MIMOSA & LINEN SHEETS: PAUL HINDEMITH
A man who wins more than his share finds doubts cast on his skill, rewards bestowed from who knows where betray the players hand. No man has enough luck to save himself from his fellow man. "52" Combustible Edison
I get home and wearily let myself in. I was feeling somewhat better but must still have looked rough as the taxi driver asked me if I was going to be all right or needed help up the stairs. The paramedics had not made any sort of mess; no piles of books knocked over or anything and from what I vaguely remember; had actually been careful to get me out with minimal disturbance to everything but just knowing strangers had been in my little warren now made things feel slightly off. I take a badly needed shower the sour scent of institutional disinfectant and illness spawned sweat taking fifteen minutes of massaging my limbs with soap under hot water before I start to feel remotely human and less ashamed.
I thought I would fall right asleep, the sheets on the bed were not my best but compared to hospital issue felt luxurious. I had kept the bedside light on and looked around. The room was exactly as I had left it, a pre-crisis time capsule. A book I had grabbed to exorcise a snatch of poetry from my head, my pocket sketchpad where I had begun to practice sprays of Mimosa as to be able to effortlessly tattoo Caitlin's wall for her, the sweater I was going to bring out on my walk despite its missing the top button. It was sad, how laying in the hospital; both how badly I had just wanted to get back here and how small and average it all was too. I finally slept and surprisingly with no nightmares.
I spent a week taking it easy which I was not used to. I knew when I was back to 100% there would be a bit of a scramble to make up for lost time and back burnered jobs. I was now too thin and had shaved my moustache off as I did not have patience currently to do the intricate sculptural trimmings for which I was known. I had to start getting out again. I was looking better but not yet like myself. I would go to The Rhumerie where I had minimal risk of running into any of my crowd. I was absurdly skitterish, second guessing myself, waiting to find myself once again sick after every sip of my drink. This lack of concentration made it so that I could not lose myself in tabletop doodles. Normally this would not necessarily be a bad thing but there was scant people watching to be had. As I did not have my head down in the act of concentration for paper placemat world creating, I kept meeting the gaze of the one other person occupying the patio. Every time I looked up she tried to grab my eyes with a slight smile. The more I tried not to look up as to end the game the stronger the compulsion became; I kept on doing so until it bordered on a nervous tick. She finally came over which was fine as my eyes had begun to grow tired from their crazy locomotion.
She introduced herself, a nic-name which dripped bo-ho affectation. She had a dancer's body, lean and shown to good effect in her flamenco singer outfit of black tights, top and an intricately patterned sarong of muted reds. Only her neck, which had some deep grooves in it, betrayed the fact that she was older than what an initial impression conveyed. I had only drawn the slanting box of what would have been the first of many roofs of a cityscape on my placemat. She smiled and nodded;
"Back home, everybody is an artist, everybody is a poet or paints, children learn to sing or dance as soon as they can walk on their own."
I now had to recite the dialogue expected of me or at the very least a facsimile which followed along the same lines, I was too tired to rebel;
"Where is home?"
I told her I had never been. Having said it out loud once, it was as if the floodgates had burst, now the entire conversation was dominated, starting and ending with "Cuba". I became bored but her stream of conscious narrative washed over me, making me feel fatigued so that I felt I could not get up. The waitress came back and I switched to tea which I knew would be made with water too hot.
"I came here because of the place's name, my people invented rum and I had just been thinking of home."
Taking a sip of her drink, she crinkled her nose;
"This, this is not good rum though, no one would serve this back home."
"When was the last time you were back?"
"Oh about twenty five years ago.."
I thought of how much any area, even one steeped in tradition, changes from year to year. Restaurants open and close, families move away buildings too, rise and fall like the tide. She did not have knowledge of Cuba, she had a memory. Nostalgia is a ghost whose only power is to haunt and even then, with time, the phantasm's shape becomes more opaque. I usually have an excellent poker face but not yet being back to full power I think my now naked lip betrayed a hereditary downward twitch of disapproval. She must have caught it, which was surprising considering her level of self involvement. Feeling foolish, she laid money on the table for her drinks which did not seem to factor in tip and took flight.
I drank my tea avoiding the milk which would further dilute the flavor and adding three sugars, just to have more than a sharp taste in my mouth. I paid my bill and slowly headed home, stopping to window-shop in every bookstore, all the slip cased Gallimard Editions, the desire for which I found to be a comfort.
