Live Recording of the Premiere at the Staatsoper Hamburg
Chor der Staatsoper Hamburg · Philharmoniker Hamburg
Simone Young, conductor
Falk Struckmann · Scott MacAllister · Susan Anthony
Inga Kalna · Pär Lindskog
The first new opera production under the baton of Simone Young, director of the Hamburg State Opera and GMD of the Philharmonic State Orchestra was a triumph. Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler requires even a large opera house to use all of its resources; this is why it is very seldomly staged.
This significant Hindemith opera is a rarity in CD catalogs as well – in contrast to the many available recordings of the “Mathis” symphony. OehmsClassics now releases a new complete recording, a live recording of the highly celebrated Hamburg premiere from September 25, 2005 with Falk Struckmann as Mathis.
Paul Hindemith: Mathis der Maler
Paul Hindemith, born in Hanau, Germany in November 1895, exhibited extraordinary musical talent at an early age. He attended the Hoch’sche Conservatory in Frankfurt at 14, studying various subjects as well as composition
with Arnold Mendelssohn and Bernard Sekles. At 19, he was already First Concertmaster
of the Frankfurt Opera as well as an omnipresent chamber musician in the German musical scene, including as the violist of the Amar Quartet. He mastered almost all classical-
romantic orchestral instruments – most at a highly adequate level and some at an exceptional
level. He appeared frequently as a violin and viola soloist, interpreting his own works as well as those of others. As a composer, he soon established himself at the Donaueschingen
Contemporary Music Festivals as an anti-establishment figure who used his enormous talents in the service of musical progress. To snap audiences out of their romantic bourgeois concert and opera listening habits, he incorporated
elements of modern American entertainment
music in classical European forms and shocked with the use of unusual instruments such as sirens or rattles. Above all, Hindemith provoked by using opera texts that reflected Germany’s brash spirit between the wars and broke all taboos. His works range from a blasphemous
work on nuns, Sancta Susanna, to an operatic joke called Neues vom Tage (News of the Day), a typical satirical period piece which was most unfortunately seen one day by a man named Adolf Hitler. The fact that in this piece an – apparently – naked woman seated in a bathtub
sings an aria was never forgiven by the later “Führer of the German Empire”. And this, even though from the very beginning, Hindemith’s works also had a highly serious component in the great tradition of German music. In addition to his provocative, anti-establishment works, Hindemith simultaneously wrote solid, excellently
crafted works from string quartets all the way to operas such as the setting of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Cardillac or Rilke’s song cycle Das Marienleben. These compositions reveal the serious master who was wont to take on the challenges of the great European tradition.
In the course of this creative confrontation
with major models, but also thanks to Hindemith’s constantly practice-related intellectual
position, which would soon lead to his pedagogical activities, his compositional style became clearer. The rude, rough, fiery protests of Hindemith’s youthful compositions gave way to a noticeably tradition-conscious, at times consciously classicistic style. This transformation
seemed to later generations to have been a conservative about-turn. In the eyes of the Theodor W. Adorno generation after 1945, Hindemith
was considered to be at least as suspicious
as Richard Strauss, the romantic who had once and for all betrayed the ideals of the avant-garde with his Rosenkavalier.
Hindemith’s opera Mathis der Maler assumed an exemplary position in terms of its use of a tonal language based firmly on tradition. The work is an opus summum of the intellectual-artistic
confrontation with German art and intellectual
history, and at the same time, a parable of the artist in times of distress – written at the beginning of that national-socialist dictatorship
whose ideology, superficially viewed, seemed to accommodate some of what Hindemith
had formulated as an artistic principle. In fact, the composer was at first in no way completely inclined to turn his back on his home country after Hitler’s takeover. And the rejection of his artistic goals by leading Nazis was by no means total. More than one member
of the “new Germany” certainly sensed the chance to win the former progressive for the cause of the “spielmusik” movement. But due to Hitler’s unequivocal prejudice after the “opera visit” mentioned above, the “Hindemith
case”, as it was called by great conductor
Wilhelm Furtwängler in a courageous newspaper article, was negatively decided. Nazi ideologues defined Hindemith soon as a “cultural bolshevist”. And this despite the fact that a recording of the three-movement symphony
Mathis der Maler made for the benefit of the censors and conducted by Furtwängler himself was found to contain “nothing objectionable”
– as the party jargon of the time so nicely framed it.
