Mathis der Maler (opera)

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This article is about the opera. For the symphony, see Symphony: Mathis der Maler.

Mathis der Maler (Matthias the Painter) is an opera by Paul Hindemith. The opera's genesis lay in Hindemith's interest in the Protestant Reformation. The work's protagonist, Matthias Grünewald, was an actual historical figure who flourished in that era, and whose art, in particular the Isenheim Altarpiece,[1][2] inspired many creative figures in the early 20th century, including Joris-Karl Huysmans's novel Là-bas.

Study of John the Evangelist by Matthias Grünewald, regarded in Hindemith's time as a self-portrait
The temptation of St. Anthony from the Isenheim Altarpiece

Hindemith considered commissioning author Gottfried Benn to write the libretto, but wound up doing it himself. Hindemith completed the opera in 1935. By that time, however, the rise of Nazism prevented Hindemith from securing a performance in Germany, despite three years' efforts.[3][full citation needed] The story, set during the German Peasants' War (1524-25), concerns Matthias's struggle for artistic freedom of expression in the repressive climate of his day, which mirrored Hindemith's own struggle as the Nazis attained power and repressed dissent.[4] The opera's obvious political message did not escape the government's notice.

Performance history[edit]

It was first performed on 28 May 1938 in Zurich, conducted by Robert Denzler.[5][6]The British premiere was in Edinburgh on 29 August 1952, and it was first given in the United States on 17 February 1956, at Boston University, conducted by Sarah Caldwell.

In contrast to the popular Symphony: Mathis der Maler, the large-scale opera itself is only occasionally staged. A notable US production was that of the New York City Opera in 1995.[7] Hamburg State Opera staged the work in 2005. It was being performed at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona when the building was destroyed by a fire in January 1994.

Main roles[edit]

Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 28 May 1938
(Conductor: Robert Denzler)
Albrecht von Brandenburg, Cardinal Archbishop of Mainz tenor Peter Baxevanos
Countess Helfenstein contralto
Hans Schwalb, leader of the peasants tenor
Regina, Schwalb's child daughter soprano Emmy Leni Funk
Lorenz von Pommersfelden, Catholic Dean of Mainz Cathedral bass Fritz Honisch
Riedinger, a rich protestant citizen bass Albert Emmerich
Ursula, Riedinger's daughter soprano Judith Hellwig
Mathis, a painter, in love with Ursula baritone Asger Stieg
Sylvester von Schaumberg, an army officer tenor
Truchsess von Waldburg, army general bass Marko Rothmüller
Wolfgang Capito, Albrecht's counsellor tenor Fridolin Mossbacher

Synopsis[edit]

Scene 1[edit]

In a cloister courtyard Mathis' musings and doubts about his vocation are interrupted by the peasant leader Schwalb and his child Regina. Moved by the peasants' plight, he offers his horse and stays to face the pursuing Sylvester who dares not arrest the cardinal's favorite painter.

Scene 2[edit]

A riot between Catholics, Lutherans and students in front of Albrecht's residence in Mainz is averted only by the arrival of the Cardinal himself with relics of St. Martin:

German[8] English

Kann ich nicht immer bei euch sein, bin ich doch bedacht,
Den Ruhm der Stadt zu mehren. Hier soll versammelt sein,
Was an Werk und Wort Edles der Menschengeist
Hervorbringt. Ein deutsches Rom am Rhein.
Nehmt dies Geschenk als Zeugen für mein Wort hin.

Even if I cannot always be amongst you, I intend to
Enhance the prestige of our city. May here be assembled
Everything noble that human thought has generated
In art and words. A German Rom on the Rhine.
May this gift be witness of my words.

He promises the merchant Riedinger to countermand an order to burn books, but latter gives in to Pomerfeld who points out that he cannot defy Rome. Mathis, reunited with Reidinger's daughter Ursula, is recognized by Sylvester and makes a passionate plea to Albrecht not to join in the suppression of the peasant's revolt. Realizing he cannot change his friend's mind, Albrecht grants him safe passage to join their cause.

Scene 3[edit]

The Lutherans are at first outraged when Capito leads soldiers to the stash of hidden books in Reidinger's house ("Ein Verbrechen / Gegen Luther, gegen deutsche Glaubenskraft", "A crime / Against Luther, against the power of German faith"), but appeased when he reveals a letter from Luther to Albrecht suggesting that he demonstrate his advanced views by marrying:

German English

"Ein Vorbild wäre kurfürstliche Gnaden, weil sie gleichsam
mitten in deutschen Landen eines der größten Häupter
ist. Das würde viele Leute beruhigen und gewinnen und
andere Bischöfe nachziehen."

"Your electoral Grace would be an example, as you surely are
One of the most important princes, situated in the midst
Of Germany. A lot of people would be appeased and allured, and
Other bishops would follow you."

Albrecht, "the strongest clerical prince in Germany" who [...] holds / The fate of the Empire in his hands" is in such dire financial straits that it is likely he would agree, and Reidinger asks Ursula to give thought to the matter as it would be to the benefit of both the Lutheran faith and the Empire. Mathis arrives to bid farewell and insists she cannot follow him to the war. When her father returns she gives her consent to the plan.

