature style in a mint but it's important to know that he wrote music in a lock of styles and his early music is not necessarily representative of what would become the Hindemith sound we can see hints of what he was to come to write in his early works but a lot of them are written in styles that we just don't think of as typically Hindemith he produced several early operas that are highly expressionistic such as sunk to Susanna and murder Hoffmann de ferran the latter of which is pretty much a complete setting of a super-short super-weird play of the same name by the artist Oskar Kokoschka who you may remember as a one-time lover of Alma Mahler although that really doesn't narrow it down that much those more familiar with Hinda mix later music and later sound are often shocked to find such Expressionism and such a masterful handling of the expressionist idiom coming from a young Hindemith this earlier focus on Expressionism gave way to a more cleaner contrapuntal style but the damage had already been done because when the Nazis came to power they so these early pieces as examples of what they called in top of the music AKA degenerate music anything that they didn't like thought was excessive that was immoral which is real hoot coming from them but on the same they didn't quite know what to do with Hindemith music because he's written all this earlier music in the style they didn't like but the stuff he was writing at that point when they came to power was a little bit more of what they were looking for but there were no gray areas when it came to their censorship it was sort of an all-or-nothing thing but when it came down to it it really didn't matter what the lower ranking officials thought and it also didn't matter what other musicians who really loved and championed Hindemith music thought it all came down to what years of Goebbels thought and he did not like it he more or less sent Hindemith into exile into Turkey thereafter calling his music a tonal noise making and banning it all throughout the Third Reich at this time Hindemith was busy writing a piece that many considered to be his magnum opus the opera mattes Daman ur a historical drama about a painter who wants nothing more than to be able to express what he wants to express without any other interference this probably didn't help his cause with the Nazis regardless for the reasons of his leaving Germany he probably had to do it anyway the situation was fast becoming untenable because his wife had some Jewish heritage he was able to make the best of it in Turkey because he really appreciated being able to educate people on music and he was able to bring Istanbul's musical life up to par the young composers and performers of Turkey really thought a lot of him he didn't stay there very long of the big scheme of things because being that close to a Europe that close to war once again was just too delicate situation he and his wife moved to Switzerland and thereafter to the United States Switzerland saw the premiere of Matisse de Mahler in 1938 while the Opera has never been that popular with opera companies he did quite a lot of mileage out of it via a symphony that he'd written of the same name now contrary to the popular way that composers ring orchestral pieces out of their large-scale stage works be they operas or ballets or whatever might have he actually with the symphony before he finished the piece itself so like the trailer for a movie as opposed to extracting an orchestral suite after the fact Hindu myths mature musical language is most closely associated with nart istic movement called noise sake kite which roughly translates to new objectivity this is best understood as a reaction against the darkness of Germanic Expressionism which sought to plumb the darkest and deepest depths of the human psyche and soul Noah cyclic heights by comparison is not intended to be overly emotional or overly complex World War one had really ripped Germanic society a new one and people want an arch that was not going to probe these dark depths of their souls it's sometimes a little bit hard to pin down exactly what neues actually kite means because it means different things in different forms of art for instance the playwright's bed holds brett was very interested in alienating his audiences he didn't want his audiences to sympathize with characters in his place rather he wanted them to be constantly reminded that they were looking at a fiction and as such he wanted to use his plays as a form of social critique because its primary movers and shakers were left-leaning or in the case of Brett an avowed Marxist the Nazis really didn't like this and they more or less shut down the entire objective party for intimates music this meant that he began organizing his pitches in an extremely novel way he took all of the possible intervals and arranged them from most consonant to the most dissonant a spectrum of consonants to dissonance if you will all informed by the naturally occurring mathematical properties of the overtone series so this is something he saw was very grounded in science really and he also was interested in the phenomenon of combination tones which to pity most simply is the complex interaction of the two overtones of any two given notes this meant that whenever he needed to ramp up the tension in his music he used more dissonant intervals and he used more unconventional voicings of his chords in order to make the combination more dissonant as well and whenever he needed to release this tension he would use more consonant intervals and more spacings of chords that aligned with the overtone series it was about how well with the grain you went with the harmonic series if you wanted to be consonant or how well you pushed against the grain if you wanted to be dissonant and this controlled the flow of music and thus the control of form he had over his pieces curiously he considered the tritone the most dissonant interval in most people's understanding of music and in his particular system to be something that was harmonically static that didn't have any sort of harmonic motion to it and this is ironic because the tritone and it's resolution is what really defines the dominant seventh chord moving to a tonic chord which is sort of the basis for common practiced tonality but Hindemith was really not working in the common practice he was using in tonal materials yes he was using constant dissonant intervals he would have tonal centers and he can move the tonal center around but he was also free to use all twelve notes of the chromatic scale when used in full force all of this gives Hindemith music the Hindemith sound which love it or hate it you have to admit is totally unique the objective quality of neue sacra kite could also be found in the fact that his music is intended to be more Universal than just personal statements it's important to note that Hindemith was extremely interested in justifying his theories from a mathematical and scientific perspective because it was all based in the measurable acoustic qualities of the overtone series he thought of this not just as a great way of organizing music especially tonal music or neo tonal music in an era of a tonality but also as a fundamental analytical tool and he analyzed