Early Music and Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) in the United States: A Centenary Evaluation

October 1, 1996

In Memoriam
Luther Noss (1907-1995) and Thomas Binkley (1931-1995)
who generously supported this project with their guidance.

Paul Hindemith—composer, teacher, and performer of early music—was an inaugurator of the early music revival in the United States. His years of near-annual public early music concert programs in 1941, (1943), 1945-48, 1950, 1951, 1953 captured a climactic moment in his life. Coinciding with his ongoing compositional output, this historical moment also manifested itself in his performance of early music, the culmination of self-education and relentless determination.1 Having found a sanctuary away from Nazi Germany and the Second World War, he gave the United States a legacy of theorists, teachers and performers who would in turn pass on this inheritance to their students. The line extends, for instance, from Paul Hindemith to George Hunter (University of Illinois) to the late Thomas Binkley (Studio der frühen Musik and Indiana University). Hindemith's philosophical framework within which one has to interpret his advocacy of early music in the United States is vitally important here. This centenary evaluation examines his significance to the early music movement in the United States in two areas. After the introduction, the Gebrauchsmusik philosophy is reconsidered in the light of his early music performance activities. After that, there is commentary on matters of historicity.


Introduction: Hindemith's Significance to the Early Music Movement in the United States

Having come on three concert tours (during the 1930s) as a viola performer to the United States, the choice of this country as a haven from Nazi Germany was an attractive option. The Nazi authorities vilified him, starting in 1934. Switzerland, the country to which he permanently returned in 1953, served as the staging area in 1938-1940 from which Hindemith launched his thirteen-year American sojourn. Friends secured short teaching stints for him soon after his arrival in New York in February 1940.2 Wells College, Cornell University, the New York State College at Buffalo and the Berkshire Music Center (summer teaching) provided him with income. Starting in the fall as a visiting lecturer at Yale University, Hindemith's position became a permanent one the next year (1941). That is where he remained throughout his stay in the United States.

Although Hindemith had enjoyed playing and composing for his viola d'amore since the 1920s, it was his teaching at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin (1927-37) that inspired him to use early musical instruments with his students. He encouraged the use of these instruments from the Hochschule's collection, upon which his students could perform their own newly-composed works. Later, in the United States, he would never use early music instruments to play new compositions. Then, especially in the late 1940s and early 1950s, his students would play period music on period instruments in New Haven, Cambridge and New York. The early period in Berlin coincided with his Gebrauchsmusik Phase (1927-33) during which time he wrote compositions for amateurs with titles like "Spielmusik," for instance. I contend below that Hindemith's early music concerts in the United States served the same philosophical, broad-based aims of musical involvement by the average music-lover as his Gebrauchsmusik compositions.

His compositional and performing personae underscored his loyalty to the public of music-lovers. It is for this reason, I believe, that he resolutely championed early music performance in the United States. This story, starting during his second summer as an emigré in this country (1941), is a story that captures a significant moment in the history of early music revival in the United States. Hindemith the composer prepared for this task by unconventional means. He was not a university-trained musicologist and was not part of either Riemann's Leipzig School or Gurlitt's Freiburg School of musicologist-performers. Practically-speaking, there was little room for a Hochschule-trained composer in Germany at the time to enter the early music performance arena. Had he studied musicology with either Riemann or Gurlitt, one could have taken such participation for granted. Both schools laid the practical and philosophical foundations for the early music movement in Germany.3 Teaching in the United States, then, presented Hindemith with the latitude of a new academic culture which welcomed a composer as an early music performer-teacher. Furthermore, this culture presented him with an early music performance "vacuum," since performance of early music was in its infancy in the United States.

Hindemith's leadership as early music performer surfaced outside the German early music and political sphere. Yet it was within the German socio-cultural context, especially during the Weimar Republic (1919-33), that he nurtured a philosophy which later moved him to organize and direct early music performances in the United States. His self-imposed duty to music professionals and amateurs manifested itself as a phase in his personal compositions during the Weimar Republic (1927-33, the period during which he composed the Spielmusik compositions, known as his Gebrauchsmusik—music for amateurs).

While in residence in the United States this duty—the use of Gebrauchsmusik—manifested itself in the synchronic existence of Hindemith's original compositions and his performance of early music. His original compositions during his American years catered to professionals, while his early music performances—like his Spielmusik—catered to amateurs. The university setting facilitated such an amateur music-making undertaking.

The context of the American university, Yale in particular, formed the ideal environment for Hindemith's performance of early music. To understand Hindemith's early music activity in the university context, one must turn to the 1941 Berkshire Music Center (hereafter referred to as Tanglewood). The series of concerts presented at Tanglewood was Hindemith's only set of early music concerts in the United States not presented within a university context.

Previous writers on Hindemith have paid little attention to the 1941 Tanglewood summer course.4 The evidence suggests that this six-week summer course (Monday, July 7 through Sunday, August 17, 1941) was the most significant factor in Hindemith's decision to perform early music in the United States in public.5 Besides his composition classes, the composer directed six performances of some 149 compositions ranging in date from the 12th-17th centuries.6 Incidentally, Hindemith also performed 149 compositions in all his early music concerts during 1945-53.7 Though orchestral concerts—especially those given by the Boston Symphony Orchestra—overshadowed Hindemith's early music performances at Tanglewood, one should not overlook the importance of the early music concerts.8

Tanglewood's Department of Music and Culture was the division for music enthusiasts as opposed to professionals. This department specifically aimed, as Musical America later described it, at those "less interested in professional performance, such as music students, teachers, college students and amateurs."9 The applicant pool for the entire 1941 Tanglewood festival was more than 700 from some 100 music schools and more than 150 colleges and universities. Of those selected for participation 150 performed early music in Tanglewood's Department of Music and Culture—an unprecedented experience for both director and performers.10 Hindemith's collaborators in this department included primarily Hugh Ross, G. Wallace Woodworth and Olin Downes.11 Hindemith and Leo Schrade prepared the performance scores, mostly medieval and Renaissance choral works.12 Participants would "sing and study choral music from the earliest stages of its development." As the central figure in the undertaking, Hindemith conceived of the idea, selected the music and conducted the performances. In addition, he taught his own class of composition students while Aaron Copland conducted a separate composition class with his students. This undertaking challenged Hindemith's administrative skills to the full. Hindemith's approach to early music performance hinged on his " . . . knowledge of the sources, and the sense of excitement one could get from that music."—13 His enthusiasm in preparing the Tanglewood concerts was evident in a letter written to a friend in Germany.