That Hindemith’s drama ends with the withdrawal of its artist-hero from all political activities – “you have superhuman artistic abilities – go out and create” – is one of its lines – might have made it come in handy for Nazi thinking. But otherwise, its confrontation with questions of blind faith in authority, with obedience, refusal and accommodation were too multifaceted, and in any event, too far removed
from the type of popular entertainment culture that officials after 1933 imagined for “healthy German opera”. Mathis der Maler and its creator were undesired.
The opera premiered in 1938 in Zurich. Hindemith emigrated – first to the USA; later to Switzerland – and soon lived withdrawn and
resigned like his opera hero. His last lecture, held in a Germany that had long since been freed – now governed, however, by an aesthetic
but also inevitable ideology – was titled significantly “Dying Waters”…
Mathis der Maler – despite the adverse times during which it was written – reveals a powerful musical spirit of renewal, which combines the achievements of the modern in a fascinating overview that includes forms and practices from throughout European music history – from Gregorian
chant to Richard Wagner’s music-theatrical
emotionalism. Hardly any composer before Hindemith – and certainly not afterwards – has ever succeeded at such a synthesis with this amount of musical craftsmanship.
Hindemith, who wrote the text for his opera
himself after Gottfried Benn’s refusal, consciously
used classical forms for his “Engels-konzert” prelude. Using the model of Wagner’s Meistersinger prelude, all themes unite at the climax of the development. The chorale melody from the beginning, “Es sungen drei Engel ein’ süßen Gesang”, which floats over undulating string movements that follow tender G-major harmonies, then returns triumphantly. The allegro
main part of this piece, which simultaneously
forms the first movement of the “Mathis”
symphony that was premiered in 1934 under hardship conditions by Furtwängler in Berlin, can also be understood as a musical description of Matthias Grünewald’s painting of the same name, found in the Isenheim altar. The music returns in the sixth scene to a text that lucidly combines the music-making angels
with the musical themes.
Matthias Grünewald, Mathis der Maler, is the hero of the opera, which takes place during the Peasants’ Revolt in the 16th century. When the curtain opens, we see him working on a large fresco in the monastery of St. Anthony in Mainz. Over an almost impressionistic description
of the landscape, bathed in shimmering
sunlight (CD 1, Track 02), Mathis begins
brooding over the artist’s God-given task: “Have you fulfilled God’s mission for you? Is that which you create and paint enough?”
The answer comes (CD 1, Track 03) in the hurried entrance of peasant leader Schwalb, who – fleeing from the Prince-Archbishop’s soldiers – is seeking refuge in the monastery
with his daughter Regina. The idyll in the monastery courtyard is deceptive. The “sunny land” is surrounded by a bloody civil war. Mathis
calms Schwalb down – the music alternates
constantly between Schwalb’s urgent
nervosity and the artist’s soothing gentleness. “Everything is peaceful. You will feel better soon.” While the monks care for the wounded Schwalb, Mathis chats with Regina (CD 1, Track 04). She refreshes and washes herself at the well, singing all the while. Hindemith adapts – as he did in the opera’s prelude – old German songs, even using typical harmonies of Renaissance
vocal music (CD 1, Track 05). Enchanted by Regina’s childlike innocence, Mathis gives her a bracelet, revealing in a broad, flowing melody that it once came from the West Indies to Germany. The music returns to C-sharp, the key of the opera’s idyllic begin, which also corresponds
to the D-sharp Major of the angels’ chorale in the prelude. In this manner, Hindemith
creates the architectonic connections that structure his immense opera.
Schwalb, who has reawakened from his temporary loss of consciousness, roughly interrupts the conversation (CD 1, Track 06). He reproaches Mathis: “You paint?” he asks derisively. That may be sinful in the light of the thousandfold sorrows and pain of the people of the land. “Have you fulfilled God’s mission for you?” the question returns in the new context all the more pressingly. “Is that which you create and paint enough?” A powerfully rhythmic duet between the two men gives the artist new insights: “What deeds are meant to blossom in you will thrive alone thanks to God’s sun, when your thirsty roots immerse themselves deep into your people’s origin.” It is now time to take arms and defend the peasants’ just cause, Schwalb suggests. Mathis
gives him his horse, as Regina excitedly reports (“Staub am Himmel”) (CD 1, Track 07) that a group of soldiers is approaching the monastery. The peasant leader has hardly burst out of the gates when military commander
Sylvester von Schaumberg (CD 1, Track 08) appears. He demands an immediate court martial (“Ein Standgericht”) for the escape helpers. The soldiers grab the monks. But in the face of the open confession of Mathis, the Cardinal’s painter, Schaumberg threatens later revenge: “The Cardinal will know what to do with people of your ilk.”
