Music Well – Dosia McKay, Composer, Painter, Writer

Reflections on Art and Life

“Mathis der Maler”, Symphony by Paul Hindemith – Analysis

The following is a scholarly paper I wrote during my graduate studies at the New York University in the Fall of 2010, a requirement for professor Justin Dello Joio’s class “Compositional Process in the Symphony”.

The genesis of Paul Hindemith’s Symphony Mathis der Maler is not a straightforward one. Not only did Hindemith not conceive it as a symphonic work, he was not even interested in its subject proposed to him in 1932 by his publisher friend Willy Strecker and a music writer Franz Willms. Mathis der Maler was to be an opera based on the life of a German Renaissance painter Mathis Nithart (or Gothart), also known as Mathis Grünewald, but Hindemith could not quite picture a painter on the operatic stage and neither could his librettist Gottfried Benn.

The Mathis Grünewald idea was officially shelved and Hindemith’s attention was devoted instead to an opera depicting a love-affair between a French prisoner of war and a German girl entitled Étienne und Luise. But it was not meant to be. As Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany in 1933, it became clear that the pacifism and internationalism of Étienne und Luise were untimely.

Suddenly the idea of exploring the life of a German painter became more appealing, if not safer and prudent. Mathis der Maler opera was to be a temporary strategic move with hopes that Hitler’s regime would soon crumble, but as the Nazis began ostracizing the Jews (among them Hindemith’s wife and brother-in-law) and all who associated with them, the new opera grew to depict a personal struggle of the artist in the face of evil. The character of Mathis Grünewald came to represent the life of Hindemith and his attempt to reconcile the artistic, moral, and social integrity.

In the opera, the painter gives up his art to aid the peasants in their rebellion during the Peasant’s War (1524-1525), but as he becomes disillusioned with the uprising, he comes to realize that he has betrayed his chief calling – his art, which is later restored to him in a vision. The primary message of the opera is that the artist’s responsibility lies first to his art and that his foremost social and political obligation is fulfilled by tending to his craft.

That Hindemith sympathized with the character of Mathis is evident from the way he spoke about the painter at the opera’s premiere in Zürich in 1938:

“He is a human being blessed with the highest imaginable perfection and insight of his artistry, but tormented by all the hellish tortures of a doubting, seeking soul. This man, equipped with the susceptibility of such nature, experiences at the beginning of the 16th century the surge of a new era, with its inevitable disintegration of so-far valid views. Although he fully acknowledges the momentous artistic achievements of the emerging Renaissance, he nonetheless decides, in his own work, in favor of the definitive unfolding of the traditional. […] He gets caught in the powerfully working machinery of State and Church, and while his strength allows him to withstand the pressure of these forces, his paintings tell us vividly how the wild times with all their misery, their illnesses, and their wars unnerved him. How bottomless must have been the abyss of fickleness and despair that he navigated when, at the threshold of modern times, he gave intimate expression one more time to medieval piety […] and then turned to Lutheran Reformation. […] His death […] is, perhaps, the silent resignation before the futility of earthly works, perhaps the drowning under the impact of despair. But then again, perhaps it represents the ambling of a man to his grave, on an elevated, calm path—of a man who finally found the balance between the bliss and the terrors of his soul.” (1)

Yet the parallels of human search for meaning and direction reach even deeper and further into the centuries past. Twelve hundred years before Mathis Grünewald and sixteen centuries before Paul Hindemith, the Egyptian hermit and desert father, Antony, who became the inspiration for one of the altar panels painted by Grünewald, faced very similar struggles to those of the painter and the composer. Having answered the call to the ascetic life during his teenage years, he later found others questioning his path of solitude. His secluded dwelling was increasingly trespassed upon by young disciples who sought guidance in their spiritual path, proclaiming Antony the father of the hermit movement.

Antony struggled between the responsibility of mentorship and the fidelity to his early calling to ascetic life. The issue was further complicated by his supernatural and medicinal healing abilities and his growing ministry to persecuted Christians. He feared that the increasing immersion in the outside world would disturb his inner sanctum and jeopardize the purity of his soul.