I got home and ran a hot bath. At first I was going to just put on a Blue Note but something made my hand hover over the line of records standing shoulder to shoulder on the bookcase, waiting to be picked as part of my day's soundtrack. Temporarily forsaking Zoot Sims, I grabbed Mahler's Kindertotenlieder. I slowly submerged my body as to try to prolong the sensation of the hot water enveloping me.
Of course the music is good. I think of the Cuban. It was absurd and only the fact that most people loath confrontation has kept anyone from calling her on her rusty knowledge. Whether it is a place or favorite restaurant or even book, I have always believed that on occasion one must go back to not only reassess the thing but to see what new things are now gleaned from it as time changes not just the thing and totem we have made of it but ourselves as well. It's almost a type of renewal of faith to be carried out on all the daily rituals and totems held dear.
The music, I thought of Vienna. I knew Vienna but quick math told me it had been at least five years since I walked the Ringstraube. Before getting sick I had felt the need for the infusion of new energy, something different. I was too old or maybe jaded to think it could be a person. I would go back to Vienna, renewal.
I was going to train there trying, as I mapped out my plans to convince myself the somewhat long rail journey would reinvigorate me. Part of me though got tired just thinking of all the station switches and waiting in-betweens. At the last minute I sold two of my older paintings. I am always most into what I am working on or had just finished. Leaning against one wall of my studio was a stack of butcher paper wrapped orphans no longer given pride of place in the main room. I was pleased, I got less than what my new works were going for but far more than what I had initially been looking to get for them when they were new. I decided to just fly. I hated flying but it would cut my travel time down to a few hours, a fraction of what it was going to be.
The plane ride went as well as can be expected. I do not like to travel with people, I do not mind meeting up once I am there but to actually get there, I prefer to remain solitary as I think my level of nervousness while on route would show me in a different light than my normal public persona. The few people I have flown with when it absolutely could not be avoided were surprised that I did not have anything to drink before or during the flight but with how nervous being in the air made me I did not want to add the wild card of alcohol. All I could imagine was the surplus of adrenaline I produced mixing with the drink to give the cocktail even headier properties, the flight ending with me being led off in handcuffs or best case scenario the drink causing me to cover myself in sick.
I had flown at an odd hour so I was able to clear customs fairly quick, the officers speeding up the search of my bag and giving me a polite go ahead nod once I switched to German to answer their questions.
I stayed across from the Stadtpark as there were a few building tops poking up through the canopy of green tree tops I liked to sketch from bed. Also a few nights a week there were live concerts and I could open a window and drift off to sleep while listening to Hayden or even Strauss, which I could tolerate when heard live.
I always say that Vienna is for seeing, Paris living. Vienna with all its rich red and gold is a thing of daydreams, a favorite childhood meal which one may still enjoy regardless of the fact that it is no longer part of their daily identity. Still the aesthetics if not the history always managed to excite me. Paris is the city of light but most people get it wrong, it is not the lights shinning off the Eiffel tower nor the long brilliant stream of the Champ Elysee, it is the odd hued ambient lighting to be found late at night down the little side streets and alleys. Unchanged for decades and unlike anyplace else where as Vienna, it is the ambient colors which so mark the city. My Viennese day dream; Reds, golds, the smell of good tobacco and strong coffee. Of course the city has its touristy aspects but any of the great older cities in Europe do.
I unpack and put my sketchpad and a few other odds and ends in my book bag giving the desk back the key whose big oval brass tag proclaimed my room number on one side and whose other side I was dying to tattoo with pin point art.
I walked around soaking everything back in, I would give myself a day or two before doing a museum. I wondered whether I should look up any old acquaintances. It seemed almost a prerequisite that I have a lunch whose heaviness spurred me on to more walking despite how sleepy it made me. I ended up in St. Stephensplatz where I decided to look for a great tea shop I had known off a little side street. Once through the crowd of students and tourists who stopped to stare at the church I found a doorway I felt compelled to sketch.
I felt myself being watched and turned around to see Nadja staring at me. She looked pretty good, a little tired but weren't we all. When I did not play the game of pretending not to see her, she came over. Running into someone from one's past, I always think it is a waste of time to go into all the good which has happened, the bad too as the listener automatically assumes there are exaggerations and embellishments going on. I just answer the "How are you" with a simple "good".