To Willy Strecker, his friend and music publisher at Schott's Söhne Verlag, Mainz, Germany (hereafter called Schott), Hindemith wrote: "It was a very fine effort, never done on this scale before, and it proved a very valuable experience for all concerned."14 Clearly the scope and success of the undertaking strengthened Hindemith in his resolve to bring early music to the public.15 There is a more personal dimension to Hindemith's first attempt at mass performances of early music. As an emigré from Nazi Germany, he cherished his freedom to carry out an early music program for laypersons in an apolitical environment.16 Directing large groups of amateurs in music-making was not a new experience to Hindemith. One event in Germany had more than coincidental significance to Tanglewood.

Hindemith's Tanglewood experience was an extended Ploener Musiktag, also the title of one of his last Gebrauchsmusik scores. At Ploen, a city in Schleswig-Holstein, Hindemith composed, rehearsed and performed in 1932 a day-long concert that included instrumental items and a cantata. Amateurs performed the music. Similarly, at Tanglewood amateur singers and instrumentalists performed six informal concerts on Saturday afternoons.17 Whether new or early music, Hindemith's passion for the merit of the compositions remained the driving force behind both the 1932 Ploener Musiktag and 1941 Tanglewood series of concerts.18 Both events had another common element: the active participation of amateurs.

Closer scrutiny of the 1941 programs shows that sixteen of the 149 Tanglewood compositions (10.7%) appear in subsequent concerts (1943-53). Examples are Street Cries of London by Gibbons (concert: 1943), Nuntius celso by von Fulda (concert: 1947), Josquin's motet Miserere mei, Deus (concert: 1948) and Greiner, Zanner, Schnöpfitzer by Finck (concert: 1948).19 Several instrumental dances included in the 1941 Tanglewood concerts appear on programs of 1945 (Tre fontane, La manfredina, Trotto-saltarello), and also 1946 and 1950 (Tre fontane). A personal favorite of Hindemith's among these instrumental dances was Tre fontane. Besides its catchy melody, its use of scordatura tuning fascinated Hindemith. A rebec part written in Hindemith's hand shows the scordatura tuning distinctly.20 This phenomenon so captivated him that on February 24, 1942 he performed eight of Heinrich Biber's Biblical Sonatas, using scordatura tuning with great delight. Despite Hindemith's dislike of the harpsichord, Ralph Kirkpatrick, performing Hindemith's basso continuo realizations on the instrument, praised the keyboard parts. Morris Kirshbaum (violoncello) and George Lam (double bass) reinforced the continuo bass parts.

Of the 149 early music compositions which Hindemith directed during 1945-53, Tre fontane appeared more frequently than any other composition on those programs. Hindemith used this composition in two 1941 Tanglewood concerts, the 1945 and 1946 Yale Collegium Musicum (hereafter mostly called the collegium) and the 1950 Harvard concerts.21 Hindemith used this dance in the theme and variations movement of his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1945), the only instance where collegium repertory was incorporated into an original composition.22 Hindemith also arranged his Suite französischer Tänze for small orchestra (1958) from the collection of Danseries by Claude Gervaise and Etienne du Tertre. Gervaise and du Tertre's original compositions remained reasonably intact. Therefore, the suite is an arrangement and not an original composition by Hindemith. Previously, he used German Lieder as source material in his viola concerto Der Schwanendreher (Berlin, 1935). He also used a melody in his collegium concerts which he had incorporated in his Third Organ Sonata.

Hindemith's "apprenticeship" at Tanglewood prepared him to organize early music concerts at Yale. He put more work into these early music classes at Tanglewood than into his composition class. "I had a lot of work with my composition class" he wrote, "but more still with a history course, in which my group of about 150 people wended its way singing and playing through the music of the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries."23 Later in the letter we read that "The whole program comprised about two hundred pieces [actually 149], of which most had never before (except at the time they were written) been sung or played."24 This statement underscores the novelty of the early music series to the Tanglewood performers. These performers experienced early music literature for the first time and in a context which made these compositions serve as music for amateurs (Gebrauchsmusik).

Schott played a significant role in distributing Hindemith's original music for amateurs in Germany. Indeed, Willy Strecker of Schott offered to publish Hindemith's 1941 Tanglewood performance scores.25 Associated Music Publishers (AMP) also showed interest in this undertaking provided Hindemith would lead the project. Publication was a logical step in reaching amateur musicians in the United States.

Unfortunately, Hindemith could not undertake the project and the idea was dropped.26 Hindemith's letter to Strecker suggests that he declined for reasons of practicality, not principle. One argument against publication could be that Hindemith was reluctant to spend more time on the project. He had already invested a significant amount of time in preparing the performance scores, time which would have been better spent composing.27

Each of the participants had a full score of all his pieces and, since you are more or less familiar with the process of manufacturing musical material, you can imagine how much preparatory work that meant for me, on top of the school and my own work.28

Furthermore, the undertaking yielded imperfect performances and Hindemith was not enthusiastic about the mundane task of copying out "every single note." The project was also not a financial success.29 Within two weeks after the Tanglewood course ended, Hindemith completed his Sonata for English Horn and Piano. The early music preparation itself caused a compositional hiatus for the composer. For these reasons, Hindemith did not seize the only opportunity to publish early music performance scores in the United States.

