Contrasts: Paul Hindemith and Ernst Toch

Hindemith and Toch on the New York Times

Ernst Toch and Paul Hindemith were initially ‘Terrible Twins’, though Hindemith was the younger, bolder and more mischievous. His sense of music’s possible ‘usefulness’ was more idealistic and he saw in this idea of ‘useful’ music, a genuine opportunity to change society for the better. Toch was older, more considered and sober than Hindemith. He avoided the obvious pitfalls of politicising music that allowed it to grandstand in order to sort out society’s problems. Hindemith was charismatic and urbane. His wife was half-Jewish and he played viola in a trio that consisted of Szymon Goldberg and Emanuel Feuermann. It’s hard to accuse Hindemith of anti-Semitism. On the other hand, he was supported by a large number of establishment figures, who post Hitler’s appointment, thought Hindemith was the perfect Aryan figure-head for the progressive image of National Socialism. Had Hindemith followed his common-sense rather than yield to his personal ambition, he would have avoided the compromises he was subsequently forced to make. There is correspondence in which he is complacent at the removal of Jewish colleagues and looks forward to the opportunities this inevitably will leave him. It was not to be. In 1936, despite efforts from Furtwängler – indeed, efforts that would cost him his position at the Nazis’ Reichsmusikkammer – Hindemith’s music was banned. He left Berlin and moved to Turkey under the auspices of official III Reich cultural sponsorship in order to build up Ankara’s music academy. Ultimately, however, his fate was sealed. His operas, especially ‘Sancta Susanna’ from 1922 with masturbatory, lesbian nuns, and ‘Neues vom Tage’ (1929) with the more sedate subject of couples being caught ‘in flagrante delicto’ in order to obtain a divorce, were far from the ‘Kinder-Kirche-Küche’ view of Germanic rectitude. During his years in Ankara, his music continued to be condemned in Germany as ‘Cultural Bolshevism’ leaving him no option but exile, first to Switzerland before ending up in America, teaching at Yale University. Toch, in contrast, landed in Hollywood in order to earn enough money to save friends and family. Hindemith’s output went from the ‘New Objectivity’ of the mid-1920s to ‘Noble Objectivity’ with the arrival of the III Reich. Works such as ‘Mathias der Mahler’, ‘Noblissima Visione’ and the Symphony in E Flat have an unapologetic profundity that he would have considered pompous during the heady years of the Weimar Republic. In the United States and far from the idiomatic resonance of his homeland, his music largely took on what I would call ‘isolated aridness’ – a condition that effected many exile-composers. Composing in the cultural vacuum of a country with different languages and traditions resulted in effectively composing in solitude. The only critic the composer needed to regard was himself. But it would be wrong to dismiss such works. Their existence is often the hollow sound of loneliness. At least Hindemith kept on composing – something that many others gave up as a lost cause in the uncomprehending countries where refuge had been found – such as Berthold Goldschmidt, as discussed in a previous article.