Entartete Musik (IX)- The Opera of Paul Hindemith ‘Mathis der Maler’ (Matthias the Painter)

Matthias Grünewald

Mathis der Maler is the opera of Hindemith that it concerns about German Renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald. Actually, it was first composed as a orchestral work in 1934 and after one year later in 1935, Hindemith completed the full opera. As a orchestral work, Mathis der Maler consists of various scenes in the opera. The idea of composing orchestral work developed with the promise of Hindemith to his close friend Wilhelm Furtwangler because Furtwangler offered him to compose an orchestral piece for performance by Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Firstly Hindemith was thinking to commission novelist and poet Gottfried Benn (also he was blacklisted by the Nazi regime as degenerate) to write the libretto, however, later he decided to write the libretto himself. Hindemith indicates in his notes wrote to Strecker that ‘I have once completely redrafted Mathis. The new form will be better in every way, there are now just 7 scenes but large and important parts are still lacking. I intend to spend 6 days by the sea (Warnemünde) and await inspiration. Furtwangler is to perform my pieces in February. I prefer this to December’. (9 October 1933).

The Mathis der Maler Symphony was premiered on 12 March 1934 by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Wilhelm Furtwangler. It had three movements in which were given various scenes from the opera. After its first performance, Hindemith conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in a gramophone recording of the Mathis der Maler Symphony. The full opera was completed in 1935, nevertheless, its premiere was delayed until 1938 in Zürich, Switzerland because of the political reasons. Nazi regime prevented its performance. First reason to the Nazis’ preventing is Hindemith did not avoid his anti- Nazi convictions. At every opportunity, he emphasized his contrast attitude to the Nazis. In addition to this, he had many Jewish colleagues and continued to give chamber music performances with them. As my view, the most effective reason is about directly Mathis der Maler. German Renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald was ignoring Renaissance classicism and struggling for the freedom of expression in his time’s chaos. Likewise, Hindemith was also dealing with Nazi regime and its rising power. Of course, this political message did not escape the government’s review and the every step of Hindemith had already been followed by the Nazi regime. In my opinion, Matthias Grünewald’s visions have an big impact for Hindemith that he especially chose him in order to reflect his ideas about political affairs with this opera.

Eventually, Nazis reached their aim and especially with this piece, all of performances of his compositions were banned beside banned on the radio broadcast. Other European countries were supporting him. However, this was not enough and he was already blacklisted by the Hitler and Nazis. Thus, he became the part of the Entartete Musik Exhibition in Dusseldorf 1938. In the exhibition, Hindemith’s books and scores were displaying. After this, Hamburger Nachrichten reviewed that ‘Who eats with Jews, dies of it’.


  • 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. 70-71-72-77-78.

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