Des Todes Tod Op.23a

Composer: Paul Hindemith (b. 1895 - d. 1963)
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Composer: Paul Hindemith (b. 1895 - d. 1963)

Performance date: 02/07/2022

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1922

Duration: 00:18:44

Recording Engineer: Simon Cullen, Ergodos

Instrumentation Category:Small Mixed Ensemble

Artists: Lotte Betts-Dean - [Mezzo]
Hélène Clément - [viola]
Seamus Hickey - [viola]
John Myerscough - [cello]
Ella van Poucke - [cello]

Paul Hindemith [1895-1963]

Des Todes Tod Op.23a [1922]

Three songs after poems by Eduard Reinacher

1. Gesicht von Tod und Elend
2. Gottes Tod
3. Des Todes Tod

Hindemith was one of the foremost German composers in the inter-war years. He was also a prolific performer, and could play every orchestral instrument, some to a very high standard. However he is most famous as a viola player, and from 1921 to 1929 he played in the Amar Quartet, which specialised in performances of contemporary music. He also wrote four solo and four duo sonatas for his instrument. His speed of composition was legendary; his fourth solo viola sonata was composed in a train and he performed it in concert the next day. From 1923 to 1930 he was the organising energy behind the Donaueschingen Festival, which was famous internationally for contemporary music performances. In 1927 he became professor of composition at the Berlin Hochschule, so he was active as teacher, performer and composer.

When the Nazis came to power he took a pragmatic approach, assuming that the regime would be short-lived. As he was not a Jew, they in turn, did not immediately seek to discredit him. But his atonal music, his continued association with Jews and his parody of a Nazi military march soon led to a campaign to discredit him and the banning of performances of his work. He was even distinguished by receiving a personal attack from Goebbels in a speech at a Nazi rally in 1934. Eventually he took the route of so many other composers and fled first to Switzerland and then the United States, where he was a powerful influence on American musical life. 

Hindemith also had a voracious literary appetite. He set many texts by contemporary poets, collaborated with important writers such as Brecht, Claudel and Thornton Wilder and wrote the librettos for two of his major operas, Mathis der Maler and Die Harmonie der Welt. The latter opera, his last work, dramatised the attempts of the Renaissance astronomer Kepler to discover the harmony of the spheres, a project dear to many music-lovers. The verses by Eduard Reinacher in tonight’s concert are hardly great literature, but they explore Nietzsche’s Zarathustrian theme of the death of God by taking it one step further and postulating the death of Death. The conceit is a good one and Hindemith rises to the occasion with the dark colouring of his unusual band of mezzo-soprano, violas and cellos. His setting adds an aura to the words not present in the text. It was composed in three days in January 1922 and premiered that month. However it was not published until 1953.
– Francis Humphrys