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HINDEMITH, Paul (1895-1963)

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HINDEMITH, Paul (1895-1963), German-American composer and violinist, one of the most important figures in 20th-century music, and an influential teacher. Hindemith was born in Hanau on Nov. 16, 1895, and studied at the Hock Conservatory in Frankfurt. At the age of 13, while at the conservatory, he supported himself by playing in dance bands and at theaters and cinemas. From 1915 to 1923 he was concertmaster and then conductor of the Frankfurt Opera orchestra, and in 1921 he helped organize the famous Amar-Hindemith Quartet, in which he played the viola. During the 1920s Hindemith gained recognition as a major composer. He became professor of musical composition at the Berlin Hochschule fur Musik in 1927. In 1934 his work was banned by Hitler's government because of its extreme modernism. Shortly afterward he went to Turkey to reorganize the national musical studies program. He went to the U.S. in 1940 and taught at Yale University until 1953, when he returned to Europe to teach at the University of Zurich. He had become an American citizen in 1946. Hindemith died in Frankfurt on Dec. 28, 1963. Like his contemporaries, Hindemith as a composer faced a void left by the dissolution of traditional approaches to musical structure. Although some of his earlier compositions tended toward atonality, the bulk of his work is tonal, and he developed his own system of treating harmony and tonality, based on a hierarchy of tension (dissonance) and relaxation (consonance). Among his operas, his masterpiece is Mathis der Maler (1938), based on the life of the German painter Matthias Grunewald; a symphony drawn from themes of this opera is one of his best-known orchestral works. He also wrote symphonies, sonatas, concertos, chamber music, vocal pieces, and works for the viola. He was an advocate of Gebrauchmusik ("music for use"), through which he sought to establish closer contacts between the composer and the public by creating work to be performed by school groups and amateurs; for example, his children's opera, Wir bauen eine Stadt (We Build a Town), 1931. Ludus Tonalis (1943), a set of 12 fugues for all keys, is a group of musical studies through which a pianist may develop skill and through which the composer demonstrated his theories of counterpoint and tonal organization. His books include The Craft of Musical Composition (1941), A Concentrated Course in Traditional Harmony (1943), and A Composer's World (1952), his memoirs.

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