Paul Hindemith

Mathis der Maler, symphony (from opera)

    Description by Mark Satola

    The neo-Classical (or perhaps more accurately, neo-Baroque) concerns of Hindemith's startling instrumental works of the 1920s converged with what Hindemith later described as a growing awareness of "the ethical imperatives of music and the moral obligations of the musician" in his opera Mathis der Maler. Hindemith was exploring the conflict faced by an artist in turbulent times: to honor one's obligation to the society in which he lives or to remain true only to the artistic ideals he espouses. In the story of German Renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald, Hindemith was able to comment on his own situation. His stance did not go unnoticed by the Nazis, and the symphony he extracted from the opera was premiered in Berlin in 1934 only upon the insistence of conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler. The opera itself was not heard until 1938, in Zurich, after Hindemith had left Germany.

    Hindemith's inspiration for the opera came partly from Grünewald's masterpiece, the Isenheim Altarpiece, a paneled triptych whose structure is mirrored in the three-movement symphony. The first movement, "Angelic Concert," serves as the opera's overture and appears here intact. After serene, widely-spaced chords on strings, the horns introduce a theme based on the German folk song "Es sungen drei Engel" ("Three angels sang a sweet song"), which reaches a glowing climax, richly orchestrated. A faster theme introduced by solo flute and strings is given a lively contrapuntal treatment, with resourceful and highly colorful orchestration, a new neo-Romantic sound-world for Hindemith. The climax of the movement is in two parts: the folksong returns on horns, then fully fleshed out in brass; after a moment of calm, fugato strings gather the orchestra for the final brazen (and brazenly triadic!) chords, with strings chiming and bells and triangle shimmering.

    The second movement is titled "Entombment," and in the opera is a brief intermezzo expressing Mathis' grief on the death of his daughter. In this spare elegy, harmonies based on fourths and fifths prevail, intervals that the composer often employed to express solemnity. Flute and oboe, over pizzicato strings, entwine in a tender lament; there is a brief outcry of grief, then a return to the quietude of the opening, with the flute offering a gesture of consolation.

    The music for the lengthy finale is drawn from the opera's episode in which the temptation of St. Anthony (one of the Isenheim Altarpiece scenes) is likened to the temptations and trials of Mathis himself. A chromatic recitative for unison lower strings is the thematic foundation of the three episodes that follow, beginning with a fast section in galloping rhythm, suggesting relentless pursuit and hopeless flight. An unsettling, high trill in the violins introduces the next section, a sensuous melody for violas and cellos depicting the pleasures of the flesh offered (vainly) to St. Anthony. The turmoil of the first section returns and reaches a cadence, at which point strings begin the contrapuntally complex resolution based on the plainchant hymn "Lauda Sion salvatorem." Ringing "Alleluias" in the brass bring the symphony to a close.


    1. Angelic Concert (inspired by painting for Isenheim Altar)
    2. Entombment (inspired by painting of interment of Jesus)
    3. Temptation of Saint Anthony

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 002894795516
    2015 Ondine ODE 12752
    2014 Warner Classics 545053
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 Audiophile Classics 101545
    2013 Brilliant / Brilliant Classics 9441
    2011 BIS BISSACD 1730
    2011 Membran 23335
    2010 Decca
    2010 Doremi Records 7998
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon
    2009 Urania Historical URN22392
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099921750
    2008 EMI Classics
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099920686
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099951203
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon 4776648
    2007 Dutton Vocalion 9767
    2005 RCO Live 05001
    2005 Sony Classical Essential Classics 64087
    2004 Deutsche Grammophon 000185302
    2004 Decca 000201102
    2004 Decca 4674422
    2003 Gega 260
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 75474
    2003 Testament 1306
    2002 Decca 4662712
    2002 Disky 70743
    2001 Audiophile Records 101545
    2001 Deutsche Grammophon 469069
    2000 Tahra 232-235
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 66109
    1999 Wergo 6633/2
    1999 CBC Records 5146
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon
    1997 Point Classics 267163
    1996 Chandos 9457
    1996 Berlin Classics 0090542
    1995 Orfeo 232901
    1995 Novalis 150118
    1995 Naxos 8 553078
    1995 Virgin 61201
    1995 EMI Music Distribution 55230
    1995 CPO 999248
    1993 Sony Music Distribution 53258
    1992 Chandos 6549
    1991 Deutsche Grammophon 429404
    1990 Orfeo 199891
    1989 Telarc Distribution 80195
    1988 London 421523
    Tahra 232/5
    New York Philharmonic NYP2003
    Cin Cin 1028
    D Classics 707532
    EMI Music Distribution 65868
    Deutsche Grammophon 469071
    Bainbridge 502
    Musical Heritage Society 515366
    As Disc 522
    Deutsche Grammophon 423241
    Originals 804
    Koch Schwann 311342
    Supraphon 110665
    Decca 433081
    Mark Custom Recording 4887
    Pilz 176023
    CPO 999008
    Cetra 2050
    Fonit-Cetra Italia 2050
    Chandos 8533
    IMG Artists 100
    Arlecchino 172
    Testament 2194
    6w 37