DSO perform Paul Hindemith′s stirring ′Mathis der Maler′ symphony | Music | DW | 04.03.2011
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DSO perform Paul Hindemith's stirring 'Mathis der Maler' symphony

"Mathis der Maler" bridges two wars and two very different eras - as well as the lives of two artists separated by nearly five centuries.

A scene from the Isenheimer Altarpiece by Mathis Grünewald

The Isenheimer Altarpiece is now displayed in Colmar in eastern France

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)

Mathis der Maler, Symphony

Deutsches Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin

Conductor: Hans Graf

In Paul Hindemith's "Mathis der Maler" ("Mathis the Painter"), the composer narrates the story from the Isenheim Altarpiece's three panels in three movements. Written against the backdrop of World War II, it also creates a link between Hindemith's reaction to the war and that of the triptych's artist, Mathis Grünewald, to the Peasants' War of 1524.

Composed shortly before Hindemith fled Germany first for Switzerland and then the United States, the symphony is an adaptation of his opera of the same name. This performance by the DSO represents a homecoming for the piece. While the opera wasn't originally premiered until 1938, the symphony had its first performance by the Berliner Philharmoniker under Wilhelm Furtwängler in Berlin in 1934.

Each of its movements is named after a panel on Mathis's triptych. The first movement, "Angelic Concert," is the prelude from the operatic version. It borrows from a traditional German melody, "Es sungen drei Engel" ("Three Angels Sang") , and refers to a panel depicting angels playing musical instruments for the baby Jesus. The somber second movement, "Entombment," mirrors the panel depicting the burial of Christ. It closes with the third and movement, "The Temptation of St. Anthony," in which Anthony and Mathis are tormented by demons, but the music also suggests the possibility of redemption.

Author: Elaine Yeung
Editor: Greg Wiser

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