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About this Piece

After an early career as a very active violinist and violist, Paul Hindemith became one of the most prominent German composers of the interwar era. His often spikey musical style and irreverent spirit landed him on the Nazi’s “degenerate music” list, and he emigrated to Switzerland in 1938 and then to the U.S. in 1940.

Here he became something of a “grand old man” of music, teaching a host of distinguished students at Yale and other schools. His music after World War II tended toward deeply philosophical topics and a more reflective style, as in the opera Die Harmonie der Welt or the requiem When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.

He returned to Switzerland in 1953. His last chamber work, the Octet from 1958, was composed for members of the Berlin Philharmonic, and is self-consciously big, serious music for great players, with grand sonorities and complex counterpoint. It climaxes emotionally in the central slow movement, a deeply affecting elegy. From there Hindemith’s characteristic prewar sass comes to the fore in an athletic scherzo, followed by a tour de force Fugue and three “old-fashioned” dances; a Waltz, Polka, and Gallop. – John Henken