I have her accompany me to the tea store which has a sort of bar counter where we sit to have a cup while catching up. I wince as she poisons her first flush Darjeeling with creme and sugar. Her life had been following the same cycle as it always had, a little modeling with dancing in between. She was not doing that in Vienna though as that type of thing was done mostly in private clubs the entree to which she possessed neither the knowledge nor pedigree. She thought it a passive aggressive slight on my part but I just could not bring myself to call her by her new dancer name which felt alien on my tongue. I am fine sitting there in silence sipping my tea but she felt the need to fill the air with words. Furtively, she told me of a new boyfriend, a half hearted monologue delivered in a stuttered rhythm. I do not know what I am expected to say nor do I care. We leave together, she walks with me without saying where she is going.
Once again we find ourselves by the church. We stand talking a little bit more, she is wondering if we will meet again during my stay, if I will ask her to. Someone is standing across the platz looking at us. This is her new boyfriend. He is about a decade younger than us and in a velour reproduction of a waistcoat from the 1700's which he must wear as part of his costume while handing out flyers for classical concerts to tourists. She felt bad but was now counting on a biting comment from me which would allow anger to overwrite any other emotions. I do not know how long they had been together but he seemed to have already become familiar with her blush, noticing its appearance caused him to look from her to me trying to gauge what scenario had played out while he was busy with his flyers. I shook his hand as she introduced me with;
"An old friend."
I told them where I was staying but knew that now she would not call. Our eyes met briefly as I said goodbye.
I spend the next two days walking, eating and sketching. The Secession Building with its jugendstil motifs is one of my favorites and largely ignored by the more casual tourist for whom Vienna begins and ends in the 18th century and the artistic influence of the (First) Viennese School of composers. Austrian musical theorists/journalist Raphael Georg Kiesewetter (1773-1850) coined the term "Viennese School" in reference to Mozart (1756-1791) Hayden (1732-1809) and Beethoven (1770-1827). While Beethoven did meet and informally play with both Hayden and Mozart, and Mozart and Hayden socialized, playing in some of the same chamber groups, there were never formal lessons involved.
In their time, all three in their own ways were cutting edge, Hayden developing alongside the modern sonata form, Mozart with his multi-voice operatic arias and Beethoven with his symphonic gifts and demand of seeing composer more as artist hero and not merely another member of a great house's staff.
Like art in any medium or era there were definite periods of stagnation where the artistic young lions became the established norm. Innovation of art coming out of Austria/Germany was not confined to one moment in time however.
The Viennese Secessionist movement came about in 1897 as a protest by artist in various mediums against what they saw as a lack of evolution and a growing conservatism. Exhibition and commission procedures were also viewed as outdated and in need of reform. All these things would be addressed by the secessionists. The two initial leaders of the group were Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and Rudolf Von Alt (1812-1905). The group incorporated a diverse collection of artists working in different mediums. There were no rigid rules to what one had to incorporate into a work to be a secessionist. Much like the later groups of symbolists, impressionists and cubists there were different strata of secessionists including those who took components which freed or inspired them as fuel for further explorations while remaining formally outside the realm of the movement.
The Second Viennese School of composers was less a movement and more a group. The leader was Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) and his two students Anton Von Webern (1883-1945) and Alban Berg (1885-1935). Unlike the first school there was more formal instruction and practice of theory similar in spirit if not execution to what would be exercised initially by the Parisian composers Les Sixe.
Schoenberg had come out of the secession movement in its later years, when it was in flux with some of the key players from it moving on. Aside from composing and teaching Schoenberg also wrote essays and fiction and painted. His paintings were exhibited, Schoenberg being accomplished enough to formally be a member of The Blue Rider Group (1911-1914).
The twin wellsprings of modern classical music can be said to be Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) and Schoenberg. Schoenberg developed innovative methods of composing atonally which would metamorphous into his twelve tone system and serialism. Both Stravinsky and Schoenberg would over the years have students who directly sat at the masters' feet but would both also influence countless other composers indirectly.
Not everyone who was freed up artistically by Schoenberg or Stravinsky used every aspect of their systems completely. Others whose reputations would grow would incorporate components to varying degrees, absorbed through a sort of artistic osmosis from the masters.
Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) was a composer who, although always possessing his own voice and showing throughout his career an artistic evolution drew upon Schoenberg and incorporating some of his theories into his art. As a child he played violin. He formally studied (Hochsche Konservatorium) in Frankfurt not just violin but also conducting and composition. It was while in school he would play in dance bands and the European equivalent of vaudeville. His exposure to music meant to accompany various acts would lend a sort of theatrical/modernist theater air to some of the compositions of his early phases.
