Five stars for ‘most boring composer’?

Five stars for ‘most boring composer’?


norman lebrecht

January 28, 2014

It surprised me, too.

The adjective most readily connected with Paul Hindemith is ‘boring’. The nickname is Windy Hindy.

The German composer, so proficient he could compose a piece to order in 30 minutes, suffers from a reputation for being too clever by half and not feeling a thing. A kind of Max Reger without the sense of humour, if you get my drift.

I’ve heard a lot of Hindemith’s music and some of it I admire, though not to the point of distraction.

Then this disc blew me away. Read Album of the Week here.



  • G Ell says:

    His Kammermusik and his 3 piano sonatas are outstanding compositions. Boring is in the ear of the beholder. Let’s consider, for instance, long stretches of W.A. Mozart.

  • Philip Marlow says:

    His work is academically admirable, but aside from a few passages in Mathis der Maler, he simply doesn’t engage me, either emotionally or intellectually.

  • Tom Foley says:

    Most boring? Gotta be John Cage.

  • My late father used to say “Boredom is the disease of a small mind.” Anyone who has seen a live performance of Hindemith’s serial-killer thriller Cardillac (a one-act masterpiece that should be performed with greater frequency as it has a stellar baritone part and a great libretto) would not be so quick to apply the “boring” brush to Mr. Hindemith’s work. Sure, every composer has works that are “boring” (and I know I could do without the second act of Han Pfitzner’s ‘Palestrina’) but Hindemith as a composer, boring? I beg to differ.

  • Sergio says:

    I like Hindemith’s symphonic music quite a bit. You wnat boring, try Vaughn Williams

  • R. James Tobin says:

    My candidate is Glazouvov,

    • Morgan Hayes says:

      Glazunov may fall short of greatness but his music can have great charm and succulence.

      Try the Pas d’action from the Scenes de Ballet or Concert Waltzes (lovely performance by Pletnev on youtube) Perhaps he excelled when writing shorter pieces.

  • David Boxwell says:

    My nom for the greatest music for a dance work (mid-20th century): The Four Temperaments. PH’s music and Balanchine’s choreography make me purr with pleasure every time I see it.

    If you love the viola, as I do, you love his works for that instrument, because no other 20th century composer loved it as much as he did. So no surprise at this review.

    And the piano works were embraced by Richter and Gould, and they were not–as they say– chopped liver.

  • David says:

    Hindemith simply has the goods, and is, after Richard Strauss, the greatest composer that Germany had in the 20th cent. Like Sibelius, like Martinu, like Reger, he is at the pinnacle

    of European artistic achievement, and my life is enriched accordingly. A disc of his music

    has just collected a Grammy: NDR Symphony Orchester with Midori and Chr. Eschenbach.

    Amen to that, I say!

    • John says:

      Quite! Another Hindemith disc, with Paavo Järvi, RSO Frankfurt and FPZimmerman collected the prize of Deutsche Schallplattenkritik at the end of the year. Hindemith lives and rules!

    • Peter says:

      Think Hindemith is boring? Take a listen to Claudio Abbado’s recording of Kammermusik with the BPO. That will wake anybody up!

  • Mikey says:

    Paul Hindemith has always been my idol. In part, his music is what pushed me to become a composer.

    There is absolutely nothing “boring” about his music. It is intellectual yet emotional. Only a pompous fool would call the composer of “When Lilacs last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” boring.

    I can think of plenty of other more modern and “critically acclaimed” composers who more richly deserve the moniker “most boring composer”.

  • A few days ago I attended a Viola sonata programme including Hindemith’s Op. 11 No. 4. Venue packed with young people “whooping and hollering”, standing ovation, plus an amazing encore – perhaps I wandered onto the wrong planet?

  • RW2013 says:

    Having played it often, I can say that Das Marienleben (second version) is one of the most inspired and moving works I know.

    You want to define boring ?

    The Perfect American…

  • Russell Platt says:

    Not feeling a thing? “Mathis der Maler” Symphony, the opera by that name, Symphonia Serena, Weber Metamorphosis, “Lilacs,” Violin Concerto, Marienleben, the Four Temperaments? There’s great stuff in there, used to be played quite regularly.

  • MacroV says:

    I love a lot of Hindemith. The Clarinet Sonata is fabulous. I like Symphonic Metamorphosis, though it’s relatively overplayed (as is Mathis der Maler). An underplayed masterpiece is the Symphony in Eb. Also quite like the Violin Concerto, and would like to hear his Clarinet Concerto again.

    And as another writer pointed out, the Four Temperaments is one of the greatest of Balanchine’s ballet works, even if he didn’t write it for that purpose.

  • MWnyc says:

    Plenty of people here who like Hindemith’s music quite a bit.

    So how did he get stuck with the reputation he did? Were musicians simply giving boring performances? Did they misunderstand what he was doing? Or is it simply a matter of different tastes in different times and places?

  • Joseph says:

    I believe that Hindemith’s most engaging music is written for the viola and the organ, two instruments that do not engage the average music enthusiast. “Boring” is in the ears and minds of the beholder.

  • M.A. Steinberger says:

    One of the most challenging, rewarding pieces of music I ever learned and performed is the Solo Sonata. Boring? NO!

  • Genevieve Castle Room says:

    Seriously guys – how long do you think it will take the opera world to embrace “Mathis der Maler” as one of the great 20th century works? It is sad to read what most critics are still saying 76 years later after the premiere:

    Here is a sampling:

    1. ‘Mathis der Maler’ is not an easy work to hear. The austere, almost academic passages, the skewed fugues and quirky counterpoint, can sound more like arguments than like opera. Its surfeit of didactic musical and textual discussion will, in all likelihood, prevent its ever becoming part of the popular repertoire.