Certain similarities and differences exist between the Tanglewood series and the 1945-53 series. Programs in both series followed each other chronologically, the choruses at Tanglewood and Yale remained large, and the sources for the materials remained the musicological monuments, collected works and historical sets in the Yale music library. Hindemith abandoned the formal lecture, which had figured prominently at Tanglewood, after the 1945 concert.30 This aspect needs some discussion. Raising audience interest in early music through informative lectures was part of Hindemith's pioneering mission. Olin Downes, music critic of the New York Times, presented such lectures.31 The presentation of the lecture was a strategic part of the weekly performances.32 In several cases the lecture appeared somewhere near the midpoint of the program.33 Hindemith underscored the significance of this strategy in a note on a program:

Since I think the lecture is an important part of the performance, it has to be composed into the program like one of the pieces. Therefore I hope you won't mind its wandering from one place to another!34

After an initial attempt to have a formal lecture at a Yale concert (1943), Hindemith relinquished the idea for all subsequent concerts (1945-53).35 Hindemith did not return to Tanglewood after the 1941 summer. However, its department of music and culture presented (at least) two programs of early music with Olin Downes on July 18 and August 1, 1942.36 There is no evidence to confirm that the performance of early music at Tanglewood continued beyond 1942. It is unclear who the director of the 1942 early music concerts at Tanglewood was. Information obtained from the Olin Downes papers show that Downes delivered lectures and that his name appeared on the programs. Hugh Ross, Lilian Knowles, Yves Tinayre and (?) Toms were among the participants. The text of one of Downes' presentations contains the following information: "Ross plays. Ross conducts. Toms conducts. Ross played piano notes of theme." Hindemith's initial motivation to perform early music with amateurs at Tanglewood consolidated his later successes with early music in public. His experiments with historical instruments in Berlin would not find public use yet.

Now one can return to Hindemith's locus for most of his early music performance activity: the university. Most German universities and music academies (Hochschulen) had early music performing groups (collegia musica) by the end of the Weimar Republic.37 Factors which contributed to Hindemith's success in the United States included his freedom from political stress, the availability of fine library facilities, the historical instrument collections, the talented students, and a personal habit of the composer. This habit was his intense pursuit of knowledge at all costs. He cultivated the practice during his own student days. Now he directed the custom at the study of medieval and Renaissance music theory texts. This intense autodidactic approach to learning equipped him with a knowledge of Greek and medieval Latin, which was particularly useful in performing early music. A letter written in 1941 by Robert French, professor of English and master of Jonathan Edwards College, to Charles Seymour, President of Yale, compared Hindemith's breadth of knowledge to that of Mann, Jung and de Madariaga.38 It was this breadth of knowledge, exhibited in his history of music theory classes, that made the performance of early music an extension of his academic curiosity. Its performance was a perfect match of the scholar and performer in Hindemith. Not surprisingly, therefore, he did not reflect the spirit of his times. The history of the early music revival also produced another unusual figure: Arnold Dolmetsch. Hindemith and Dolmetsch were both pioneers and atypical musicians of this revival.

As non-musicologist outsiders Hindemith and Dolmetsch were analogous cases. Hindemith's place in the academic community and his stature as a composer of international repute, gave legitimacy to his performance of early music. His idealism, individuality and tenacity were characteristics shared with Arnold Dolmetsch, an older early music pioneer. Where Dolmetsch fought the modern musical establishment, which similarly treated him with suspicion, Hindemith could launch his early music activity from within the academic environment. Dolmetsch initially kept his music-making within his family.39 From the outset Hindemith practiced early music-making in the United States as an exercise for adult amateurs. Referring to Dolmetsch, Ezra Pound asked, "Why is it that the fine things always seem to go on in a corner?"40 "Is it that what has once been the pleasure of the many," the author continued, "has been permanently swept out of Life?"41 Then, in a bold paradox the famous writer asks, "Is it that real democracy can only exist under feudal conditions, when no man fears to recognize creative skill in his neighbor?"42 Hindemith, an archetypal feudal lord, deliberately recognized the creative skill in students and community members, using early music to this end. Although he occasionally used a chamber ensemble for an item on the program, more often he was intentionally non-selective in giving as many amateurs as possible the opportunity to "recognize [the] creative skill" they possessed. Stylistic accuracy in having a small group of performers was of secondary importance to him.


Gebrauchsmusik Reconsidered

Ironically, in Hindemith's attempt to transfer early music from a musical aristocracy (scholars) to musical "commoners," he had to strike a compromise. Besseler, who viewed the concert phenomenon as an unsatisfactory product of tradition, credited Hindemith in 1925 with taking up "new, active forms of music-making" (i.e. Gebrauchsmusik).43 He returned to those "active forms of music-making" in performing early music in concert in the United States. Hindemith's audience participation frequently made very sophisticated demands on those amateurs.44 Requiring a fairly high degree of musical competency from his audience, he undermined the very premise of music-making by and with amateurs. Other tensions between opposing issues emerged in his early music activity.

Hindemith's early music performances counterbalanced his contention that musical creation is "basically aristocratic and individualistic."45 Yet, in the same year as the Norton lectures—from which A Composer's World originated—Hindemith admitted that performing early music had to be done "with the altruistic devotion which alone can revive this old music."46 Performing early music had decidedly opposite aims from composing new music; the one is "aristocratic and individualistic" while the other is "altruistic." His original Gebrauchsmusik compositions were "aristocratic and individualistic." By the same token, the use of early music as Gebrauchsmusik was an "altruistic" exercise. Therefore, performing early music was a functional exercise, an activity for amateurs to share.

By his own admission Hindemith's involvement in performing early music was an act of benevolence. For the middle-aged composer this activity unequivocally contradicted the accusation that he developed no social character, due to his petit bourgeois background.47 Even if that were not the case, according to Adorno's "frontal attacks" on the younger Hindemith, then his directing of early music left no visible trace of another accusation levelled against the composer.48 No longer could Adorno accuse Hindemith of protesting against "the fatherly authority" as in his "rebellious" early compositions.49 Perhaps Adorno would have countered this statement by showing that Hindemith's exploration of the uncharted early music revival in the United States was in itself proof of rebellion against an absent authority.

Hindemith's performance of early music shares the very dichotomy inherent in Gebrauchsmusik. Such music exists both as an alternative to and parallel with autonomous art music. Except for an original canon composed for the audience to sing in a Gabrieli Battaglia (see footnote 44), Hindemith performed early music with amateurs as a distinct alternative to any original compositions of his own. He used the early music scores as well-crafted practical performing editions. They were nothing more. The early music literature remained distinctly separate and removed from his own compositional output.