At the beginning of the second scene, Mainz is in an uproar (CD 1, Track 09). The Cardinal has just returned from a long journey. During the preparations for his reception, students, Lutherans
and the Papists begin to fight. The ideological
squabble, which Hindemith represents in a brilliant contrapuntal choral scene, even contains comedic moments after the wives of the quarrelers involve themselves and join in with highly earthy criticism: “We fixed you up with comb and brush; it took a bit of trouble…” The scuffle comes to a sudden end with the Cardinal’s entrance. He announces with great joy to his subjects, who scatter in all directions, that (CD 1, Track 10) he was able to obtain the remains of St. Martin as a relic for the Mainz cathedral.
The choir’s reaction is subdued – councilor
Capito is heard cynically commenting: “As if we lacked nothing more than a dead saint.” In the face of the confrontations between Catholics
and Lutherans, Capito, a type of Rheingold Loge in old Mainz, has a shady position. Albrecht
von Brandenburg trusts his councilor, but is also partial to the rebellious citizens, because he is also faced with giving the Cardinal sums of money for the upkeep of his court, his costly new acquisitions like the Martin relic, as well as for the precious shrine that Mathis is to build. Instead of dealing with politics, the Cardinal is increasingly drawn to contemplation and preoccupation
with art. In a dialog with the beautiful
burgher’s daughter Ursula Riedinger (CD 1, Track 11), he also reveals his attraction to the female sex – despite his vows of celibacy. “Being
alone is hard,” says Ursula, though she is thinking much less about the Cardinal, who is fond of her, than about Mathis, for whom she pines. When the painter appears in the hall, the surging music describes the young woman’s emotions: “We were separated one year long from everything that we love.” A small ensemble
(CD 1, Track 12) lets two conversations run simultaneously: while Ursula and Mathis are not really able to find their way to one another after such a long separation – Mathis is too confused after the recognition of his political
responsibility to confess his love to Ursula – Ursula’s father, the rich burgher Riedinger, is negotiating with the Cardinal over financial matters. “Use the burgher’s strength where you are weak. I help gladly in any situation with my property.” But credit comes with conditions: Mainz’s overwhelmingly Lutheran citizens demand
that the commanded book burning be prevented. Lutheran writings are to go up in flames in front of the Mainz cathedral. Albrecht, who as a free-thinker is thoroughly inclined to grant this wish, stands under heavy pressure. Head cathedral priest Pommersfelden (CD 1, Track 13) – “Order from Rome” – extracts him to recant: “The books must burn!” Councilor Capito, the Janus-faced, stands up for the Lutherans:
if we burn the books, the citizens of Mainz will refuse to lend us money. Who will paint altars for us then?” All financial sources have been exhausted. Truchsess von Waldburg forces the Cardinal to support the army in the fight against the peasants. How could they be
financed? The Cardinal, who is otherwise torn between all competing positions, manages only to firmly repudiate the vehement demands of Sylvester von Schaumburg (CD 1, Track 14) that Mathis be punished for helping the peasant
leader escape: “No one shall touch him.” Albrecht cannot prevent the painter, however, from renouncing his profession and requesting dismissal, in order to dedicate himself to the peasants’ cause – “my brothers’ fear lames my hand. My canvases are covered in red blood. Hang me, torture me. I will never paint again!” In a large ensemble, Hindemith artfully combines
the voices of the quarreling parties (Albrecht,
Capito, Schaumburg, Mathis and Pommersfelden).
With a heavy heart, the Cardinal lets Mathis go.
The Protestants of Mainz seek refuge in Riedinger’s house and try to bring their writings and books into safety. The book-burning is being
readied on the square in front of the house. The Lutherans try to fool the Catholic thugs with valueless books: “A work of the devil: Eulenspiegel.
The Ship of Fools for you.” But Capito
uncovers the hiding places of the Lutheran writings. The books are confiscated. Riedinger is outraged over the ruler’s breach of promise. Capito answers: “Who has the key to God’s satisfaction?” But after the mercenaries have disappeared with the books, he gives one of Luther’s letters to the Cardinal, in order to calm down the upset citizens. A lively solo by Riedinger,
supported by the men’s choir, accompanies
the reading material, which is highly exciting
for the Lutherans: in the letter, the reformer entreats Albrecht von Brandenburg to transform
his bishopric into a reformed, secular principality.