Siglind Bruhn in her book The temptation of Paul Hindemith: Mathis der Maler as a spiritual testimony argues that all three men; Hindemith, Grünewald, and Antony find themselves in the predicament of “the hermit’s plight”, torn between social responsibility, their calling to perform the acts of healing (whether physical or artistic), and the desire to devote themselves to the solitude of their creative tasks.(2)

According to Vita Sancti Pauli written by St Jerome, Antony met his spiritual guide when he was ninety years old. Paul, an ascetic who lived in the desert for almost a century, reaffirmed Antony’s original calling telling him that God did not view his seclusion as an act of selfishness but rather as a fulfillment of divine destiny for which he was uniquely equipped. There are no historical records to confirm that a similar vindication was granted to Mathis Grünewald, or, for that matter, Hindemith, but in the opera the composer chooses to portray a parallel encounter for the painter, and if it can thus be inferred, also finds relief for himself.

Hindemith decided not to become involved in the Nazi conflict and chose the path of emigration (first to Switzerland and later to the United States) in order to disassociate himself from the major political force as well as from the resistance movement. Although some of his critics called his decision self-serving, and perhaps elitist, it is possible to imagine his inner conflict and motivation in the light of his artistic calling. If the composer lacked in guidance from an immediate mentor, he found one in Paul the hermit and rested his nightmares and temptations with St Antony and Mathis Grünewald.

Before the opera was completed, Hindemith was asked for a new orchestral piece by Wilhelm Furtwängler. Not wanting to divert his attention away from the project, Hindemith decided to expand on the Grünewald concept and embellish the drama with instrumental interludes based on the panels from the painter’s Isenheim Altarpiece. Thus were born the Engelkonzert (Concert of Angels), Grablegung (Entombment), and Versuchung des heiligen Antonius (The Temptation of St Antony) which together formed the symphonic work Mathis der Maler.

Fig. 1 – Annunciation – inspiration for Engelkonzert (Concert of Angels).


Fig. 2 – Lamentation of Christ – inspiration for Grablegung (Entombment).


Fig. 3 – The Meeting of Saint Antony with Paul the Hermit, Temptation of Saint Antony – inspiration for Versuchung des heiligen Antonius (The Temptation of St Antony).

Mathis der Maler Symphony was premiered by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra on March 12, 1934 and performed a few times the same year in Germany and abroad. Although it was well received, due to the growing Nazi campaign against Hindemith resulting in his dismissal from the Berlin’s Hochschule and emigration to Switzerland, it was not heard again until the end of the Second World War.

It is ironic that Mathis der Maler Symphony was deemed anti-German by the Nazis. From the stylistic standpoint, as a tonal work reviving the German symphonic tradition, with a nationalistic focus, and use of folk melodies, it should have been a model work of a Third Reich composer. Yet its melodic and post-romantic sound palette puts it in the category with other European works of 1930s by such composers as Stravinsky, Bartók, Schoenberg, and Shostakovich who reacted in their music against totalitarianism.

Movement 1 – Engelkonzert

Thematic Material

Mathis Grünewald’s panel Engelkonsert depicts three angels playing and singing to the newborn Christ and his mother. The painting served as an inspiration for the first movement of the Symphony, also functioning as the prelude to the opera. Here Hindemith chose to quote an eight-bar folk melody Es sungen drei Engel ein süssen Gesang (Three Angles Sang a Sweet Song).


Fig. 4 – Es sungen drei Engel ein süssen Gesang (Three Angles Sang a Sweet Song).

The theme appears for the first time in the trombones in m. 8, then is restated in m. 15 in low woodwinds and brass, and finally climaxes in m. 23 in upper woodwinds and trumpet, each time juxtaposed against the contrapuntal layers of strings in octaves.

The Three-Angels theme does not reappear until m. 230, where it again proceeds in a tri-fold presentation, all the more striking by contrapuntal layering of all themes, holding fast to its individual meter of 3/2 against 2/2 of all other voices, ushering the primary climax of the entire movement. The Three-Angels theme with its narrow melodic contour and a slow, steady pulse does not venture very far outside of the tonal idiom, oscillating between a major tonal center and its relative minor, modulating at the end of the phrase to a closely related key. For example, in the first appearance (mm. 8-32) it is presented in DbM / Bbm, modulates to FM/Dm, and modulates again to DM/F#m.

The first movement features three other themes, which, given the context of the work, I will refer to as Angel 1, Angel 2, and Angel 3.


Fig. 5 – Theme “Angel 1”.

Angel 1 theme appears for the first time in m. 39 in the flute doubled by violins. It is most frequently stated in its truncated form featuring only its first segment (a). Its light and playful nature is emphasized by the woodwind and string orchestration and contrapuntal texture whether as a primary or a secondary voice. Its harmonic leaning suggests modality, most frequently the Lydian or Mixolydian mode.