    2. Mathis der Maler is a third rate German opera that is musically inane and even worse than the major operatic yawniac — Pfitzner’s “Palestrina”

    3. Mathis der Maler is not the sort of thing that will bring tears to your eyes or put you beside yourself with excitement. It is not a score of overwhelming grandeur or even of direct and simple lyricism. The only moment of expressive melody is Regina’s lament at the start of Scene 6. Elsewhere, there is simply a continuation of Hindemith’s familiar pseudo-Bach contrapuntal mastery grinding away more or less meaninglessly in low gear. I am afraid that Mathis der Maler is a bore.

    4. I loathe Mathis der Maler, which I find ponderous and musically uninteresting…. It’s cultural, I guess.

    5. Gerard Mortier preferred another Hindemith opera, Cardillac, a lively, tightly packed tale. In contrast, Mathis der Maler is thick and drawn-out, with three and a quarter hours of music in seven tableaux, in a musical language of intimidating polyphonic and contrapuntal mastery. The infectious vitality displayed in his earlier operas is almost completely absent here. Only in the last (seventh) tableau does the composer’s formidable inspiration surface.

    6. Mathis der Maler is, for the most part, a justifiably obscure work. Many long stretches of genuinely pedestrian music.

    7. Mathis der Maler is a curious work and very different from Hindemith’s earlier operas. The score, even at its best, leaves one almost continually aware of problems and cerebrations. If only heaven had bestowed on this composer warmth of heart and a lyrical faculty when it dowered him so plentifully with brains, systems and counterpoint.

    8. Earnest, dour, little seen in opera houses and better known for its symphonic representation.

    9. The best music in the score is undoubtedly in the opening prelude (Concert of Angels), the interludes and the final 20 minutes of the opera. The rest of the piece is discursive and drab. It outstays its welcome because Hindemith was not an instinctive musical dramatist. I won’t feel deprived if I don’t see it again for another 20 years

    10. Mathis has always been considered box office poison – Much too “difficult” to appeal to casual operagoers. Listeners should get obscurity points for pretending to love it.

    11. I have no love and only moderate admiration for it. On a scale of 1 to 10 I would give Mathis der Maler a 3.

    12. In 2010 the Paris Opera decided to mount a rich production and reanimate this opera. Why? I tried very hard but failed to understand the reasons for this weird decision. In the times like these, to invest the taxpayers’ money [in one of four genuinely new productions in 2010-2011] to resuscitate a third rate German opera (very much anti-Berg in structure)… no, I simply don’t get it!!

    13. Mathis der Maler is obsolete, musically irrelevant, and dramatically rather insignificant. It is not surprising that this work never resonated with public,

    14. The opera is dignified, terribly noble and in spots terribly dull […..] It lacks the red blood to ever become a repertory work.

    15. God knows I tried to like Mathis der Maler. Please don’t think I’m a bad person, but I find this opera a sanctimonious bore, way overlong and diffuse. The Nazis banned this work, and they were right, if for the wrong reasons.

  • observer says:

    ‘Requiem for those we love’ is a magnificent piece of music (referred to in the comments as ‘When Lilacs last in the Dooryard bloome’d’. I first heard it while studying Walt Whitman’s work. It’s not just HIndemith’s emotional outpouring, it’s his ‘reading’ of the Whitman poem that is so profound.

  • Alison says:

    Thought I’d clicked on the Daily Telegraph by mistake.

  • John Cheek says:

    I recently performed Hindemith’s short opera Hin und Zurück which I found extremely witty and rhythmically vital. And I don’t think anyone has mentioned his Nobilissima Visione.

  • Martin says:

    Schwanendreher by above “crew”:

    • Peter says:

      There is plenty of music by Hindemith to admire!

      Most of the well known works have been mentioned and I readily agree with those choices. Hindemith’s music can be “serious” , but there is poetry and gentleness aswell. listen to those first bars of the “Mathis” symphony. The early works ( Sancta Susanna!, the first Kammermusik…) have nothing lost of their power.

      Of the late works I love the great organ concerto, written for New York.

  • Alan says:

    boring is the steve reich stuff

  • James says:

    Paul Hindemith is simply splendid. He provokes, tantalizes, challenges, invigorates, makes one rejoice to know him. I suspect anyone who finds him boring watches rather too much Television.

  • Peter says:

    Boring: a recording of an otherwise great piece on a cheapie label like Point Records or PILS.

  • Juergen says:

    My music-teacher in secondary school quoted more than once somebody leading the persecution of what was called ‘Entartete Kunst’ in the 30s: “Hindemith, wohin damit?” – I personally admire most of his works, especially the orchestal ones.

  • Anthony Curtis says:

    Love Bach to Satie Medtner Ravel Syzmanowski to Elliott Carter
    Hindemith is one of the finest composers!

  • John Huizinga says:

    Overall, the signal-to-noise ratio of Hindemith’s extensive work considered as a whole is quite low and his operas certainly don’t bear staging (he put a curse on the wonderful story by ETA Hoffman, as someone more inspired would have made something marvelous). Instrumental works have definitely lots of notes, cleverly arranged in all manner of reverse canons, but largely for the initiated.

    Admirers of Hindemith should really turn their attention to a far more deserving musician (not musical technician): Frank Martin. His Petite Symphonie Concertante is half as long as any Hindemith work and ten times as profound.