Hindemith's separation of early music from his own autonomous art music existed primarily during his period in the United States. Prior to directing early music performances, Hindemith had incorporated early music as cantus firmi in several of his original compositions. Such procedures absorbed early music into autonomous art compositions, the opposite of Gebrauchsmusik. Once he started directing early music performances his use of early music changed. It became separate, self-contained Gebrauchsmusik for amateurs. The identity of the early compositions remained intact, not subsumed in Hindemith's autonomous original compositions. Even two compositions—the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1945) and his Suite Französischer Tänze (publ. 1958)—composed during this period are exceptions, not the rule. Hindemith's Organ Sonata No.3 (1940), which does incorporate early music, was composed before Hindemith directed early music in public. This characteristic of separation is one element of Gebrauchsmusik.

The second element in the dichotomy of Gebrauchsmusik is its coexistence with autonomous works of art (synchronically). His near-annual early music events made this literature into an "integral part of social life."50 Hinton refers to this process as "a structure, rather than a continuum."51 Hindemith used this music as participatory material for amateurs, in what Besseler called "umgangsmässige Musik" (emphasizing in this translation the social use of this music).52

The social intent of Hindemith's performance of early music was very strong. For this reason he used large groups of performers, especially in his choruses, fully aware that critics of early music performance favored small groups to approximate a historical sound concept. The social intent underlies the seeming dichotomy between avoiding a historical sound concept in his chorus, yet strongly pursuing an approximation of this concept by using historical instruments. His fast-paced "revue"-like early music performances (as Luther Noss pointed out) drew the audience consistently into participation. No concert ever omitted audience participation. In persistently pursuing the collaborative early music concerts, Hindemith extended the artistic growth of musical amateurs as a counterbalance to his own professional musical life.53

As the enfant terrible and the most successful German composer of the 1920s, it was surprising that in his next phase his music portrayed a "new, vital, almost brutal simplicity" as Lukas Foss put it.54Hindemith's Gebrauchsmusik phase reflected precisely this style. Though he had already proceeded beyond this phase by the time he arrived in the United States, it is noteworthy that he addressed the question of Gebrauchsmusik at the beginning of his residency in the United States. In a speech given in Buffalo, NY in 1940, the year he came to the United States, Hindemith claimed responsibility for propagating Gebrauchsmusik. In "Betrachtungen zur heutigen Musik" he admitted, "I do not feel completely uninvolved whenever the word 'Gebrauchsmusik' sounds out."55 The following year he seized the first opportunity to use early music as Gebrauchsmusik at Tanglewood. Despite his denunciation of the Gebrauchsmusik term (1950, published 1953) as a slogan, his entire early music performance career in the United States sprang from his Gebrauchsmusik philosophy. Hinton draws attention to the strong political-social context of Gebrauchsmusik of the 1920s.56 There was no room for composing music for its own sake. The composer had to compose having a definite audience in mind. Symphonic music was heading for an esoteric and less socially-relevant destination. Later, during the 1940s and 50s in the United States, he could use early music for the same purpose as originally-composed Gebrauchsmusik. Hindemith directed the early music material at a specific audience. Therefore, this music had a distinct purpose.

It is unfortunate that the political-social context of Gebrauchsmusik during the period of the Weimar Republic deteriorated during the Third Reich. This deterioration gave rise to the sloganistic and pejorative connotations with which the Gebrauchsmusik term became associated. It is in the non-sloganistic, pre-Third Reich sense that the idea of Gebrauchsmusik forms the basis for discussion here. In this view, Gebrauchsmusik as early music performance, therefore, remained not only a vehicle for amateur performers, but an educational experience as well.

The role of the consummate teacher in Hindemith surfaced through his performances of early music. Many of his students have pointed to the use of the collegium material as an extension of the history of music theory lectures which he gave during the second semester of the academic year. "When, in teaching [his students] the history of theory," Boatwright reported, "he found their knowledge of medieval and Renaissance music limited, he organized concerts, and made them sing and play the music on authentic ancient instruments."57 Probably the most laudatory commendation of Hindemith's role as teacher and early music specialist comes from the New Grove, American Music:

Equally important, perhaps even more so, was Hindemith's role as a director of performances of medieval and Renaissance music on authentic instruments. In the 1940s there was virtually no activity in early music in the USA, and a remarkable number of the best-known performers and leaders of early-music ensembles since the 1950s were first inspired as members of Hindemith's Collegium Musicum—as were, in the role of auditors at his concerts, other students, scholars, and listeners.58

The performances were an extension of his own being. Lukas Foss described the concerts as unforgettable.

Hindemith's medievalism is void of all erudite attitudinizing, void of all fashionable popularizing: he did not adopt, he was. He had the constitution and simplicity of a late-Medieval, early Renaissance master, and he had the knowledge of the music.59

This research confirms Leo Schrade's assertion that Hindemith's orientation to the past was to the German past.60 His German identity came across in his preference for German tenorlieder and choral pieces.

That is not to dispute the theoretical issues which he and his students solved in selecting the tenorlieder for performance.61 Indeed, Hindemith expressed pride in the composers of tenorlieder. "Already in the first rehearsals" he reminded the musicians, "we felt the creative power of two great composers, Senfl and Isaac, who had been nothing but mere names. We tapped an almost forgotten source of splendid contrapuntal artistry and beauty: the Lieder."62 Hindemith singled only these composers out in a program which included works by Josquin des Pres, Jannequin and La Rue, among others. His preference for the greatness of Senfl and Isaac shows his Germanic orientation. In the same passage he clearly articulated his overriding goal of music-making with amateurs (selbstspielen) as opposed to music-making for others (vorspielen—what professionals do). More important than the compliments for the performances was the fact that "we ought to feel grateful for all the experience the last four months of choral work have gained for us."63 The reward was not for the audience, but for the performers. No less than 79 performers shared the selbstspielen experience.