As his experience of playing in the real world progressed he would cut his teeth as second violin in a string quartet (1914) and as concertmaster for the Frankfurter Museumsorchester (1915-1923). It was towards the end of his term as concertmaster he would switch to viol d'amore, an instrument which had fallen into disuse after the baroque period (1600-1750), founding the Amar quartet.
His compositions would be heard initially at an international festival for contemporary music (1922) which would land him a job as organizer of the similar in style Donaueschingen festival where he presented a program of music by Webern and Schoenberg. He would spend the rest of the twenties teaching, furthering the flame of modernism, adding his own imprint into the mix.
His growing reputation and search for new colors to incorporate into his palette allowed him to travel. In the early thirties he visited the Turkish capital of Ankara where the Ataturk commissioned him to radically restructure the Turkish musical educational system and create a national opera and ballet company. Today he is revered as the father of the modern Turkish music scene.
With the rise of the Nazi's to power many modernist of every artistic discipline had to flee, their work not falling in with the official aesthetics' of the party. Schoenberg's art was immediately declared degenerate, both the man and his oeuvre considered forbidden. Hindemith's relationship to the Nazi's was more complicated.
His accomplishments abroad where not sponsored or facilitated by the government but they were quick to take credit for the accomplishments of a German artist. Conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler spoke up on Hindemith's behalf to the cultural ministry. He was presented as perhaps best embodying modern Germany's voice. This was not truly believed by those in power but he was a modern composer now writing in tonality and also mixing in motifs from various folk melodies. It was not for them great or true art but it was freer from discordance and closer to the traditional conceptualization of "music" than what any of his peers were doing.
His opera "Mathis der Maler" (1938) about the painter Matthias Grunewald (1470-1528) was about artist's place in society, especially during wartime. Hindemith had been a solider during the First World War, entertaining his trench mates during lulls in fighting by playing violin. Unlike some other artists not outright banned by the Nazis, Hindemith felt that during times of crisis an artist should make art, free from party rhetoric and dogma. For a government which wanted to control every aspect of its populace's lives this was not permissible. There was a scene in the opera which featured book burning, taken by the Nazi's to be a commentary on their practices. He was in very short time denounced as yet another degenerate artists while also taking an oath of allegiance to Hitler and accepting a commission to write a piece for the Luftwaffe. He never actually created the music and shortly after taking his oath, fled with his Jewish wife to Switzerland before emigrating to the United States (1940). His oath and even accepting of the commissions can be viewed as necessary to take away suspicion of wanting to flee the country. His political views were never in line with those of his country's government and his "collaboration" was not in the same spirit as those of Ezra Pound (1885-1972) who actively made radio speeches for Mussolini's government. Hindemith's life under the Nazis is closer to that of Russian composer Dimitri Shostokovich's (1906-1975) under Stalin, a program of survival by outward appearance of falling in line without contributing too much to party culture.
The rest of his life would find him teaching (Yale Univeristy 1940-1953 University of Zurich 1953-1957) and composing. His later artistic phases saw him producing large works for orchestra and chorus.
Although Hindemith was not a direct disciple of Schoenberg during his early artistic phases there were easy to trace lines of artistic descendance. This came about from the times they lived in, the overall zeitgeist always stamping its influence on every artist present no matter how seemingly different or apart from each other they may be. The other factor being the excitement and freedoom Schoenberg's theories allowed for.
In 1912 Schoenberg composed Pierrot Lunaire (op 21). It revolved around text by the Belgian poet Albert Giraud (1860-1929) and the stalwart commedia del'arte figure. The work called for the vocals to be done in a sort of talk-sing ("sprechstimme") by a female singer in the traditional white silk pajama like outfit usually associated with the character. The musical ensemble was a miniature orchestra which depending upon the part of the piece would further reduce down to a chamber group of flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano. The music and delivery derive a tension which has not lessened with the passage of time via emotions which dip and spike many times over the course of the composition. The streamlined ensemble called for by the piece made it easier to switch emotional gears rapidly while maintaining an overall air of dream like atmosphere.
Written a few years later the vocal chamber music of Hindemith artistically shares a lot with Pierrot without merely aping it. Hindemith's music too calls for a stripped down ensemble. Lyrically Hindemith uses both his own text and the poems of others.