The Cardinal will have to deal with this suggestion, says Capito, because it includes a financially advantageous marriage between Albrecht and a burgher’s daughter. This is the only possibility to solve the bishopric’s financial problems. The councilor knows his prince: “He is in favor of innovation, wants to improve and set an example. He doesn’t look at women with too little favor.” It would be easy to find the right one, Capito suggests, and in just this moment (CD 2, Track 02) Ursula, Riedinger’s daughter, appears. The chorus whispers, “One could become
a Papist and believe in miracles.” Riedinger
entreats his daughter to go along with this deal, for the good of the land. The Lutherans revel in anticipation of their upcoming triumph. But Ursula loves Mathis. Alone, she wrestles with her fate, at which point the painter appears.
In a moving duet (CD 2, Track 04), Ursula is forced to recognize both the artist’s timidity in marrying a much younger woman as well as his decision to join the fighting peasants. In the face of the country’s misery, he can no longer think about painting: “I can no longer refuse to get involved.” While on the square outside the house, the fire with the burning books is blazing increasingly fiercely, under intense approval
of the Papists and energetic protests of the Lutherans, the love between two people is stifled by obedience and the desire to do the right thing. “Blind, I cross the embers and ice of your reason. Nothing in me can think. Only one thing I know: my longing for you will never die; I will always love you,” avows Ursula. “Intimacy that delighted me, love that strengthened me, the oneness in which we lived – dies in the face of affliction.”
After Mathis has left, Riedinger appears with his confidantes to find out what Ursula has decided. The Lutherans triumph (CD 2, Track 05).
Mathis flees from his anguish and goes to battle. In Königshofen, he witnesses as peasant
troops marauding to march rhythms (CD 2, Track 06) murder Count Helfenstein. The Count’s minstrel mocks his former employer; the peasants dance and sing triumphantly about the upending of all values. Mathis, who disgustedly comments on these events (CD 2, Track 07), can only prevent the Countess from becoming a victim of the violence. But the unshackled
brutality doesn’t even spare him, an ally. “What do you want? No one asked you to come!” Mathis is struck down; Schwalb and Regina come to his aid (CD 2, Track 08). The distressed atmosphere that weighs on all so heavily is expressed in an ensemble: “A struggle
with no end,” lament the peasants. Regina describes Schwalb’s desperate situation, as he can no longer keep the marauding troops under control: “Father is heavily weighed down by troubles.” The Countess recognizes that the peasants “arrogance” has come to “an end”. Mathis sinks into somber brooding: “Powerless, I face the end.”
The approaching army (CD 2, Track 09) annihilates the uprising and continues on its way accompanied by a victory march (CD 2, Track 10). Schwalb falls in the slaughter. Mathis escapes capture thanks to Countess Helfenstein’s objection. He remains on the battlefield alone with the desperate Regina. His view of life has come into question again (CD 2, Track 11). “Daring to want what the will cannot force. Elevating oneself above the abilities
of man. Only one was allowed to carry the cross of the world… and what were you? A discontented painter, a failure.” He flees the inferno with Regina, heading for the
protection of the Odenwald mountains.
In the meantime, the sly Capito’s attempt to convince the Cardinal of the advantages of Luther’s plan fails. “Do you want to incapacitate
me?” Albrecht rages (CD 2, Track 12). He does not want to go along with Luther’s plan, but does hesitate for a moment when the chosen one enters the hall (CD 2, Track 13): the glimpse of Riedinger’s beautiful daughter, whose lively intellect he has learned to value, causes Albrecht to waver for an instant: “I was not prepared for an attack, the likes of which makes such strong champions fight.” But in the end, even Ursula’s loyalty and humility
in speaking out for Lutheran beliefs as well as for the people’s cause – expressed in a powerful monolog – does not have the power to dissuade the Cardinal from giving up his well thought out decision to live in the future as a hermit – withdrawing from the world and remaining celibate. The dignitaries who enter after the conversation between the two are hardly enthused about the result: “He is not to be relied on,” says councilor Capito acidly. And Riedinger reasons: “Do not place women in men’s positions – the results are better.”
