Symphony: Mathis der Maler
Symphony: Mathis der Maler (Matthias the Painter) is among the most famous orchestral works of German composer Paul Hindemith. The symphony is based on themes from Hindemith's opera Mathis der Maler, which concerns the painter (in German, "Maler") Matthias Grünewald (or Neithardt).
Hindemith composed the symphony in 1934, before he had completed work on the opera. The conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler asked him at that time for a new work to perform on an upcoming Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra concert tour, and Hindemith decided to use themes from the opera in a symphony as a 'trial run' for the music. Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic gave the first performance on March 12, 1934. The first performance outside Germany was given by the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra in October 1934, conducted by Otto Klemperer. Other performances include the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra in 1936, conducted by Daniel Sternberg.
The symphony was well received at its first performances, but Furtwängler faced severe criticism from the Nazi government for performing music that seemed to oppose party ideology. Hindemith completed the full opera by 1935 but, because of the political climate, its premiere was delayed until 1938 in Zürich, Switzerland.
The symphony has three movements:
- Engelkonzert (Angelic Concert)
- Grablegung (Entombment)
- Versuchung des heiligen Antonius (The Temptation of Saint Anthony)
which correspond to the opera as follows:
- Orchestral interlude from the last act
- Orchestral reworking of a visionary scene in the opera
Each movement relates to Grünewald's paintings that comprise the Isenheim Altarpiece, which were influenced by the feelings of German peasants toward their oppressive overlords in the 16th century. Hindemith's music draws sharp parallels between the Protestant Reformation and the political strife of his own times.
Hindemith's principle of harmonic fluctuation is readily apparent in this work. For example, the second movement opens on a perfect fifth sonority and gradually introduces more dissonant pitches. The result is an implied tonal center, although his music is rarely triadic. This technique was meant to make his music more accessible, a concept generally known as Gebrauchsmusik (in German, "music for use").
- Burke, Kenneth (1934). "Hindemith Does His Part". The Nation 139: 487–8.