The philosophical framework of Gebrauchsmusik, a matter which he explicitly denounced as a slogan, nonetheless formed the basis for his approach to advocating early music. Hindemith's use of early music in performance functions as Gebrauchsmusik (music for amateurs) in a slightly different way than his Sing- und Spielmusik. His use of this literature is a systematic attempt at exposing amateurs to early music in performance at a time when professionalism in early music performance was virtually non-existent in the United States. In this redefinition of the Gebrauchsmusik concept, object supersedes content. His original compositions for amateurs in Germany displayed content through combining a modern musical language, modest technical demands on the performers, and high artistic quality. He reached the public in Germany by disseminating his original, published compositions. In the United States his performances of early music became opportunities for dissemination in themselves.

In Lehrstück (1929), a composition of the Gebrauchsmusik genre, he set a precedent for dissemination in performance. In breaking the performer-listener barrier, or "producer-consumer phenomenon" as Hindemith referred to such dynamics, he required the audience to participate at given moments during the performance of Lehrstück. Likewise, in all his early music concerts in the United States, he abandoned the audience-performer separation. At specific points during the performance the audience inevitably had to participate. In the same way that Lehrstück (1929) became, in Bruno Strümer's words, "collectivist music," so too did his early music performances become "collectivist music" experiences to performers and audience alike.64

Early music performance was eminently suited to be Gebrauchsmusik because it captured an ideal balance between the listener and performer. Speaking as a composer, Hindemith expressed his admiration for early composers' mastery of keeping technical elements in balance.

"Their [early masters] unselfish and uninhibited way of addressing the audience and satisfying the performer, the perfect adequacy of poetic and musical form; the admirable balance of a composition's technical effort and its sensual appeal—these are only a few of the outstanding solutions they found in their works."65

To understand Hindemith the composer and performer is to understand him rooted in tradition. His Traditionsverständnis (understanding of tradition) in the context of his early music performance can be understood primarily in terms of Hindemith's relation to historicity. In order to understand this relationship, one must examine Hindemith's compositional and performance persona in the context of the collegium musicum phenomenon.


Historicity: Hindemith's Compositional and Performance Persona in the Context of the Collegium Musicum Phenomenon

First, Hindemith's successful use of early music performances shows his shifting goals.66 Though the source of Hindemith's direction was internalized early in his life, this adaptability to external forces reveals him as an "other-directed" personality, according to David Riesman's classification.67 Hindemith's venture into performing early music shifted his goals from being a virtuoso viola performer to directing collaborative early music performances. In his case performing this literature was tantamount to standing on the bedrock of his tradition. Therefore, the works of early masters had to retain their integrity in performance. Such an exercise provided Hindemith the comfort of reaffirming tradition through his early music concerts. This reassuring factor in all probability formed a counterweight to being "at home everywhere and nowhere, capable of a rapid if sometimes superficial intimacy with and response to everyone."68 Early music performance supplied him with a force of gravity at a time when his compositions experienced subtle, yet increasing separation from the musical mainstream.

Hindemith experienced public ambivalence in the reception of his music in the U. S. and Germany after World War II, precisely during the period of his early music activity in the United States.69 His own identity as an American ambassador of goodwill is clearly evident in his role as a special guest of the Overseas Military Government of the United States (OMGUS) in February and March 1949. Hindemith, the newly naturalized American citizen, spoke with a touch of vindictive delight in Europe about the state of music in the United States.70 The previous year had marked a significant turn of the tide against Hindemith in the German musical press.71 During 1948 he completed, among other things, the revised version of Das Marienleben, clearly reflecting his own ambivalence towards his previous work. By contrast, during that same year he completed his Septet for Wind Instruments which later (1952) received the New York Music Critics Circle Award, reflecting a measure of public support for his work. While he tampered with a published song cycle of his (Das Marienleben) for twelve years, he was delighted that the critics who were partial to his earlier works now honored a recent work of his as the best chamber composition premiered that year (1952).72

During spring 1948 Hindemith directed a program of early sixteenth-century music in which he featured a substantial number of German tenorlieder. His unequivocal bias in favor of the German tradition contrasts with his compositional ambivalence. If public support for his personal compositions waned, then his early music performances, which were always well-attended, swung the pendulum in favor of his tradition.73 Therefore, the two elements underlying the success of his early music performance are first, his Traditionsverständnis and second, the performer within. Hindemith's personal stamp on the selection and performance of early music remains a compelling reason why these early music concerts were not continued when he was on leave from Yale.

Hindemith had a Janus-like view of modernism versus tradition regarding early music performance in the United States, as evidenced in his historicist approach to composition and performance. Stylistically, the neo-Baroque orientation preceded his Gebrauchsmusik phase during the 1920s. His Kammermusiken were modelled in broad terms after Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. Numbers 1-4 from this series stemmed from this period. Hindemith's historical leanings in his compositional writings placed him within a historicist tradition in Germany. In the United States his performance of early music became an issue of historicity. The modernist-historicist dichotomy is fairly problematical in his case.

Hindemith came to fame at a time when being a modernist was the undisputed right of the living composer. At the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the post-romantic ideal perpetuated the Wagnerian musical language of Mahler and Bruckner. Simultaneously the historical treasures of Bach and Beethoven (and others) were by now firmly established in the concert repertoire. Using Reger, the fairly "modern" master to young German composers at the turn of the twentieth century, with his Baroque form and new-music content as his model, Hindemith extended the tradition of a historicist modern music. The modern composer stood in history, and he concerned himself with his role of paying homage to history.

Hindemith's mentor in his historicist approach to composition was Paul Bekker.74 Writing in 1921, Bekker appealed to modern composers to reach beyond Beethoven to Bach. These young composers should not simply resurrect the "old polyphonic art" but should consider "a new, elementary breakthrough of the polyphonic musical concept."75 It is evident that Hindemith took this call seriously in his neo-Baroque style, prior to his Gebrauchsmusik period. Hindemith used fugue, ostinato and similar techniques in works of this period. The link between his involvement in this practice and, nearly twenty years later, his performance of Renaissance works incorporating similar procedures, reflect his fundamentally historicist nature both as a composer and a performer.

