Paul Hindemith’s Change In Style And Culmination In Mathis Der Maler

1610 words - 7 pages

Paul Hindemith set out to anchor a new movement towards 'unnatural' music, while Germany lacked composers of New Music, to attempt to bring structure and pedagogy to the creation of an otherwise unstructured and unteachable new musical art form. Being in exile from Germany due to his unconventional and unappreciated (by the Nazi party primarily) work, he sought refuge in the United States to pursue and be faithful to his art. He discovered that theory constants were truly undefinable, however the process of trying to find them opened his mind increasingly inwardly.1 Hindemith’s ideas permeate his musical creations and his chronology of works represent a timeline of their changes. The first of three movements, “Angelic Concert”, in his Mathis der Maler symphony preceding his opera, is an example of how his theoretical processes ultimately came together into a solidified and understandable practice.

As a teacher, Hindemith held many ideas about the future of New Music, and wanted to change the way music theory was studied and taught. He wanted to teach chordal harmony and progressions in the reverse of what was considered logical, as described by Humphrey Searle, “The problem which Hindemith attempts to solve . . . is that of the free use of all the twelve tones of the chromatic scale within a tonal framework.”1 In popular theory, chromatic notes were seen as alterations or decoration around a strict scale and chordal progression. Hindemith “ … has, through his system of tonal relationship based on vibrations, liberated those notes which have no place in the diatonic scale from their subservient position as passing notes . . . The result of this arrangement, he claims, is that it frees the composer from “the tyranny of the major and minor”. 1

These ideas could not live well in a rigidly structured system of progressions where an expected result was desired by the listener, and reinforced by popularity. His teachings, which aligned with his theory book The Craft of Musical Composition, were therefore difficult as his students were stuck in two realms of musical thinking. As David Neumeyer puts it, “When Hindemith took his first academic appointment at the Berlin Musikhochschule in 1927, he came to it without benefit of degree, on the strength of his exceptional reputation as a composer and performer of new music. As he later admitted, he felt forced in self-defense to develop some manner of theoretical framework from which to teach composition so that he could cope with students’ questions as they sought to do more than imitate their teacher’s style intuitively.”3 His ideas about form had to change to accompany a different musical character introduced by the acceptance of all twelve tones in a phrase. Such an open-mindedness revealed a sort of flashpoint in his musical vision. The ultimate unstructured process, that of imagination, became dearly important to him. In A Composer’s World, his own book he “... used the metaphor of a lightning...

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