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Classical Composers A-Z: Paul Hindemith

Peter Wintersgill tells of the life of the composer Paul Hindemth, whose music was banned by the Nazis in 1933.

Born
16th November, 1895, in Hanau, near Frankfurt.

Father
Robert, house painter, music lover. Killed in battle 1915.

Mother
Marie

Family
Eldest of three, sister Toni, Brother Randolph.

Chldhood
Violin lessons from age of seven. Entered Frankfurt Conservatory at 12, had lessons in violin and composition.

Adolescence
Left home at 11. Played the violin in cafes and cinemas.

Adult Life
Served in German army 1917-19.

Became leader of Frankfurt Opera Orchestra in 1916. Played the viola in a string quartet. Joined staff of Berlin Conservatoire in 1927, became a popular teacher. Coined a phrase ‘Gebrauchsmusik’ – ‘useful music’.

Married Gertrude Rottenburg, conductor’s daughter, in 1924.

His music was banned by the Nazis in 1933. They especially objected to his opera Mathis der Maler (Matthias the Painter) in 1935. It was produced in Switzerland in 1938. His later opera News of the Day included a scene of a soprano singing in the bath, which was found objectionable.

He moved to USA in 1939 and became Professor of Music at Yale (1940 – 53). Did practical research into early music, returned to Zurich off and on to teach composition. Wrote several books on composition and harmony. Became known as an enfant terrible, but in later years became more acceptable. A collection of his piano preludes and fugues was known as the Ludus Tonalis (1942), a sort of 20th century version of The 48. Naturalised American citizen in 1946.

His works were popularised by Furtwangeler and Klemperer. He was influenced by Brahms, Strauss and Reger, tended to look back to Bach.

He is now regarded as the leading German composer of the 20th Century. He wrote six concertos with chamber orchestra, which were known as Kammermusik.

He died 28th December, 1963, in Frankfurt, aged 68, of acute pancreatitis.


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