Contributing to Hindemith's early music performance historicity is his position in the context of the collegium musicum. Only after he left Germany could he call a group of early music performers under his direction a collegium musicum. As a composer, he was no doubt aware of musicologist-directed collegia at German universities. Those musicologists followed Riemann's idea of having a study group perform early music for private, not public performances. Sigmund Levarie (University of Chicago) and Leo Schrade (Yale) were among the earliest musicologists in the United States to continue this German practice. It is unclear what the status of Schrade's collegium musicum was when Hindemith arrived at Yale.76 In 1943, after three years on the faculty at Yale, Hindemith joined his colleagues (Schrade and Kirkpatrick) and Yale choirs in a collaborative effort which Hindemith cautiously referred to as "a collegium musicum." For the first and only time (1943) Hindemith called a program of early music, and not the performing group, a collegium musicum.77 After this unprecedented, cautious use of the term—away from the densely-populated collegium field in Germany—Hindemith could claim the term with confidence. It seems likely that the 1943 concert effectively cleared the way for Hindemith to organize and direct a student-and-community early music group which he called a "collegium musicum."

Hindemith's early music performance separated him from the German positivist school of musicologists (and composers) who placed Beethoven at the zenith of the musical pantheon.78 Yet, it was Arthur Mendel, arch-proponent of positivist musicology in the United States, who regarded Hindemith's interpretations as extremely enlightening.79 Leo Schrade concurred.80 Ironically, although he had insisted on seeing evidence to justify any interpretive liberties, Mendel spoke highly of Hindemith, the subjective interpreter.

Hindemith decried the shortsighted approach engendered by only performing music of the past two centuries. Performing early music, he deliberately extended the horizons of his students and audience alike. Advocating the cause of early music was of first importance to him. In this sense, Beethoven could not be at the zenith of the musical pantheon. He certainly did not perpetuate this doctrine. "To the performers the immediate contingence with this music will open up new horizons," Hindemith wrote.81 "They will," he continued, "learn to understand the shortsighted attitude of our present musical culture, which adores only those idols of audible beauty that are not much older than two hundred years."82 Such statements clearly reveal Hindemith's personal sense of history.

To examine Hindemith's early music performance at Yale is to catch a glimpse of his personal and musical genesis. He lived in the United States from his 45th through 58th years, away from a hostile German regime, while at the same time experiencing the Second World War from the triumphant American side, and successfully completing his career at Yale. This was a fulfilling phase of his life. By the early 1950s he mistakenly thought that he could continue teaching alternate years at Yale and the University of Zurich. His prestige, if not for his compositions then at least for his writings and teaching, counteracted his growing melancholy. When he died ten years after leaving the United States, he "seemed to have outlived himself."83 Ironically, upon receiving the highest honor for a composer from Germany, the Pour le merite award, he expressed his own pessimism six months (to the day) before he died. In that speech, titled Sterbende Gewässer (Dying Waters), he attacked dodecaphony as analogous to polluted water.84



Despite Hindemith's animosity towards the term which had connotations of workaday, worthless music, the conceptual framework of Gebrauchsmusik is more profound than its prevalent sloganistic usage. Music for amateurs only implies one aspect of a more encompassing twentieth-century philosophical construct. It is valuable, using Stephen Hinton's model, to describe the concept which I have presented in a fragmented way in this centenary evaluation.85 Hinton identifies four components: musicological, methodological, ideological and descriptive.

The musicological component of Gebrauchsmusik was promulgated by Paul Nettl and Heinrich Besseler during the first few decades of the 20th century. Nettl distinguished between Gebrauchsmusik (literally, utilitarian music) and Vortragsmusik (music presented to an audience). To Besseler the term became central to a Heideggerian phenomenology. Besseler introduced the concept of autonomous art music (eigenständige Musik) as opposed to Gebrauchsmusik.

Musicologists soon started using the concept as a methodological reflection. This inevitably led to the term being used to express a value judgment. Besseler, in judging autonomous art music in concert as a problematical concept, accepted the term Gebrauchskunst (functional art). Hindemith maintained the composition of music for amateurs to be of greater importance than music for the concert only. Therefore, Gebrauchsmusik became his ideal for new music. By the end of the 1920s the concept became a slogan, due in large measure to use by critics. Theodor Adorno maintained that Gebrauchsmusik was an ideological delusion. Hindemith's music he denounced as fictitious Gebrauchsmusik, while music for amateurs and music-making in the community were simply romantic yearnings.

Since its currency in the 1920s the term has lost its impact. All that remains is the use of the term as a description. Looking back to the social-political context of the Weimar Republic, the term was used subsequently as a mixture of normative and descriptive elements. Although Hindemith gave up on the concept, while Besseler changed the term to Umgangsmusik (literally, music with which one interacts), his use of early music in the United States built upon the philosophical basis of Gebrauchsmusik. Hinton ends the synopsis of his descriptive model by referring to the neutral content of the term today, meaning simply "functional music."86

In this evaluation additional elements of the Gebrauchsmusik concept, as Hinton uses it, have been highlighted more than others. In this regard, one should note that synchronicity and diachronicity are important elements in Hinton's thesis, which in turn point to the importance of Besseler's distinction between Gebrauchsmusik and autonomous art music. While Hindemith's Gebrauchsmusik phase of composition (Germany: late 1920s-early 1930s) referred exclusively to his output of autonomous compositions, in a different socio-political setting (USA: late 1940s-early 1950s), he could use early music concurrently with his autonomous art compositions (the synchronic concept). No paradigm change resulted from using early music as Gebrauchsmusik, but above all, Hindemith could accomplish more: he could unobtrusively expose several hundred participants to an ideal of music-making for non-professionals.87 Even these near-annual concerts, appearing under the guise of Vortragsmusik (music presented to an audience) always broke down the audience-performer barrier. The intent was primarily social involvement.88 Precedent for Hindemith's love of breaking the audience-performer dichotomy is found in the aforementioned Lehrstück, a Gebrauchsmusik composition of 1929 in Germany. The importance of Hindemith's early music performance expressed a value judgment.

