Paul Hindemith Biography

(German Composer and Music Theorist)

Birthday: November 16, 1895 (Scorpio)

Born In: Hanau, Germany

Paul Hindemith was one of the leading trendsetters of musical modernism. He was a master composer, conductor, violist, educator and theoretician. His theoretical concerns ran deep and wide, and incorporated medieval philosophy, early church writings and various musical subject matters. He was a deft musician who was well versed with almost all the standard musical instruments and was exceptionally proficient on viola and viola d'amore. Paul Hindemith was the major influence in shaping the musical careers of noted composers like Franz Reizenstein, Norman Dello Joio, Lukas Foss, and Arnold Cooke. The Nazis drove him out of Germany and he traveled all across Switzerland and U.S.A., hosting concerts. He played a very crucial role in the musical history not only as a composer but also as a teacher, conductor and theorist. He experimented with different genres including orchestral works, solo concertos, chamber music for a wide range of instruments, choral works, lieder, operas and ballets. Apart from this, he also wrote books and essays.

Quick Facts

German Celebrities Born In November

Died At Age: 68


Spouse/Ex-: Johanna Gertrude Rottenberg (m. 1924–1963)

father: Robert Rudolf Emil Hindemith

mother: Marie Sophie Hindemith

Born Country: Germany

Educators Composers

Died on: December 28, 1963

place of death: Frankfurt, Germany

Notable Alumni: Hoch Conservatory

More Facts

education: Hoch Conservatory

Childhood & Early Years

Paul Hindemith was born on 16 November 1895 in Hanau, near Frankfurt, Germany. His father, Robert Hindemith, ran away from his parental home when his well-situated bourgeoisie father opposed his wish to become a musician; but could not succeed in any field.

His mother Marie Hindemith, née Warnecke, worked in other people's homes in order to support her husband. Born eldest of his parents’ three children, he had a younger sister called Antonie, born in 1898 and a brother called Rudolf, born in 1900.  Rudolf later became well-known cellist.

Soon after Paul Hindermith’s birth in 1895, his family moved to Niederrodenbach. When Paul was around three years old, his father started giving him musical training. But that had to stop when in 1899 he was sent to live with his paternal grandfather, at that time the mayor of Naumburg am Queis.

In 1902, he was brought back from Naumburg am Queis. By that time his family had shifted to Mühlheim am Main, where young Paul began his elementary education. He was a good student and did well in class. He also practiced singing with his friends and tried his hand at composition.

In November 1905, the family moved to Frankfurt am Main. By then, Robert Hindemith had decided that all his three children would become musicians, choosing violin for Paul, cello for Rudolf and piano for Antonia.  It is possible that he took Paul out of his school during this period.

In 1907, Paul started studying violin with Anna Hegner and in 1908 with Adolf Franklin Rebner. Their father made sure that the children practiced hard, subjecting them to a strict drill and an extremely harsh upbringing.

Robert Hindemith would also take his children to the local opera house, mostly on foot. On the way back, he would quiz them on what they saw or heard and if they failed to answer satisfactorily they would be rewarded with spanking.

As the children progressed, Robert Hindemith organized them into a band and took them to perform in bourgeois households, often accompanying them on the zither. There they played the works of composers like Haydn, Corelli, Rameau, Martini, Mendelssohn and Wagner.

Very soon, the children became very popular. A review in the Elster-Chro¬nik on 15 July 1911 says, "One truly did not know which of the siblings’ one should admire the most - the dreamy violinist, the small mercurial cellist or the girl accompanying them with stoic calm".

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At Hoch's Conservatory

In February 1909, Paul Hindemith entered Dr. Hoch's Konservatorium - Musikakademi, obtaining a stipend through Rebner, with whom he had been studying privately.  There too, young Paul spent the initial years studying violin with him.

In 1912, he started studying counterpart and composition with Arnold Mendelssohn, switching to Bernhard Sekles in 1913. He also learned score reading with Karl Breidenstein and received instruction in conducting from Fritz Bassermann. However, instrumental studies was his top priority.

Concurrently with studying at Hoch's, he played in dance bands and musical-comedy group in order to support himself and his family. His first engagement came in the summer of 1913, when he was appointed as a violinist in a spa orchestra near Lake Lucerne.

In the summer of 1914 he played in Heiden and joined the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra as the deputy leader (in 1914)1, eventually becoming its concertmaster at twenty (1916, means 21)1. Concurrently, he continued with his studies, writing String Quartet No.1, Op.2 in 1914-1915, receiving a prize of 750 Marks for it.

