German composer Paul Hindemith was born in Hanau, Germany on November 16, 1895. A major innovator of musical modernism, he was a composer, conductor, violist, educator, and a scholar. In his early teens he studied the violin at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt and composition with Arnold Mendelssohn and Bernhard Sekles. Hindemith acted as concertmaster for the Frankfurt Opera House Orchestra from 1915-23, interrupted only by time spent in army service.
Initially establishing his reputation through his chamber music and expressionistic operas, Hindemith subsequently turned to neo-classicism in his Kammermusiken (1922-27). This series of seven chamber concerti pay homage to Bach’s Brandenburgs, while employing distinctly modern elements, notably jazz. Besides chamber works, Hindemith composed in other genres including lieder, and music for amateurs as well as school children.
Hindemith produced masterpieces including: the opera Mathis der Maler (1934-1935) in which he dramatized the dilemma of the artist in society and reflected the need for greater responsibility to art; the ballet Nobilissima Visione (1938) based on the life of St. Francis; and, the choral work Six Chansons (1939) to French poems by Rilke. He also wrote several sonatas for every major instrument, which became part of the standard repertory.
The Nazis forced Hindemith to leave Germany where his works were considered “culturally Bolshevist.” In 1938 he began his exile in Switzerland followed two years later by an exile in the United States, where he joined the Yale University faculty (1940-53). The 1940s were witness to what is generally considered the apogee of Hindemith’s output and critical standing with such masterpieces as: Symphony in E Flat (1940); The Four Temperaments (1940); Sonata for Two Pianos (1942); Ludis Tonalis (1942), an homage to Bachâ’s Well -Tempered Clavier; Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber (1943); and, Sinfonia Serena (1945). In 1953 Hindemith left the United States for Switzerland. There he composed the opera Die Harmonie der Welt, where his search for an all-encompassing harmony was realized. In 1963 Hindemith became ill in Frankfurt and died there in December.