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Work of the Week – Paul Hindemith: Theme with four Variations

From 3 November, the Dresden Semperoper Ballet will present Paul Hindemith’s Theme with Four Variations as part of their evening of ballet “Labyrinth”. The ballet will employ George Balanchine’s original choreography, accompanied by the Staatskapelle Dresden and pianist Alfredo Miglionico, conducted by Nathan Fifield.

Hindemith was commissioned to compose Theme with Four Variations by the renowned choreographer George Balanchine for a new ballet, scheduled to premiere in late May 1941 as a prelude to the School of American Ballet’s South American tour. However, due to the events of WWII they were forced to abandon using the work of the German “hostile foreigner” Hindemith, despite the fact that the Nazis had also banned his music in Europe. As a result the ballet was not premiered until 1943 when it was performed in concert in the Swiss city of Winterthur, and the first scenic performance was given in 1946 by Balanchine’s newly founded New York City Ballet.

Paul Hindemith – Theme with Four Variations: the four temperaments of man

Hindemith’s Theme with Four Variations has the subtitle ‘according to the Four Temperaments’ and was inspired by the Ancient Greek theory suggesting there are four fundamental personality types: the melancholic, the sanguine, the phlegmatic and the choleric. Based on this model of classification, Hindemith divided his work into four movements plus an overture. The first section introduces a simple but central musical theme, which is developed differently in each of the following sections to musically emulate the four ancient temperaments. As part of the musical arrangement of the variations, Hindemith specified: “C is a kind of waltz, D a shorter piece, and E becomes a very wild thing.”

I tried to portray Hindemith’s austere score physically in my choreography, as if my dances provide the negative to his positive film. […] Although the score is based on the idea of four temperaments, neither the music nor the choreography itself is a literal interpretation of this idea. The understanding of Greek medical ideas of temperaments was merely the starting point for our creative process. – George Balanchine

Five further performances of the “Labyrinth” evening of ballet will be given at the Semperoper Dresden from 5-21 November.


© Staatstheater Stuttgart / Foto: Ulrich Beuttenmüller (Jelena Bushuyeva, Ami Morita, Marijn Rademaker, Alessandra Tognoloni und Miriam Kacerova in Phlegmatisch)