pieces from all eras using this approach this is why he was against forms of composition that were strictly atonal like Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique his music was able to acknowledge the existence of the overtone series and neither went with or against its grain whereas 12-ton music just sort of totally ignored it Hindemith career as an educator in the united states lasted over a decade first taught at Yale and then at several other institutions but he never stopped composing really until he died and some of his greatest pieces come from his American years he came into contact with Leonid macine one-time principal dancer of Sergei Diaghilev famed Ballet Russe and macine suggested to Hindemith that he write a piece based on themes of the early German Romantic composer Carla Maria von Weber this eventually resulted in his symphonic metamorphosis on themes of Carl Maria von Weber which ended up becoming one of his most widely played works especially when it was then used as ballet music he was also commissioned by the acclaimed choral conductor Robert Shaw to set Walt Whitman's elegy when lilacs last in the dooryard bloom which is about the death of Abraham Lincoln this was widely regarded as a very American piece an American masterpiece even also from this period is a seminal solo piano masterwork ludus tone Alice which has many translations I in particular like game of tones this piece is almost like Hindemith thesis defense this is considered by many to be the 20th century's answer to JS Bach's well-tempered clavier because when buffer of his suite he decided that he was going to show off a his contrapuntal chops be his mastery of all the different styles on the European continent at that point and he also wanted to prove the worthiness of the recently invented well tempered system he wanted to express to the world that being able to play in all the keys which had there before not been possible was a real boon to the musician likewise Hindemith Hughes lewiston Alice which alternates interludes in fugues much in the same way that the well-tempered clavier alternates preludes and fugues to show off a all manner of 20th century compositional devices and be the worthiness of his own approach to tonal organization in an era when many composers were flocking away from tonality in droves in order to write music in 12 tone and serial styles Hindemith set out a striking defense of tonality even if his idea of tonality was not necessarily the traditional idea it was an effective argument for keeping tonal relationships relevant even if in unconventional ways this is again analogous to Bach if we see ba has the last late great contrapuntal composer because he was considered old-fashioned in his time as well in any event just these three pieces all from his American period alone are enough to put Hindu myths at the top rung of the most versatile composers who ever lived when you take into account his entire body of work you see that he wrote everything from expressionist near atonal operas to American Trinity's to the modern version of the well-tempered clavier and you're just like what can't this guy do in 1953 after Europe had had some time to recover from the horror and carnage of the Second World War Hindman went back he retraced his steps essentially first moving back to Switzerland where his last teaching post was and then eventually back to his basically hometown of Frankfurt it was there that Hindemith passed away from acute pancreatitis a complication of all the ills he suffered in his later years in December 1963 at the age of 68 Hindman was one of the most prolific and versatile composers you could care to name not just in the various styles in which he wrote but also just in the number of instruments he wrote for for instance in addition to playing the viola he also played an instrument called the viola d'amour which is a mere obsolete instrument from the Baroque era and he brought it back in part by writing pieces for it he also composed trios for trout own 'i'm an early electronic instrument and scored in chamber music for the heckle phone a kind of bass oboe which only ever really shows up in the huge late romantic orchestras of rhihub Strauss's operas the harpsichord even made it into the orchestra of his last opera das lanka finest model he was also capable of writing music extremely quickly if a recording session was short a piece he – off a work on the train ride over much of this hastily written music had a kind of functionality to it at least in Hindi Matt's mind it was often due to its hastily composed nature fairly short fairly straightforward and importantly accessible to amateur performers there was also not necessarily intended to have much of a life beyond the purpose for that which it was written this is Gabe Roth's music which translates usually as music for use but is more literally utility music this part of his collected works all fill a very specific purpose he was able to use his language and his compositional style in these but they're short and simple and they get to the point this also arguably encompasses some intentionally bad pieces that he wrote pieces that were parodies of other composers or of other pieces of theirs in particular this includes a spoof of vogner's flying dutchman overture if the overture was played by a string quartet and that string quartet was segmenting it at 7 o'clock in the morning by oh well that's not me trying to be funny that's actually in the title of this crazy string quartet they rewrote this kind of music was written for a specific purpose which is why it's under the banner of a key box music but it also contains an element of social critique much like a Brechtian play makes the audience keenly aware that they're watching a fiction much of Hindman see Brock's music parodies make the listener aware that they're listening to a piece in that sense we can see Noah soxhlet kite as a whole as kind of a meta thing an art that was not afraid of poking fun or at least referencing its own form Hindemith saw his role as an artist as not really an artist he thought of himself more as a craftsman someone who sat down and did his work he produced music that was his job much like Richard Strauss thought of his music writing as a job as such Hindman really never suffered from anything we might call writer's block his music as a result is wide-ranging and unpretentious and fulfills many different roles all the same his music is highly theoretically grounded the greatest sin in art is not boredom as frequently stated but rather a lack of proportion Hindemith once said the best composers and thus the best composition teachers are the ones who understood ceci for comprehending and synthesizing the past but were also open to the styles of the present and while his mature style has a certain characteristic quality to it and is something of an acquired taste anyone who says that they don't like Hindemith just because they don't like this style is certainly not seeing the whole picture because he was such a profoundly gifted composer in all sorts of styles the multi-faceted music he produced is entirely his own and for his fans utterly indispensable [Applause] you

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