Entartete Musik (XI) – Hindemith’s “Trauermusik” for solo viola and string orchestra

Trauermusik literally means Funeral Music or Mourning Music. This piece was composed by Hindemith in a very short period in 1936. Actually, there was not such an idea in Hindemith’s mind to compose a piece for viola like that because when Hindemith composed Trauermusik, he was in London to perform his viola concerto Schwanendreher with BBC Symphony Orchestra. Nevertheless, on 20 January King George V of England died and unfortunately because of that the concert of Schwanendreher was cancelled. Thus, Hindemith composed Trauermusik for showing his respect to the King. From 11:00 to 17:00 o’clock on the same day, he wrote this piece and at the same evening, it was performed in a live broadcast from a studio of BBC radio. This is very important that in the same day it was both composed and performed by Hindemith. He was a great composer and he is one of the composers who brought German music to its highest point of his day. However, because of some different visions at the time of Nazi regime, Germany lost one of its great composers, that Hindemith left his home-land.

Trauermusik is for a solo viola and string orchestra and consists of four short movements. There are quotations from Mathis Der Maler and Der Schwanendreher. All movements have a distinct character that each of them reflects a relation to King George V. Because of the fact that it is a music for funeral, as a whole it represents a calm character. In comparison to the other pieces of composer, this has more melodic lines. Just, I did not like the handling of the string orchestra, because it is not intense and supplies only some harmonic background to the solo viola. Nevertheless, most probably Hindemith wanted to put forward the solo instrument. In addition to that, it is not so deep and intense, in general, as a funeral music. Maybe, if the string orchestra had been stronger, the music would have reflected the mourning character much more. Of course, it should be thought that Hindemith composed this piece in approximately just one day and despite of this fact, it is still a successful piece. Hindemith stated in his letter to Strecker ‘You will have noticed that the swan could not be roasted owing to a dead king. I should write some funeral music myself. From 11 to 5 I did some fairly hefty mourning. I turned out a nice piece, in the style of Mathis and Schwanendreher with a Bach chorale at the end (“Vor deinen Thron tret’ ich hiermit,” very suitable for kings) – 23 January 1936.

As a result of his success with Trauermusik in London and his activities in Turkey, he strengthened his position vis-à-vis Nazis and again he began to teach in the Berlin Musikhochschule.

Bibliography

• Bruhn, S., The Temptation of Paul Hindemith, Pendragon Press, New York, 1998, p. 54-55.
• Skelton, G., Selected Letters of Paul Hindemith, Vail-Ballou Press, New York, 1995, p. 91-92-94.

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