"The Hindemith Case" for Monday, May 29, 2023


On today's date in 1938, Matthias the Painter, an opera by the German composer Paul Hindemith, had its premiere performance in Zurich, Switzerland.

This work had been scheduled to be premiered in 1934 at the Berlin Opera by the German conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler, but the newly-installed Nazi regime canceled the performance.

In protest, Furtwangler performed a concert suite from Hindemith's opera at a Berlin Philharmonic concert, resulting in a loud pro-Hindemith demonstration on the part of the audience. The Nazi press responded with attacks on both Hindemith and Furtwangler. By the end of 1934 it was clear to all in Germany that the Nazis would brook no opposition when it came to cultural matters.

So how had the quintessentially German Hindemith offended the new regime? In 1929 Hitler had attended the premiere of another Hindemith opera, titled News of the Day, and hated it – labeling it “degenerate.” Furthermore, Hindemith's wife and many of his closest musician friends were Jewish. Hindemith became persona non grata in Nazi Germany, and, shortly after the Zurich premiere of his new opera, he and his wife emigrated to the U.S., where he taught at Tanglewood and Yale, becoming an American citizen in 1946.

Music Played in Today's Program

Paul Hindemith (1895 - 1963) Mathis der Maler Bavarian Radio Chorus and Orchestra; Rafael Kubelik, conductor. EMI 55237