Response from Johann Buis
Published online: 1 October 1997
Carl Miller's letter raises two principle issues: first, Hindemith's legacy of performers in early music, and second, my use of the term "music for amateurs."
First, I am glad that Mr. Miller expands the list of early music performers who started performing this repertory under Hindemith's direction. The list confirms the significant impact which Hindemith made on these early music performers such that one could argue for a Hindemith circle of performers who formed an integral part of the early music revival movement in the United States.
Second, the use of the term "music for amateurs" is more problematic than the first issue. The term calls for a twofold response. One response addresses the professional-amateur proficiency issue of the performers (which Mr. Miller misinterprets) and the other response considers the term to be a philosophical construct. Regarding the issue of professional-amateur proficiency of the performers, there can be no doubt that all the instrumentalists (and some singers such as Helen Boatwright) were practicing professional musician on their own—usually modern—instruments. Allowing for exceptions like Joe Iadone, who must have worked professionally as a lutenist, it is highly unlikely that anyone worked professionally as an early music instrumentalist. Admittedly, many of them developed remarkable facility on early instruments, but, they admitted consistently in interviews their own limitations on the instruments and the limitation of the instruments as well. The existing recordings confirm the idiosyncratic nature of performing on museum instruments. It is therefore quite understandable that the same performer might be a professional virtuoso on a modern instrument, but not one who would earn a living performing on early instruments. Mr. Miller would readily concede this point, since I too, agree with him that professionals on modern instruments (and a small number of singers) performed in Hindemith's early music concerts.
One has to consider that during Hindemith's tenure in the United States (1940-53) the early music revival movement was in its pioneering stage, far removed from the current professional early music specialists who record commercially and concertize with the help of professional concert managements. The issue is not whether Hindemith used professional (modern/orchestral) instrumentalists to perform on early instruments, or whether such professionals performed in an "amateurish" manner on early instruments, rather, the issue is that "music for amateurs" is a philosophical construct—albeit a poor translation the concept of Gebrauchsmusik. The philosophical formulations of Heinrich Besseler on Gebrauchsmusik laid the groundwork for Hindemith the composer to view art music as belonging to common people. Using the same worldview—though the word had become a slogan by the time he performed early music in the US—Hindemith remained true to the Gebrauchsmusik philosophy through early music performances with larger groups in this country.
My choice of the term "music for amateurs" depends more on the democratic principle of "music for the masses," than music performed by nonprofessionals. "Music for amateurs" in the sense in which I use it, is the appropriation of art music—early music in Hindemith's case—by professional performers and music enthusiasts alike. Hindemith opened new doors of musical performance to many music students and community people through early music. People discovered that they had abilities beyond their own recognition. Indeed, Mr. Miller attested in an interview that he himself discovered his "serviceable bass voice" as he sang in Hindemith's early music chorus. Hindemith's performance philosophy in early music stemmed from his own background of making music accessible to many people on the one hand, and his pragmatism on the other. For instance, he would avoid the use of small madrigal groups on most occasions in order to give the entire group the experience of singing such works. The fact that he selected a small madrigal group on occasion is ample proof that he knew that historically-informed performance practice dictated the use of small madrigal groups, but he chose to contradict the practice in most cases, judging the goal of accessibility to many performers more important than adhering to the appropriate performance practice norms.
Ultimately, both Mr. Miller and I aim to vindicate Hindemith's early music activity in the United States. He, from the vantage point of a collaborator and devotee, I, from the vantage point of historical research. If my translation of Gebrauchsmusik with the problematic concept "music for amateurs" lends itself to ambiguity and misinterpretation, then I thank Mr., Miller for giving me the opportunity to clarify the matter.
Last modified on Thursday, 07/11/2013