Pierrot's text is all about emotions and appetite containing passions both erotic and violent. Hindemith's cover similar ground and although lyrically he sometimes turns more meditative as happens with the lyrics he wrote while doing his military service ( "How it Would Be if it were otherwise"), there is a bubbling up of sonic discordance which gives both composer's work such a vigorously modern flavor. Both works too borrow elements from jazz which was then a byword for modernism, a practice which would continue with other modern composers from Shostokovich to Les Six.
If Mahler's darkness was the slow rumbling of thunder or the universal heart skipping a beat then Schoenberg and Hindemith's was more of an inner glance, the horror and wonder of finding oneself wandering through a bad dream neighborhood accompanied by the discordant sound of a street band freshly escaped from the cabaret Voltaire.
At least in the case of Pierrot, Schoenberg preferred for the text to go hand in hand with the music and used one to bolster the other where as Hindemith preferred with his vocal music to have the text presented in such a way as to drop away leaving the music the sole thing in the foreground before the vocals come back, always to some extent in service to the score.
"Melancholie" (OP 13) is four songs for voice and string quartet which Hindemith wrote from 1917-1919. Like a lot of his vocal music it was not published in his lifetime, this group not being published until 1994. The songs were composed in memory of Hindemith's friend Karl Kohler using poems of Christian Morgenstern (1871-1914). Despite what was lyrically in vogue at the time, these lyrics are stripped of all ornamentation offering perfect contrast to the music.
In the first song, the violins provide a lilting, almost sing song pattern which alternates between a near shrill cadence and a sweet one. It is the patch of blue sky as momentarily glimpsed from a fox hole. The second song has the cello as a sort of earthbound counterbalance to the ethereal soprano voice called forth for the pieces. The third song is perhaps the most dramatic featuring moments on unaccompanied vocals with cello and plucked strings in a pattern of rising and fading out. The fact that each song averages around three minutes keeps the tension from ever sagging. The last song, which is slightly longer than its three predecessors has a slow melancholy bent which with just strings and voice creates a melange consisting of equal parts sadness and peace, akin to taking a nap or going to sleep, forever.
Des Todes Tod (OP 23b) is three songs for voice, 2 violas and 2 violoncellos. These songs were composed in only three days, in 1922. Overall Hindemith had always been able to compose rapidly and without too many rewrites. The lyrics come from Eduard Reinacher (1892-1968). The text was considered by many lackluster, inspired by Reinacher's serial revolving around the dances of death. Initially Reinacher thought the songs would be truer to the spirit of a collaboration but despite their friendship Hindemith knew he had to go it alone creating music which changed and vastly improved the program of the text. This piece would not properly be published until 1952 and it is one of the richest in feel to be found from this phase of Hindemith's oeuvre. There is a density to the piece with all the deeper stringed instruments called for in the score and the mezzosoprano voice. There are spaces left within the score during transitions from voice to instruments and in keeping with Hindemith's overall philosophy there are points where the vocals seem to float upon a sea of the string sections' plucked swells. The use of space in his compositions and their execution give them a modern, timeless feel without needing to rely upon discordance to get across a feeling of a taste of one's impending mortality or mystery.
Hindemith would eventually give up small ensemble work, still writing some vocal pieces in later years but more for chorus and orchestra. Unlike some modern composers he does not have "better" or "weaker" phases, they are diverse but all offer up something worthwhile.
I flew home, I had spent the entire day beforehand walking and tiring myself out as I had an early flight and hoped to doze while in the air. Once or twice while looking at some of the onion domed churches I thought I spotted Nadja in the distance but she pretended not to see me and quickly disappeared down one of the many streets which branched off the main ones.
I got home, my landlady giving me an elasticed stack of mail which was waiting for me. There is a letter from Caitlin; I had forgotten our plans which I had only half believed would happen anyways. She was telling me she could not come, she was staying in London with her family, it was better this way for eventually our luck would run out and we would be back at each other's throats.
I go in, put the coffee pot on and right before hopping in the shower touch needle to record, finally giving Zoot his turn. When I come out a little bit of spittle was coming in through the window which I had cracked open to dissipate the feeling of stillness which had taken over in my absence. By the time I had finished unpacking and making the coffee the record had ended. The sound of the rain, no music or white noise would be needed to ensure a good night's sleep for me. I wish she too where here for this lullaby. The simplicity of what I wanted to share making both the desire and her absence all the more sharp and myself, momentarily more saintly.
Image Above: 'Singing' by Wayne Wolfson, (watercolor on paper)
CULTURE BUNKER ARCHIVE