In reverential tones Hindemith treated his early music accomplishment. "I am profoundly satisfied," Hindemith wrote to his students in 1948, "that it was our privilege to celebrate with great devotion a beautiful service in the sanctuary of Music."89 This value judgment echoes his statement that Gebrauchsmusik is more important than concert music. Hindemith's idealism was evident in both German and American applications to music for amateurs. His denunciation of the term, Gebrauchsmusik, in the Foreword to A Composer's World, was a rejection of the term as a slogan which compounded that short-lived existence of a socially-conscious application to his music. Historical reflection, free from impinging pressures on the concept, have assisted in finding manifestations of the Gebrauchsmusik usage in Hindemith's performance of early music. This centenary evaluation is not the final word on Hindemith and early European music. It is an attempt to describe, interpret and document a significant performance activity in the United States of this twentieth-century German composer who never gave up his American citizenship, although he permanently left the country ten years before his death.

1The programs consisted primarily of Medieval and Renaissance music. There is no indication that the 1943 program was directed by Hindemith himself, but it certainly followed his guidelines (hence the parentheses in the list of programs). Baroque music featured mostly in his earliest two programs (1941, 1943) and his last program (1953).

2Recordings of Hindemith's speech, letters and accounts of people who knew him, confirm that he was very fluent in English.

3For further information on this matter, see Harry Haskell, The Early Music Revival: A History (London: Thames and Hudson, 1988).

4Noss, writing in Hindemith in the United States, is a writer who is an exception to this generalization.

5The most significant source is the Tanglewood 1941 program brochure, Olin Downes Papers, University of Georgia Library.

6Individual movements of Masses were counted as separate pieces, since Hindemith never performed early Masses in their entirety.

7The durations and scope of these compositions vary significantly. Some last less than a minute, while others last up to seven minutes.

8The entire summer course was underwritten and administered by the trustees of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

9Musical America, "Stravinsky Joins Tanglewood School," December 25, 1941. (Incidentally, Stravinsky did not join Tanglewood in 1942.) Other departments at Tanglewood included choral conducting, chamber music, an advanced orchestra, composition and opera.

10Hindemith had 150 participants on that occasion, according to his own account.

11Musical America, June 1941, 49.

12The programs contained some Baroque items and instrumental compositions. Luther Noss pointed out that due to time pressure Schrade primarily made selections and Hindemith copied the music. (Personal interview, New Haven, Connecticut, July 30, 1991.)

13Boatwright is quoted in Ian Skelton, Paul Hindemith: The Man Behind the Music (London: Gollancz, 1975), 208.

14Letter written in New Haven by Hindemith to Willy Strecker (Schott, Mainz) dated September 27, 1941, Paul Hindemith Collection, Yale School of Music.

15Unfortunately, his 1941 Tanglewood experience did not generate any publicity in the press.

16A small number of items used in these concert programs became favorites which Hindemith reused in subsequent early music programs.

17It was expedient for Hindemith to compromise historical authenticity by incorporating modern instruments. The lack of historical instruments and time to train performers necessitated the decision.

18Hindemith enhanced understanding of the literature through informative lectures by Olin Downes, music critic of The New York Times. Extensive notes typed and handwritten (in pencil)all done on legal-size ruled papershow evidence that Downes prepared thoroughly for these lectures.

19Handwritten programs (1941), Olin Downes Papers, University of Georgia Library.

20Currently in the Paul Hindemith Collection, Yale University. Also, in a footnote, Boatwright (op. cit., 46) explains: "This notation assumes the highest strings to be tuned to a' and d''. Therefore, the notes to be played on the top string are written a tone higher than the actual pitch, in order to be fingered as on a violin tuned to a' and e''."

21During the spring of 1950 Hindemithas Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvardpresented two concerts.

22Boatwright, "Hindemith's Performance of Old Music," Hindemith Jahrbuch 3 (1973), 48.

23Letter to Willy Strecker, September 23, 1941.


25A number of copies of these scores remain among the Olin Downes papers, University of Georgia Library.

26Noss, op. cit., 104. Had the materials gone into print, Hindemith's role as an early music editor would have been more widely known.

27He spent little time composing during the first nine months of 1941, completing only two compositions for soprano and piano. They are Cum natus est (No. 8) of his Thirteen Motets, completed in January, and In principia erat verbum (unpublished).

28Letter to Willy Strecker, September 23, 1941.

29Hindemith complained in the letter that he had spent about $600.00 on the project.

30I could find no proof of Skelton's assertion that Leo Schrade gave lectures at all Hindemith's early music concerts. Luther Noss emphatically denied that any lectures were given at all the concerts.

31It is certainly possible that Schrade could have had other commitments which prevented him from delivering the illustrative lectures at these concerts. Also, Downes was known to the musical public as a respected music critic in New York. Eckhart Richter, "Paul Hindemith as Director of the Yale Collegium Musicum," College Music Symposium 18 (1978), 23.

32Handwritten programs which Hindemith sent to Downes are currently found among the Olin Downes Papers, University of Georgia Libraries. The Downes lectures would customarily appear after the first item or two, but in one case the lecture appeared exactly halfway through the program. Incidentally, the Downes Papers were acquired due to the interest of Rudolf Reti's widow, Jean Reti-Forbes. She was employed in the main library at the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia. Also, she was acquainted with Downes during the time she lived in Mount Vernon, New Jersey.

33The Olin Downes papers give some details of the sources of works programmed at Tanglewood. The programs are either written in Hindemith's hand or typed. Each item uses a numbering system of Roman and Arabic symbols. Hugh Ross, who assisted Hindemith in recruiting singers for the Tanglewood concerts, could not decipher Hindemith's numbering system.

34Handwritten program dated 1941, Olin Downes Papers, University of Georgia Libraries.

35The reason for this abandonment seemed to be Hindemith's sensitivity towards Leo Schrade's extended lecture at the 1943 concert, according to Luther Noss. (Interview, May 20, 1988.)

36The circumstances surrounding these events are unclear at the time of writing.

37Kurt Gudewill, "Collegium musicum," in MGG2 cols. 1554-62.

38Seymour Papers, Yale University.

39Later, Dolmetsch's Haslemere festivals incorporated greater amateur music-making.

40Quoted in Richard Taruskin, "The Pastness of the Present," in Nicholas Kenyon (ed.), Authenticity and Early Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 195.



