A composer responds to news of a royal death

A composer responds to news of a royal death


norman lebrecht

April 09, 2021

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:


…. Hindemith was so prominent a modernist that the Nazis kicked him out of the country and so prolific a composer that, hearing of King George V’s death while in a BBC studio, before leaving the building he dashed off a musical lament to be performed that same day.

It’s a bit of a mystery why Hindemith has vanished so completely. Perhaps because he never wrote a signature work, one score that would stand forever among the world’s favourites. Or maybe he just wrote so much music that programmers cannot be bothered to sort the gems from the dross….

Read on here.

And here.

En francais ici.

In Czech here

More languages follow.




  • Ricardo says:

    Mathis der Maler?? Nobilissima Visione is a less know but marvelous work with plenty of beautiful and memorable tunes. Hindemith’s wonderfully lyrical vein is overlooked and underestimated, in my opinion.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    In the U.S., at least, the Symphonic Metamorphosis on themes of Weber can count as his signature work, although it,too, has dropped off the programming radar in the past couple of decades. I pulled his symphony, ‘Mathis der Maler’, off the shelves just a month ago.

    And today seems an appropriate day to listen to his Trauermusik (Geraldine Walther with the San Francisco Symphony under Herbert Blomstedt).

  • Schoenberglover says:

    I love Hindemith’s music! His Mathis der Maler is an absolute masterpiece & Ludus Tonalis, based on Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, are absolute gems!

  • Greg Bottini says:

    I’ve always enjoyed Hindemith, and I consider him to be the equal in talent (if not in popularity) as Stravinsky.
    – Note to the inevitable Bottini-bashers, who will no doubt descend upon me in droves: this is a personal opinion.

  • I’m unabashed in my love of Hindemith. Yes, there’s a lot of it that’s merely competent, but even that music is all written in his own style, which you can spot in mere seconds. The gems, I think, have always been there: the Symphonic Metamorphosis, the Mathis der Maler Symphony (and the opera), Marienleben, Noblissima Visione (for the Ballets Russes), When Lilacs last in the Dooryard Bloomed, and the Kleine Kammermusik for winds. His influence, though not as wide as Stravinsky’s or Webern’s, is certainly palpable in a lot of American music from the 40s and 50s. I remember Ned Rorem telling me that “I saw Noblissima Visione, and I thought it was the greatest music I’d ever heard.” Hearing the Maler Symphony, I don’t understand how people call it dry. I’ve always found it deeply lyrical, and deeply affecting. His writing for brass is truly eloquent.

  • Novagerio says:

    “Perhaps because he never wrote a signature work, one score that would stand forever among the world’s favourites” – sorry but whether something stands among the world’s favourites or not, the Mathis der Maler-Symphony and the Symphonic Metamorphosis (on themes by Weber) are most certainly masterpieces, and already Classics of the symphonic repertoire (and nobody does them better than Blomstedt!)
    – Then there is the Nobilissima Visione, the Sinfonia Serena and the Concert Music for Brass and Strings (check the composer himself conducting it in Chicago on Youtube)

    The Pittsburgh Symphony is also a true masterpiece, and a great piece of orchestration too (Yan Pascal Tortelier has a great recording of it on Chandos).
    The Schwanendreher I personally find a sleeper, and the Harmonie der Welt-Symphony too.

    I think some people might have a preconception of his music as being boring, without actually having given it a real listen and discover how thrilling it actually is!
    (And I repeat: Blomstedt is the best!)

    • We privatize your value says:

      Blomstedt can’t hold Bernstein’s candle, as far as Hindemith is concerned. Plus, he made extremely stupid, borderline insulting comments about the Unterlinden Museum, where the Isenheim Altarpiece (the object of Mathis der Maler’s efforts) is held.

  • Well, we can’t accuse him of being a one-hit wonder, can we?

  • We privatize your value says:

    But Hindemith *did* write a signature work – the symphony “Mathis der Maler” (the opera of the same name is more obscure). And his Konzertmusik opus 50 is quite famous, too (as well as his Symphonic Metamorphoses on a Theme by Weber)

  • Michael Turner (conductor) says:

    It’s true, Hindemith is rarely programmed. All I would say is that, while his output was enormous and could be considered uneven (some of it is perhaps too studiously structured to be instantly appealing), we know that there are some real gems there.

