Entartete Musik (VIII)- Paul Hindemith

Hindemith is one of the most important composers of the 20th century. His musical life started with violin and at that time he tended also to viola. Later, he took counterpoint and composition lessons and with them he began to compose. When he was young, Hindemith sustained his life as being konzertmeister in the Frankfurt Opera. In addition, he was playing in some quartets as second violinist and/or violist. After becoming a composition teacher in Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, he concentrated on his compositional working.

Hindemith was also figure of German music life who counted as Degenerate Music Composer. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, firstly he did not express his side directly. However, with the long sovereignty of Hitler, Hindemith was writing that ‘This will soon be over. We may have to wait a few more months until things return to normal’. In addition to this, according to the notes of one of his Berlin students, Hindemith did not beware the Nazis. Students noted that ‘Hindemith did not make any secret of his anti-Nazi convictions. He was not afraid of being given away to the authorities, though he could have been a hundred times over.’ In my opinion, if Hindemith had withdrawn himself and had been afraid of Nazis, he could not have been a great composer like this. Because despite of Nazi regime’s pressure, he continued to compose and did not change his direction that he belonged to. Likewise, he went on to give chamber music performances with his Jewish colleagues.

Hindemith was also close friend of Wilhelm Furtwängler who was the conductor of Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Hindemith had promised Furtwängler that he would compose an orchestral piece for the Berlin Philharmonic. After this, he decided to compose for them. It was the orchestral piece, consisted of series of preludes which were the various scenes in the opera ‘Mathis der Maler’. In the letters of Hindemith, that he wrote to Willy Strecker, referring to his opera, he is indicating  that ‘ Furtwängler is to perform my pieces in February. I prefer this to December, since I think it good to wait a little while yet’ (9 October 1933). Mathis der Maler was premiered on 12 March 1934 by the Berlin Philharmonic through Furtwängler. However, after a short time of its premiere, permission of  performing the composition in some places in Germany was refused. Besides this, after Hindemith’s visit to Switzerland, a report was put forward that accused him for saying critical remarks about Hitler. Thus, all of his works were banned from the radio broadcast until his offense was proved. To put an end to the campaign of Nazis against the composer, Furtwängler requested a personal interview with Hitler. Nevertheless, in my opinion, this had not been enough for Hitler, on the contrary, this had adverse effect because after this, Furtwängler was obliged to give up his position as musical director in Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

In another letter that Hindemith wrote to Willy Strecker, it reads ‘Dear Willy, yesterday evening I was with big Wilhelm, we discussed the whole thing. He has no fears at all about that he is in a very strong position with the top people again on account of some foreign affairs. His plan is now this: He will write an article attacking the whole things which will appear in the DAZ (Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung) or some other newspapers in the next few days’ (18 November 1934). After this, Furtwängler’s article was published in the DAZ in 25 November 1934. In the article, Furtwangler was defending Hindemith’s rights and his achievements as a composer and teacher.

In 1935, because of both escaping from more dangerous happenings in Germany and the challenging situation, Hindemith undertook his first of several tours to Turkey where he was commissioned to establish a conservatory in Ankara. After he turned back to Germany, his violin sonata was performed and nevertheless, this was not also welcomed and with this piece, all of performances of his compositions were banned beside the ban on the radio broadcast. Other European countries were supporting him. However, this was not enough and he was already blacklisted by Hitler and the Nazis. Thus, he became the part of the Entartete Musik Exhibition in Dusseldorf 1938. In the exhibition, Hindemith’s books and scores were displayed. After this, Hamburger Nachrichten reviewed that ‘Who eats with Jews, dies of it’.

In 1938, Hindemith left Germany and settled in Switzerland. However, in 1940, he decided to be with his friends that left Europe altogether for the United States. Thus, he received the position of Professor of Music Theory at Yale University. After a few years, he was asked to lead the Berlin Philharmonic. Nonetheless, he was still uncomfortable with Germany and because of that he did not accept that offer and continued his work in Yale. In my opinion, Germany had lost a great number of musicians and professors at the time of Nazi regime. They were not accepted in Germany, however, they received professorship in many countries outside Germany. They were exposed to intense insulting in their homeland. Their music was banned in Germany and Austria and they were humiliated in newspapers and social events, for example like in exhibitions about “Entartete Kunst”. Nevertheless, now, they are seen as most prestigious artists of their own countries and the things that they had experienced were not forgotten. Their fellow citizens struggle to recover them. All of these can not be forgotten. They should just adopt and protect them.


  • Bruhn, S., The Temptation of Paul Hindemith, Pendragon Press, New York, 1998, p. 43-47.
  • Skelton, G., Selected Letters of Paul Hindemith, Vail-Ballou Press, New York, 1995, p. 69-77-81-85.

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