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Work of the Week – Paul Hindemith: Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen

Hindemith’s triptych of one-act operas Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen (1919), Das Nusch-Nuschi (1920) and Sancta Susanna (1921), document Hindemith’s affinity with the second wave of literary Expressionism following the end of the First World War. On 8 July 2018, both Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen and Sancta Susanna will be performed in concert at Grafenegg Festival under the baton of Leon Bostein.

Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen was premiered, together with Das Nusch-Nuschi, on 4 June 1921 at the Landestheater in Stuttgart. The performance evoked mixed responses of irritation and protest alongside exuberant praise. The opera’s libretto by Oskar Kokoschka is filled with depictions of wild sexual impulses and fierce rivalry between men and women. Only nine months after the premiere of Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen, Hindemith provoked yet another scandal with Sancta Susanna, which explores the nun Susanna’s conflicting religious devotion and sensual desires.

Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen: A battle of the sexes

Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen takes place in an unspecified prehistoric period, where a troop of male warriors reluctantly obey the commands of their leader to storm a fortress of women. After the leader attempts to brand one of the maidens with his emblem, she stabs him with a knife. He is then held hostage while his warriors enter into playful games of love with the women. The women’s leader demands to see the prisoner, but loses her strength as he reciprocally recovers, until with one touch he is able to kill her and free himself. The remaining warriors and maidens run towards him, and he swats them dead like flies.

In Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen none of the characters are given identifying names, and the story does not concern itself with logistics. Instead, the opera prioritises gestural actions over linguistic discourse. Hindemith shapes the conflict of the plot with the musical conflict of sonata form, and draws upon many diverse forms of musical traditions. Almost 100 years later, this composition can still be seen as relevant and contemporary, just as it was described in 1921 following the world premiere:

Paul Hindemith is a great advocate of ultra-modern ideas; a young Frankfurt musician who began his artistic career as an accomplished violinist, but who in recent years has turned more and more to composition and can already look back on some remarkable successes. As an opera composer he intends to continue in the most modern way possible, and will realise his idea of the new, contemporary musical drama without yielding to tradition and audience.  Dr. Hugo Leichtentritt (Review of the world premiere in “Die deutsche Opernbühne”, Spring 1921)

In addition, the German National Youth Orchestra will tour Hindemith’s orchestral works Symphonie “Mathis der Maler and Symphonic Metamorphoses from 20 July- 4 August in Dortmund, Dobbiaco, Bolzano, Dresden, Bucharest, Sinaia and Berlin.


photo: © Theater Bonn / Thilo Beu