“Mathis der Maler” – Paul Hindemith and Matthias Grünewald…


Mon portrait… Photographie

Being a great admirer of 20th century music and contemporary art en general, I enjoyed today listening to one of my favorite discs with Paul Hindemith’s oeuvres… after almost a year! The project was edited long ago by DECCA with the Violin Concerto for violin and orchestra, performed by David Feodorovich Oistrakh (invited by Hindemith) and London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), conducted by Hindemith himself, followed by Symphonic Metamorphoses of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, for orchestra, with LSO and Claudio Abbado, ending with my favorite Hindemith’s work – Symphony “Mathis der Maler” with L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, conducted by Paul Kletzki. I enjoyed this evening… Speaking of the Violin Concerto – I never heard another version, but being deeply in love with this one where Oistrakh imposed the standards concerning the harmony of the oeuvre, I truly enjoyed… With unchanged enthusiasm, I also enjoyed in Abbado’s vision of Metamorphses ending with the supreme and persuasive artistic approach of Paul Kletzki, particularly in “Verschung des heiligen Antonius.” A true must for collectors… Recommended to young collectors!

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Inspired by the German renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald, Paul Hindemith composed the Symphony in 1934, while plans for the opera were in their preliminary stages. The conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler asked him at that time for a new work to perform on an upcoming Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra concert tour, and Hindemith decided to compose symphonic movements that could serve as instrumental interludes in the opera, or be drawn upon or elaborated into various scenes. Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic gave the first performance on March 12, 1934. The first performance outside Germany was given by the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra in October 1934, conducted by Otto Klemperer. Other performances include the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra in 1936, conducted by Daniel Sternberg.

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Paul Hindemith conducting in Vienna in 1963

The symphony was well received at its first performances, but Furtwängler faced severe criticism from the Nazi government for performing the work, given that other Hindemith scores had been denounced by the party as “degenerate” and “Jewish connected.” The opera’s plot, which turned on an artist’s duty to pursue his vision irrespective of political considerations, was anathema to Nazi ideology.

Les Passantes de Passy, (C) Necessities123

Les Passantes de Passy, Media mixtes, Lanski 2012

In Hindemith’s depiction, Mathis is an artist who gives up painting out of social responsibility, taking sides with the downtrodden but then ending up bitterly disappointed by them. He recognizes that he has betrayed what is best in him: his art. It is restored to him as a «commission» to paint, but he cannot forget his experiences of misery and powerless complicity. They grow with his art as moral strength and energy. Mathis realizes that the artist who betrays his abilities remains socially useless and without responsibility, however much he may ease his conscience through activism. Hindemith himself apparently adopted this stand; it enabled him to withstand the mounting political pressure. Whilst Hindemith was working on the libretto, Furtwängler requested a new orchestral work from him in mid-1933 with which he wished to demonstratively take a stand for Hindemith. The result was the “Mathis der Maler” Symphony, which anticipated the music for the opera yet to be composed. The premiere of the Symphony on 12 March 1934 was an overwhelming success, which, however, provoked political opponents. Thus the premiere of the opera, completed in 1935, did not take place in Germany, but in Zurich in 1938.

Une Phantasmagorie (C) Necessities123

La Musique d’une vie… Entre le rêve et la réalité. Une fantasmagorie pour violon et orchestre, Technique> Media mixtes, Lanski 2012

(Geo)political and historical context of the 1930s and Hindemith’s exile, Furtwängler’s role and Hindemith’s artistic approaches and attitudes towards the contemporary music of his time, need to be taken into account when attempts of interpretation of this gorgeous music are made in any context other than purely artistic.

Again, as I said before – truly a treasure for young collectors (because I am pretty sure that the old one already got the CD).

About necessities123editor

Necessities123... "We live in an age where unnecessary things are our only necessities." [O. Wilde]
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