"Atonal composers are attempting to replace with an apparent rationality what is lacking morally, develop an over-sublimated technique which produces images of emotions that are far removed from any emotional experiences a relatively normal human being ever has. In doing so they advocate an esoteric art pour l'art, the followers of which can only be emotional imps, monsters, or snobs."
Paul Hindemith on atonal music
Paul Hindemith is known as one of the most important criticizers of atonal music and one of the first composers who attacked Arnold Schoenberg's new 12 tone system. Ironically he was the champion of what is called 'Gebrauchsmusik', a style of classical music, mixed with modern music, to be played preferably by non-professionals.
Hindemith was born in 1895, and started to be famous when playing in small bars and galleries. Mostly he showed his affection for Reger, post-romantic music. Beside playing violin he was a multifaced musician, playing recorder, cello and piano. When he was 20 he became lead violist at the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra. Also he became involved into the Jazz scene (he prefered the phrase 'Dance Band music'), playing with his Amar-Hindemith quartet at different festivals. His compositions 'Suite 1922', 'Das Marienleben' and 'KammerMusik' show his affection for the new styles of music.
As a prominent sponsor of the Baden-Baden festival he also invited young composers to show their compositions to the public. Kurt Weill, Darius Milhaud and Hanns Eisler are some of the most common invited guest-composers. Later editions of the festival show that Hindemith was turning his back to new musical forms: famous are his adoption of 11 and 13 notes tone ladders, used to ridicule Schoenberg.
A joint collaboration of Hindemith, Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht for ' Der Lindberghflug' shows a lot of differences and difficulties between Weill and Hindemith. Weill's contribution is joyful, Hindemith's part is dark and pessimistic.
During the rise of Nazi-Germany, Hindemith didn't get in much trouble, although some of his works are put on the 'blacklist of forbidden music'. He's even nominated by Richard Strauss for the (Nazi supported) ReichsKammer of Performing Arts. The turning point was the performance of his 'Mathias der Maler' opera in 1933. Secretary of Information Joseph Goebbels attacked Hindemith's composition because of its many 'modern influences'. An article in defence of Hindemith, written by Wilhelm Furtwangler, did more damage than intended and finally Hindemith (also aware that his marriage with a Jewish woman would not be tolerated by the Nazis) fled to Turkey. Later he arrived in America, where he was offered a position at Yale's Conservatory. there he continued to propagate tonal music, writing numerous articles and lectures on the subject.
At the end of the fifties he emigrated to Switzerland to complete his last works. Hindemith finally died in 1963, in Germany.
This wu is part of the series 'Contemporary composers', printed in my
former company's (monthly) magazine in 1998.
Donated to the E2 database