German composer and viola player.
Hindemith decided on a musical career very young and despite parental opposition, lack of means, and minimal schooling left home at eleven to earn a living playing in café and theatre orchestras. Eventually he studied at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt and later under Arnold Mendelssohn (1855–1933) in Darmstadt. At twenty he was appointed leader of the Frankfurt Opera orchestra, a post he held for eight years. In 1921, with the Turkish violinist Licco Amar, he formed the Amar Quartet, which toured extensively in central Europe and was known for its performance of contemporary works. Hindemith also appeared increasingly often as a soloist (he gave the first performance of Walton's viola concerto at a Promenade Concert in London in 1929). In 1927 he was appointed professor at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik. During this time he was becoming well known as a composer; he was among the founders of the Donaueschingen festivals of the 1920s and later of those at Baden-Baden. In the 1930s Hindemith incurred the disfavour of the Nazi regime, both for his music and for his philosophical concepts. He joined his former colleague Amar in Turkey, undertaking a plan for the entire redevelopment of Turkish musical life. In 1939 he settled in the USA, where he was frequently engaged as soloist, becoming head of the music department of Yale University and also teaching at the Tanglewood Music Center. His Charles Eliot Norton lectures given at Harvard University (1949–50) were later expanded into his book A Composer's World (1952). In 1953 he returned to Europe and settled in Zürich, while continuing to tour as conductor and soloist.
Hindemith's music is basically contrapuntal in texture, grounded in the tradition of Lutheran German baroque and dictated by his philosophy of music as ‘an agent of moral elevation’. His early experiments were iconoclastic (he was one of the first composers to incorporate jazz elements) but soon gave way to a neoclassical style in which he used the established forms of concerto grosso, passacaglia, toccata and fugue, and occasionally sonata. His idea of himself of a master craftsman, rather than a virtuoso genius, is manifest in his Gebrauchsmusik (‘utility music’): compositions especially written for amateurs to play at home. Hindemith was a prolific composer in all genres, his works including the operas Cardillac (1926) and Mathis der Maler (1938; Mathis the Painter), the ballet Nobilissima visione (1936), orchestral and chamber music, and choral works. He was also the author of textbooks and other writings, including The Craft of Musical Composition (1934–36).