The Odenwald mountains. With expansive gestures, the music (CD 3, Track 01) conjures up the eerie mood surrounding Mathis and Regina
as they flee – as well as the failed artist’s mental torment. Regina sees the image of her dead father at every turn (CD 3, Track 02). As evening approaches, Mathis puts the exhausted
girl to bed. To a recapitulation of the music in the opera’s prelude (CD 3, Track 03), he sings Regina to sleep: the three angelic musicians
of the “Engelskonzert” sing the chorale “Es sungen drei Engel” in counterpoint with the girl’s voice as she falls asleep. Mathis is surrounded by the magical spell of the nightly forest. In a gigantic visionary scene – which recalls Grünewald’s “Temptation of Saint Anthony”
(CD 3, Track 04) –, the opera’s characters
appear as allegorical figures. Countess Helfenstein stands for luxury: “He who would have treasures must save to become richer… The world’s pleasures lie at your feet.” Head cathedral priest Pommersfelden knows what wealth is good for: “If what they write about exists, Heavenly Spirit, then only he who rules others can rest.” Ursula appears to yearning sounds (CD 3, Track 05), first as a beggar, than as a lover: “One body alone is an obsession.” But Mathis/Anthony resists: “In one moment ripens that which then immediately dies as empty remains.” The vision becomes a martyr: “Only pain continues after lust.” The nightmare
intensifies to become unbearable: in the guise of a scholar, councilor Capito praises the sciences; peasant leader Schwalb celebrates
bellicosity. From the fangs of army of demons on a wild hunt (CD 3, Track 06), whose domination he tries to banish with the chorale “Lauda Sion Salvatorem”, Mathis/Antonius is finally rescued by the hermit Paul in the form of Albrecht von Brandenburg (CD 3, Track 07). In a powerful climax, he leads him to his actual calling by means of an intellectual dialog (8). The artist’s task is not to wage war, the artist who “has superhuman artistic abilities”: “Go out and create!”. The duet closes with a radiant
D-Major hymn of praise to the almighty.
Mathis, watched over by Ursula (CD 3, Track 09), has tried in restless work to artistically
ban the images that appeared to him in the visions in Odenwald. The “Engelskonzert”, the “Temptation of Saint Anthony” and the “Conversation of the two hermits” are complete;
the artist’s strength is exhausted. Regina,
pursued by the image of her dead father, lies on her deathbed (CD 3, Track 10). She recognizes
his eyes in Mathis’s crucifixion painting.
She gives the devoted Ursula, who stands by her in her last hour, the bracelet that Mathis had once given her – one of the most moving moments in the opera – because the bracelet was originally a gift from Ursula to her beloved Mathis. Regina’s hour of death is accompanied by a funeral dirge, the middle movement of the symphony, a horrendous writhing – followed by tender resignation (CD 3, Track 11). After an interlude during which the stage darkens, the artist’s atelier appears once more, cleaned up. Albrecht enters (CD 3, Track 12), in order to entreat Mathis to remain in his house as a free artist. But Mathis knows that his task is over. “Onward, to the last part of the journey,” (CD 3, Track 13). He wishes only to order his meager belongings and memories of a rich, full life. He puts a roll of paper, his tools and his books in a chest – as well as the bracelet
– the symbol of his pledge of love to both women who left an indelible mark on his life.
Paul Hindemith: composer, violist, con-ductor, teacher, music theoretician
Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler
Paul Hindemith was born on November 16, 1895 in Hanau. From the age of three to six he lived with his grandparents in the Silesian town of Naumburg an der Queis. He took his first violin lessons at the age of nine; in 1908 he was admitted to the Hoch’sche Conservatory in Frankfurt as a violin and composition student. From 1915 to 1923 he was the concertmaster at the Frankfurt Opera and violist in the Amar Quartet. From 1923 to 1930 he was a member of the program committee of the Donaueschingen Musiktage. In 1927, the Berlin Academy of Music appointed him professor of composition. He was internationally active as a violist during this time as well. In 1934, the Nazi regime banned his works from being broadcast; as of 1936 they were no longer allowed to be performed. In 1938, Hindemith left Germany for Switzerland with his wife Gertrude; they moved to the USA in 1940. He taught at Yale University until 1953. From the late 1940s on, Hindemith appeared increasingly often as a conductor, leading his own works as well as those of others. In 1950 he returned to Europe, settling in Switzerland. In addition to continuing at Yale, he also taught at the University of Zurich. Paul Hindemith died in Frankfurt on December 28, 1963.