At the end of scene 3, all men chant a paean to God, their religion and the fatherland:

German English

Lobt Gott, ihr frommen Christen.
Freut euch und jubiliert
Mit David dem Psalmisten [...]
Die Harfen hört man klingen
In deutscher Nation,
Darum viel Christen dringen
Zum Evangelion.

Praise God, you pious Christians.
Rejoice and jubilate
With David, who wrote the psalms, [...]
Harps resound
In Germany,
As many Christians start following
The gospel.

Scene 4[edit]

The peasant army has captured the Helfensteins, marching the Count to execution and humiliating the Countess. Asked for their demands, one of the peasants replies, amongst others, that they do not accept any ruler save the emperor ("Kein Herrscher gilt / Als der Kaiser.") Mathis remonstrates and is beaten down. The federal army arrives and the disheartened peasants prepare for battle but are quickly overrun; Schwalb is killed and Mathis barely saved by the Countess. He flees with the orphaned Regina.

Scene 5[edit]

Albrecht discusses his debts and Luther's challenge with Capito and agrees to interview a rich bride. He is astonished when Ursula enters and, dubious of her avowals, reproaches her for lending herself to the scheme. She admits that she is motivated not by love but by her faith to attempt his conversion, and in turn reproaches him for his vacillations and his lack of vision. He appears to be profoundly moved by her plea, but when the others are called in he announces that he will reform his ways by striving to return to his vows and to lead a simple life.

Viola da Gamba Isenheimer Altar.jpg

Scene 6[edit]

In the Odenwald forest Mathis lulls the haunted Regina to sleep with a description of a concert of angels, she joining in the folksong "Es sungen drei Engel" (this is the music of the symphony's first movement). No sooner is she asleep but Mathis, now in the garb of Grünewald's Saint Anthony, is beset by tempters: a figure resembling the Countess Helfenstein offers a life of luxury; Pommersfelden praises power over money; Ursula appears in the guises of a beggar, then a seductress and, led to the scaffold, as a martyr; Capito, now a scholar, tells 'Anthony' the world can be mastered by science and reproaches him for unobjectivity; Schwalb upbraids for his unwarlike compassion. The chorus unite in an enactment of the temptation scene of the Isenheim Altarpiece before the scene suddenly changes to that of Anthony's visit to Saint Paul. Paul/Albrecht consoles Anthony/Mathis and calls him to his duty: "go forth and paint".

Scene 7[edit]

Ursula cares for the dying Regina, who confuses Mathis' painting of the dying Christ with her father. Only the sight of Mathis calms her before she dies. In the morning (following the interlude from the Symphony) he is visited by Albrecht who offers his home, but Mathis prefers to spend his last days in solitude. Packing his trunk, he bids farewell to good intentions -a scroll, ambition -compass and ruler, creation -paints and brush, acclaim -a gold chain, questioning -books, and last, kissing a ribbon from Ursula - to love.

List of musical numbers[edit]

number performed by title (German) title (English)
Overture orchestra Engelkonzert Angelic Concert
Scene 1
Aria
Mathis Sonniges Land. Mildes Drängen schon nahen Sommers...
Aria Schwalb Aufmachen! Helft uns! "Open the door! Help us!"
Aria Mathis Woher kommt ihr denn? Was für Leute seid ihr?
Aria Regina Es wollt ein Maidlein waschen gehen...
Aria Schwalb Was redest du da?
Aria Regina Staub am Himmel, Pferdetraben
Scene 2
Chorus
Citizens Dem Volk stopft man die falschen Lehren ins Maul
Aria Albrecht Nach dem Lärm vieler Orte
Aria Albrecht Man fühlt den Segen, der auf eurem Land ruht
Aria Albrecht Gewinnst du auch mein Herz
Aria Pomerianians Rom verzieh oft, was ihr euch an Freiheit nahmt
Aria Albrecht Was gibt’s?
Scene 3
Scene 4
Scene 5
Scene 6
Scene 7

Recordings[edit]

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ Claire Taylor-Jay, Review of The Temptation of Paul Hindemith: 'Mathis der Maler' as a Spiritual Testimony. Music & Letters, 81(3), 469-472 (2000).
  2. ^ John Williamson, Review of The Temptation of Paul Hindemith: 'Mathis der Maler' as a Spiritual Testimony. Notes (2nd Ser.), 56(4), 951-954 (2000).
  3. ^ Claire Taylor-Jay, The Artist Operas of Pfitzner, Krenek and Hindemith: Politics and the Ideology of the Artist.
  4. ^ Shirley Althorp, Review of Mathis der Maler (Hamburg State Opera). Financial Times, 5 October 2005.
  5. ^ Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed., 1954, Eric Blom, ed.
  6. ^ Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten
  7. ^ Bernard Holland, "City Opera Gamely Flirts With Danger". New York Times, 9 September 1995.
  8. ^ German libretto
Sources
  • Amadeus Almanac, accessed 25 November 2009
  • Bruhn, Siglind, The Temptation of Paul Hindemith, Pendragon, 1998
  • Hindemith, Paul, Libretto of Mathis der Maler, Schott/AMP (with English synopsis, credited "courtesy of University of Southern California Opera Theatre")
  • Taylor-Jay, Claire, The Artist-Operas of Pfitzner, Krenek, and Hindemith: Politics and the Ideology of the Artist, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004

External links[edit]