In the winter of 1915, he joined Frankfurt Rebner Quartet, initially as a violinist, later switching to viola, remaining with it till 1921. The group, led by his teacher Rebner, usually performed in Frankfurt and neighboring towns, acquiring a certain prestige in the region.

During his final semester, he concentrated exclusively on composition instruction with Sekles, writing such pieces as Cello Concerto, Op. 3 and Lustige Sinfonietta, Op. 4 in 1916, completing his studies in the winter semester of 1916-1917. In September 1917, he was conscripted into the Imperial German Army.

Early Career

In January 1918, Paul Hindemith began his army career, playing bass drum in his regiment band in Alsace, before being deployed to the front in Flanders as a sentry, eventually returning to Frankfurt after the armistice was signed on 11 November, 1918. There he rejoined his old group, Rebner Quartet.

Soon, he began to travel around with Rebner Quartet, giving concerts at various European cities. Concurrently he continued to write, producing his first opera, Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen in 1919, which was followed by Das Nusch-Nuschi.

In the autumn of 1921, Rebner Quartet traveled to Spain for a concert trip. By then, Hindemith had become tired of Rebner’s preference for the works of Haydn and Beethoven in exclusion of contemporary works.  Hindemith decided to leave the group when their disagreement over the programming led to bitter quarrel.

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On returning home, Paul Hindemith founded Amar-Hindemith Quartet with Licco Amar, Walter Caspar and his brother Rudolf. Active in both classical and modern repertoire, it soon became one of the leading groups, making several trips across Europe.

In 1921, he created a stir with his String Quartet No. 2, Op. 16, at the First Donaueschingen Chamber Music Festival. However, it were his two operas, Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen and Das Nusch-Nuschi, premiered together at Stuttgart, Staatstheater, on 4 July, 1921, which actually established him as a composer.

In 1922, he received international recognition, when his works were played in the International Society for Contemporary Music festival at Salzburg. In the following year, he started working as an organizer of the Donaueschingen Festival and in 1927 appointed a professor at the Berliner Hochschule für Musik in Berlin.

A prolific composer, Paul Hindemith wrote several orchestral works, ballets, operas and concertantes in 1920. More significant among them were his two song cyles Die junge Magd (1922), Das Marienleben (1924), and Cardillac (1926), an opera.

1930s & Onwards

As Nazis came to power in 1933, Paul Hindemith began to face discrimination. In December 1934, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels publicly denounced him as an "atonal noisemaker". In October 1936, the Nazis banned his music, eventually including him in the 1938 Entartete Musik exhibition in Düsseldorf.

In spite of governmental ban, he continued to write, traveling several times to Turkey on the invitation of the Turkish government to oversee the creation of a music school in Istanbul, quickly becoming the leading figure of new music pedagogy. From 1935 to 1937, he also taught at the conservatory in Ankara.

In 1938, he immigrated to Switzerland, living there for two years before moving to the USA, where he taught mostly at the Yale University and founded Yale Collegium Musicum. Concurrently, he continued to write, producing many masterpieces like Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, eventually becoming a US citizen in 1946.  

In 1953, he returned to Europe and settled down in Zürich, teaching at the university there until his retirement in 1957.  Although he continued to write till the very end, he concentrated more on conducting, concurrently making numerous recordings, in the last years of his life.

Major Works

Paul Hindemith is best remembered for Mathis der Maler, his opera based on German painter Matthias Grünewald’s struggle for artistic freedom. Writing on his own libretto, he completed the work in 1935, but could not stage it due to governmental antagonism. The work was ultimately premiered in Zurich on 28 May 1938.

Personal Life & Legacy

On 15 May 1924, Paul Hindemith married Johanna Gertrude Rottenberg, daughter of Ludwig Rottenberg, the principal conductor of the Frankfurt Opera, under whom Hindemith served as concertmaster. Herself a musician, Johanna also collaborated with him in making music and took care of his business affairs. The couple did not have any children.

Working till the very end, he directed the world premiere of his Mass for Mixed Choir a Capella in Vienna on 12 November 1963.

On 16 November 1963, he developed heavy fever and was brought to Frankfurt, where he suffered a series of strokes on 9 December 1963, ultimately passing away on 28 December 1963 in Frankfurt.

His mortal remains were brought back to Switzerland and interred at the cemetery in St. Légier near his home in Blonay on 4 January 1964.

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