    Just sticking with orchestral music, the Symphonic Metamorphoses, the Concert Music for Brass and Strings and the Mathis der Maler Symphony are all attractive, thoughtful pieces that it would be great to see back in the concert hall more frequently. The biggest problem with the first of these is its title. The music is, of course, probably the most approachable of the three pieces.

    From a performer’s perspective, when I’ve programmed his music, orchestras have been bowled over by it. Players have come to me wondering why they had not played it before. Part of the appeal, I’m sure, was that Hindemith was a practicing instrumentalist who, although a fine violist, could also play a number of other orchestral instruments (to a greater or lesser extent) and therefore wrote well for them.

    You can tell, I’m a fan.

  • Dragonetti says:

    A great and underrated craftsman in my opinion.
    Agreed that the Gebrauchsmusik side of things is well, utilitarian but how about Mathis der Maler or Nobelissima Visione? Beautifully constructed and very listenable.
    For a true earworm though consider Symphonic Metamorphosis.
    I have to say that although I haven’t played it for years now, just thinking about it is likely to have me humming it round the house for days. Thanks for reminding me!

  • Julian Elloway says:

    I wonder how many other English-speaking readers turned to the French version just to find how the bon mot ‘windy Hindy’ appears there – but, hélas, it doesn’t.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    I do not sense, or believe, that Hindemith is all that rare in concert as seems to be your premise here. I cannot speak for classical radio, since I rarely listen, but I am not sure any pronouncements about anything should be based on radio programming.

    I have not gone gathering statistics or orchestra programming (although thanks to the internet it would be the work of an afternoon to get a handle on the season’s programming by just about any American orchestra that charges money for tickets) but I have to think the Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, the Mathis der Maler symphony, the Konzertmuzik for Strings and Brass, the Symphony in Bb for Band, Der Schwanendreher (a viola concerto), perhaps the Amor und Psyche overture all get plenty of performances (or did before the lockdown).

    Hindemith also wrote an entire literature of works for younger and student musicians which perhaps do not rise to general notice, but I have to think the stuff is played because they still fill a need. I am thinking in particular of the Five Pieces for string orchestra. Great fun to play and an almost sure fire hit with an audience.

    As long as there are violists there will be plenty of Hindemith performances of his sonatas and concerted pieces.

    And performers on a variety of wind and brass instruments who want to give a recital often have little choice but to program a sonata or other work that Hindemith wrote for their instrument, mainly because hardly anyone else of similar stature did.

    Now, compared to the massive totality of what Hindemith composed, perhaps it could be said that the works that are performed enough to be called popular are too tiny a proportion to say anything meaningful about public taste for his music — as one sees being said of Bohuslav Martinů and other extremely prolific composers. But the sifting and winnowing that goes on with any composer’s catalog has resulted in what I would regard as an impressively hefty number of works by Hindemith that clearly have staked their claim on the standard repertoire, and a goodly number of other pieces that will be performed enough to endure.

    And that still leaves plenty of Hindemith music to explore and discover. And some of it won’t seem worth the time to be sure. That’s not the point.

  • Simon Scott says:

    I have never liked Hindemith. I find his music boring and dry. Rather like coffee with no sugar

  • Tony Sanderson says:

    Here’s a fine recent performance of the Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber by Hindemith played by the Mexican National Symphony Orshestra. The concert included Rachmaninoff’s fourth paino converto with Yuja Wang.


    So they haven’t forgotten Hindemith in Central America.

  • Garry Humphreys says:

    Signature work? Like several people here, I’d go for the Symphonic Metamorphosis – why doesn’t it get played any more? (I’m also rather fond of the Symphony in E flat!)

  • Stephen Gould says:

    Let me be added to the pro-Hindemith number…and add his very funny “Overture to the Flying Dutchman as Played at Sight by a Second-Rate Spa Orchestra at the Village Well at 7 o’clock in the Morning”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emvPex7_r44

    • RLW says:

      Stephen Gould – I wasn’t aware of this masterpiece of Hindemith’s … a supreme display of elegance and taste, and so superior to the naive fumblings of the Wagner version…