"The Hindemith Case" for Friday, May 29, 2020

On today's date in 1938, "Mathis 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 Berlin four years earlier. In 1934, the great German conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler had scheduled it at the Berlin Opera, but the newly-installed Nazi regime canceled the premiere. In protest, Furtwangler then performed a concert suite from Hindemith's opera at a Berlin Philharmonic concert, which resulted in a wild pro-Hindemith demonstration on the part of the audience. The Nazi press responded with attacks on both Hindemith and Furtwangler. In reply, Furtwangler published a long article, titled "The Hindemith Case," which unleashed only more repercussions from none other than Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebels. 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. By the end of the 1930s, 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 Tangelwood and Yale, becoming an American citizen in 1946.