Paul Hindemith

Composer, Violist and Conductor (1895-1963), American with German Roots

Paul Hindemith is largely considered one of the most important composers of the first half of the 20th century. He was a pioneer of Gebrauchsmusik, or utility music, music destined for a specific use. He greatly influenced the next generation of composers as a composition teacher.

Paul Hindemith studied violin with A. Rebner from the age of 9, and composition with Arnold Mendelsohn. His father was killed during the First World War and Hindemith made ends meet as a violin soloist with the Oper Frankfurt Orchestra from 1915 to 1923, then as a viola player in a string quartet with his teacher, Rebner. He was the violist for the Amar Quartet from 1922 to 1929, he then began a career as a viola soloist and devoted himself to orchestral conducting, mostly conducting his own works. 

He became a part of the musical avant-garde by actively participating in the Donaueschingen New Music Festival.

From 1933, Paul Hindemith encountered difficulty in both political and artistic spheres as he was married to the daughter of a Jewish conductor, Ludwig Rottenberg, and wilfully continued to play chamber music with Jewish musicians. He refused to bow to the regime and so accepted work abroad, and after a small period in Switzerland moved to the United States. He acted as an Assistant at the Berkshire Music Centre in Tanglewood in 1940 and was a professor at Yale University from 1940 to 1953. 

He continued to have global influence and composed prolifically. Though his early works fought against tradition, he was a proponent of Constructivism. He cultivated Gebrauchsmusik and was a staunch defender of Hausmusik, pieces designed to be played by amateurs at home. His series of compositions titled Kammermusik were part of a trend for the neoclassical – they were written for multiple instrument combinations in the baroque style. Though he did adopt atonalism, Paul Hindemith never experimented with twelve-tone serialism (also known as dodecaphony). His style synthesised aspects of Modern, Romantic, Classical and Baroque music; he composed for all instruments in every genre, including film music. 

Six Landmark Dates in the Life of Paul Hindemith

1915 – Violin soloist for the Oper Frankfurt Orchestra

1927 – Assistant Teacher of Composition at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin

1937 – Hindemith’s American debut playing his Sonata for solo viola at the Library of Congress, Washington

1946 – Obtained American citizenship 

1953 – Became a Professor at the University of Zurich

1954 – Awarded the Sibelius Prize

Six Key Works

1922 - Die Junge Magd, 6 poems for contralto, flute, clarinet and string quartet 

1935 –7 act opera Mathis der Maler (Mathis the Painter)

1943Sonata for saxophone and piano

1950Concerto for clarinet (1947), created with Benny Goodman 

1957 – Die Harmonie der Welt, five act opera (under the composer’s direction)

1963 – A Mass for a mixed, acapella choir (in Vienna)