Paul Hindemith

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Hindemith, Paul

(hĭn`dəmĭth), 1895–1963, German-American composer and violist, b. Hanau, Germany. Hindemith combined experimental and traditional techniques into a distinctively modern style. After studying at the Frankfurt Conservatory, he began his career as a viola player. He taught (1927–37) composition at the Berlin Hochschule, but during the Nazi regime his compositions were banned because of their dissonance and modernity. In 1935 he was commissioned by the Turkish government to reorganize that country's musical education. Later he taught at Yale Univ. (1940–53), becoming a U.S. citizen in 1946; but in 1951 he returned to Europe to teach at the Univ. of Zürich. Hindemith's early compositions are highly contrapuntal and often atonal. Later works display a return to tonality that has often been termed neoclassical. His best-known work is the symphony (1934) drawn from his opera Mathis der Maler [Mathis the painter] (1938), which is based on the life of the painter Mathias Grünewald. Other operas include Cardillac (1926) and Neues vom Tage [news of the day] (1929). Many of Hindemith's works might be classed as Gebrauchsmusik [utility music], written for specific performance by amateur school groups or chamber music organizations. His aim was to establish closer contact between composer and public. Included in this group are the children's opera Wir bauen eine Stadt [we are building a city] (1931) and numerous sonatas and chamber works. Other important works are the Ludus Tonalis (1943) for piano; the song cycle Das Marienleben (1923, 1948) set to poems by Rilke; the viola concerto Der Schwanendreher (1935), based on medieval German folk songs; the ballet Nobilissima Visione (1938); and the setting for chorus and orchestra of Walt Whitman's When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd (1946). His writings include Traditional Harmony (2 vol., 1943, 1948), The Craft of Musical Composition (1937, tr. 1942) and A Composer's World (1952).


See studies by I. Kemp (1970) and G. Skelton (1975).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hindemith, Paul


Born Nov. 16, 1895, in Hanau; died Dec. 28, 1963, in Frankfurt am Main. German composer, musicologist, conductor, violinist, and violist.

Hindemith began playing in orchestras at the age of 13. He studied composition and violin at Hoch’s Conservatory in Frankfurt. From 1915 to 1923 he was concertmaster of the Frankfurt Opera. He was the violist of the Hindemith-Amar String Quartet from 1921 to 1929 and a professor at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin from 1927 to 1937.

Hindemith’s works include operas, ballets, symphonies, and chamber music; he composed works of extreme formal complexity, as well as simple instructional pieces for amateurs. In his music he affirmed lofty ethical principles, and he remained faithful to Christian humanist ideals throughout his life. He was a staunch antifascist and believed that music can bridge the gulf between nations and peoples.

Hindemith’s style went through a complex evolution. His early works were influenced by J. Brahms and M. Reger. After World War I, he was influenced by artistic movements that glorified the city and the machine. The mid–1930’s witnessed a turning point in Hindemith’s work, as he sought to revive the traditions of J. S. Bach, L. van Beethoven, and A. Bruckner. His music became more balanced, harmonious, and restrained, without losing any of its buoyancy; at the same time he developed as a contrapuntal composer.

Hindemith’s compositions of the 1920’s betray a certain desire to shock and a tendency toward grotesque effects. Works of this period include the one-act operas Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen (Murderer, Hope of Women) and Das Nusch-Nuschi (1921, Stuttgart); the piano suite 1922; the series Kammermusik for various solo instruments and chamber orchestra; and string quartets. A mature style is revealed in the song cycles Die junge Magd (The Young Maid; 1922, based on poems by G. Trakl) and Das Marienleben (The Life of Mary; 1923, based on poems by R. M. Rilke); in the Concerto for Orchestra (1925); and in a major work of the 1920’s, the opera Cardillac (based on motifs from E. T. A. Hoffmann’s novella Das Fräulein von Scudéri (1926, Dresden; revised version, 1952).

Hindemith helped organize various festivals of contemporary music; he was involved with the Donaueschingen Festival from 1921 and with festivals in Baden-Baden, Salzburg, and Berlin. He was a central figure in the Gebrauchsmusik (functional music) movement, which sought to popularize modern music among amateurs. In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, Hindemith wrote the comic opera Neues vom Tage (News of the Day; 1929, Berlin), which contains elements of social criticism and satire, and the music to B. Brecht’s Lehrstück (Didactic Piece; 1929, Baden-Baden). Other compositions from this period include the musical game Wir bauen eine Stadt (We Are Building a City; 1930, Berlin), Concert Music for Strings and Brass (1930), the oratorio Das Unaufhörliche (The Unending; 1931, based on the poem by G. Benn), and the Philharmonic Concerto (1932).

Political persecution and the banning of his opera Mathis der Maler (Mathis the Painter; 1938, Zürich; later reworked into the symphony of the same name) caused Hindemith to emigrate from fascist Germany to Switzerland. He took up residence in the USA in 1939 and became an American citizen in 1946. He taught at various colleges and universities and conducted. It was in the USA that his major compositions of the 1940’s were premiered, such as the Symphony in E flat (1940) and The Four Temperaments, a ballet with solo piano (1946, New York). Other works of this period include Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes by Weber (1943), Sinfonía Serena (1946), and a requiem based on W. Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed” (1946).

In 1953, Hindemith moved to Switzerland; he maintained his busy conducting schedule, appeared at numerous music festivals in Europe and the USA, and disseminated his musical theories and aesthetic views in lectures and in print. In his studies on composition, Hindemith defended the tonal principle, which, he felt, would be central to the future development of music.

Hindemith’s later works include the opera Die Harmonie der Welt (The Harmony of the World; 1957, Munich) and a symphony of the same name based on music from the opera. Other late works are the Pittsburg Symphony (1958), the opera The Long Christmas Dinner (based on the play by T. Wilder; 1961, Mannheim), the cantata Cantique de l’espérance (commissioned by UNESCO; 1953), a concerto for organ and orchestra (1962), and an a cappella mass (1963).

Hindemith is the author of The Craft of Musical Composition (vols. 1–3, 1937–70), A Composer’s World (1952), and several articles. He was awarded the Bach Prize (Federal Republic of Germany) and the Sibelius Prize. The Hindemith Foundation in Blon, Switzerland, which was established after the composer’s death, is devoted to maintaining the musical and literary heritage of Hindemith.


In Russian translation:
“Monolog P. Khindemita.” Sovetskaia muzyka, 1962, no. 3.
“Mir kompozitora.” Ibid., 1963, nos. 4–5. (Excerpts from the book.)
“Umiraiushchie vody.” Ibid., 1967, no. 5.
“Iogann Sebast’ian Bakh: Obiazyvaiushchee nasledie.” Ibid., 1973, no. 11.


Beliaev, V. Paul’ Khindemit. Leningrad, 1927.
Glebov, I. (B. V. Asaf’ev). “Elementy stilia Khindemita.” In Novaia muzyka, fase. 2. Leningrad, 1927.
Levaia, T. N., and O. T. Leont’eva. Paul’ Khindemit. Moscow, 1974.
Strobel, H. Paul Hindemith, 3rd ed. Mainz, 1948.
Briner, A. Paul Hindemith. Zürich-Mainz, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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