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2018/01/15

Work of the week – Paul Hindemith: When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom‘d

2019 marks the 200th anniversary of the great American author Walt Whitman. Paul Hindemith’s requiem, When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d, is a setting of Whitman’s poem of the same name, which will be performed at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg on 18 and 19 January by mezzo-soprano Gerhild Romberger, baritone Matthias Goerne, the RIAS Chamber Choir, the NDR Choir and the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra conducted by Christoph Eschenbach.

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2016/05/23

Work of the Week – Karl Amadeus Hartmann: Symphony No. 1: Attempt at a Requiem

On 27 May, Hartmann’s Symphony No. 1 will be performed the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Kismara Pessatti under the direction of Arie van Beek in Rotterdam.

Hartmann composed his Symphony No. 1 for contralto and orchestra in 1935 but because of his political dissidence, the music was classified as degenerate. He would wait more than 10 years before the work was finally premiered in 1948. Today, Symphony No. 1 is a standard part of the new music repertoire. The work, subtitled “Versuch eines Requiems” (“Attempt at a Requiem”), was originally intended as a Cantata Lamento. By 1955, after many re-workings, the piece had matured into the symphony known today. The text is taken from poems by Walt Whitman, whose words also Paul Hindemith used in his Requiem ‘for those we love’.

Symphony No. 1: music against the war

Hartmann’s Symphony does not follow the classical form of four movements, but rather, five movements are structured concentrically around an instrumental middle movement (a “song without words”). This middle section contains a quotation from his anti-war opera, Simplicius Simplicissimus, in the form of theme and variation. Like many of his works, Hartmann’s Symphony bears the impression of life under the Nazi regime.

He describes his motivation and feelings at the time of its composition:

Then there came 1933, with its misery and hopelessness, and with this that consistent development of violent dictatorship – the most dreadful of all crimes: the war. That year I recognised the necessity of confession, not in desperation and fear of that power, but as a counteraction to it. I told myself that freedom will win, even if we are destroyed – at least back then I believed this. At that time, I wrote my 1st String Quartet, the Poème Symphonique “Miserae” and my First Symphony with the words of Walt Whitman: ‘I sit and look at all plagues of the world and at all distress and disgrace’. – Hartmann

Next month, Hartmann’s Concerto funebre for solo violin and orchestra will be performed on 4 June at the Wiener Festwochen Festival with Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Klangforum Wien. On 4 and 5 July, it will also be performed by the Studio-Orchester München with conductor Christoph Adt at the Reaktorhalle in Munich.