43Stephen Hinton, The Idea of Gebrauchsmusik (New York: Garland Press, 1989), 15.

44The Sterling Memorial Library at Yale has a recording in their Historical Sound Recording unit of Hindemith teaching a very intricate newly-composed canon which was sung during the performance of a Battaglia by A. Gabrieli.

45Paul Hindemith, A Composer's World (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1952), 182.

46Willi Apel, Foreword, French Secular Music of the Late Fourteenth Century (Cambridge MA: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1950).

47Theodor W. Adorno, "Ad Vocem Hindemith," Impromptus (Frankfurt-am-Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1968), 85.

48Harold Blumenfeld, "Ad Vocem Adorno," The Musical Quarterly 70/4 (Fall 1984), 522. Blumenfeld put it this way: "The sustained assaults on Hindemith in Impromptus are frontal attacks waged in direct and unequivocal terms."

49Adorno, Op. cit., 85.

50Stephen Hinton, The Idea of Gebrauchsmusik (New York: Garland Press, 1989), 35.


52See Heinrich Besseler, "Umgangsmusik und Darbietungsmusik im 16. Jahrhundert," Aufsaetze zur Musikaesthetik und Musikgeschichte, ed. Peter Guelke (Leipzig, 1978) quoted in Hinton, The Idea of Gebrauchsmusik, 20.

53Andres Briner, "Paul Hindemith und Adornos Kritik," Hindemith-Jahrbuch 1 (1971), 28.

54Lukas Foss, "In Memoriam: Paul Hindemith," Perspectives of New Music (Spring-Summer 1964), 2.

55Stephen Hinton, The Idea of Gebrauchsmusik (New York: Garland Press, 1989), 112.

56Stephen Hinton, "Musik nach Mass," Musica 39/2 (March-April 1985), 146-50.

57Howard Boatwright, "Hindemith as a Teacher in America," Yale Alumni Magazine (December 1964), 20.

58Ian Kemp and H. Wiley Hitchcock, "Paul Hindemith," New Grove American Music (1986) Vol. II, 392.

59Lukas Foss, "In Memoriam: Paul Hindemith," Perspectives of New Music (Spring-Summer 1964), 3.

60Ernst Lichtenhahn (ed.), "Altes im Neuen Werk," Leo SchradeDe Scientia Musicae Studia atque Orationes (Bern: Paul Haupt, 1967), 585.

61The Commemoratio Brevis bulletin (April 24, 1948) drew attention to theoretical issues at stake in those German songs. One version of Zwischen Berg und tiefem Tal used bass and alto parts canonically, the bulletin disclosed, and the cantus in a setting of Greiner, Zanner, Schnoepfitzer appeared successively in bass, tenor and soprano.

62Commemoratio Brevis, (June 3, 1948).

63 Ibid.

64Willi Reich, "Paul Hindemith," The Musical Quarterly 17 (1931), 495.

65Apel, Foreword, Op. cit.

66See David Riesman, The Lonely Crowd (Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1954), 37.

67I thank Stephen Hinton for drawing my attention to this aspect of Hindemith research. I have examined Hinton's typescript "Hindemith and Weill: Cases of 'Inner' and 'Other' Direction" at the time of writing.

68Riesman, op. cit., 41. In an insightful analysis of Hindemith's manner of relating to others, Ralph Kirkpatrick confirms these characteristics. See Ralph Kirkpatrick, "Recollections of Two Composers: Hindemith and Stravinsky," The Yale Review 71/4 (July 1982), 628-29.

69He delighted in Hitler's defeat by Allied forces under the command of Gen. Eisenhower, an American general of German descent. (Noss, Paul Hindemith in the United States, 156).

70Noss, Paul Hindemith in the United States, 88.

71Norbert J. Schneider, "Phasen der Hindemith-Rezeption 1945-1955," Hindemith-Jahrbuch XIII (1984), 127.

72Noss, Paul Hindemith in the United States, 156.

73Luther Noss underscored the popular appeal of Hindemith's early music concerts in a personal interview in New Haven, July 30, 1991.

74Giselher Schubert, "Paul Hindemith und der Neobarock. Historische und stilistische Notizen," Hindemith Jahrbuch XII (1983), 20-40. Bekker, the older fellow citizen of Frankfurt, remained in contact with Hindemith during the early 1920s.

75Ibid., 25.

76After Hindemith's departure from Yale, Schrade was instrumental in establishing the Yale Collegium Musicum series of performance editions c. 1954. About 1969 the series appeared under the auspices of A-R Editions of Madison, Wisconsin.

77Hindemith called the program "A Collegium Musicum of the Seventeenth Century."

78See Virgil Thomson's accusation of Krenek holding on to this "absolute German historical doctrine" which is quoted in Alan P. Lessem "Teaching Americans Music," Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute 11/1 (June 1988), 7.

79See Mendel interview, Yale Oral History, Hindemith Project.

80Howard Boatwright, "Hindemith's Performance of Old Music," Hindemith-Jahrbuch 3 (1973).

81Willi Apel, Foreword, French Secular Music of the Late Fourteenth Century (Cambridge MA: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1950).


83Ludwig Finscher, "Paul HindemithVersuch einer Neuorientierung," Hindemith Jahrbuch 1 (1971), 16.

84Paul Hindemith, Sterbende Gewässer (Heidelberg: Verlag Lambert Schneider, 1963).

85Stephen Hinton, "Gebrauchsmusik," Handwörterbuch der musikalischen Terminologie, 15 ed. (Winter 1987/88). I translate freely from this entry.


87Admittedly, another advantage of achieving the Gebrauchsmusik goal, using early music in the United States, was that he did not need to revisit a previous compositional style.

88An aside: audience participation at theater presentations is different from Hindemith's use of audience involvement. In the theater audience members are not expected to read from a script or even to use any theatrical skills. The audience in that setting are essentially verbal or non-verbal props. Not so with Hindemith. Each program contained the score of the audience-participation items. The listeners were expected to read from their "scripts" (scores) and participate in a distinctly structured manner.

89Commemoratio Brevis (June 3, 1948).

10729 Last modified on October 19, 2018