Fig. 6 – Theme “Angel 2”.

Angel 2 theme is introduced in m. 98 in violins. Like Angel 1, Angel 2 outlines the Lydian mode and appears frequently in contrapuntal textures.


Fig. 7 – Theme “Angel 3”.

Angel 3 theme is featured for the first time in m. 135. It is unique in that it is stated only twice (again in m. 291), both times on the flute as the primary voice with a sparse string accompaniment. It is not modal, but rather exhibits extended tonality. As in the previous two themes, its melodic contour is playful and light in nature.

Formal Design

Engelkonzert’s formal design reflects a binary structure:

  • Exposition – Link
  • Development – Link
  • Coda.

The tri-fold statement of the Three-Angels theme in mm. 1-38 serves as an introduction and the opening of the Exposition. Following are the three Angel themes in succession, each presented individually, Angel 1 (mm. 39-97), Angel 2 (mm. 98-134), and Angel 3 (135-153).

The Development section is ushered in m. 169 where the individual themes begin to intertwine in contrapuntal gestures, first Angel 1 and Angel 2 (mm. 169-229), then Three-Angels, Angel 1, and Angel 2 (mm. 230-290). This segment marks the climax of the entire movement in m. 256 which lies at 75% measured by the proportion of bar numbers and 71% measured by the length of time (as performed by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Herbert Blomstedt, Polygram Records 1990).

In mm. 291-314 Angel 3 returns in the same manner it was introduced in mm. 135-153. It is again stated by the flute with a sparse string accompaniment in homophonic texture. Because of its individuality and refrain-like function, I interpret it as a link between the Exposition and Development, and between the Development and the Coda.

The Coda (mm. 315-342), too short and too meager to be considered a Recapitulation, brings back Angel 1 and Angel 2.

The formal design of Engelkonzert with its binary structure and the arch form with the chief climax in Development at 71/75%, the establishment of the tonality of GM, the departure, and the subsequent return to it, relies on historical practices of the Baroque and Classical era. The individual treatment of Angel 3, its unique solo instrumentation and a sparse homophonic accompaniment in contrast with the remaining sections bring to mind the concept of concerto grosso, or perhaps hint at a rondo.

However, it would be too indiscriminate to interpret the structure of Engelkonzert as a sonata allegro. The developmental techniques used by Hindemith are purely fugal. The themes do not undergo a development in a Classical, free-style transformative sense, but rather they are restated in transpositions, inversions, augmentations, truncations, imitations, and contrapuntal juxtapositions. Hindemith gives preference to the polyphonic texture, and, save for the clarinet and orchestral bells, his instrumentation is purely Baroque. This is not surprising, as Hindemith was a great proponent, researcher, and a student of early music performance practices.

(Fig. 8 DIAGRAM – missing. I will upload it if I can locate it.)

The harmonic language of Engelkonzert with its frequent employment of modality also suggests a leaning toward Renaissance and Baroque, yet it is modality redefined, pushing the boundaries of the post-romantic idiom, frequently juxtaposing bi-tonal settings, often flavored with chromaticism and quartal harmonies. The sound palette of Hindemith is focused and elegant, pleasing, yet full of unexpected flavors.

Movement 3 – Versuchung des heiligen Antonius

Thematic Material

The final movement of the symphony is the only one not incorporated into the opera. It depicts tormenting visions of St Antony which feature demons, deformed humans, reptiles, and fish-like creatures, and seduction of Ursula (Mathis’ lover), but ends with a triumphant Alleluia which corresponds to the song of praise in the opera after St. Paul reaffirms St Antony’s true calling.

The introductory theme (A) with the divisions of triplets, quintuplets, sixtuplets, and ninetuplets in octaves exhibits an improvisatory – ad libitum feel. The opening 9-measure long phrase is repeated a perfect fifth above with a trailing extension consisting of the sextuplet motive (m. 16). The melodic line of the theme consists mostly of minor thirds, minor seconds (hexatonic scale), and perfect fourths, lacking a tonal center. The opening theme (A) never returns in its entirety, but echoes of its arching melodic contour and the intervallic structure reverberate throughout the movement. For example, the trailing sextuplet figure of m. 16, 17, and 18 in the strings can be heard again in the flute in m. 84, in the cello in m. 229, and in horns in m. 353.

Fig. 9 – Traces of theme (A) throughout the third movement.

Theme (B) is introduced in m. 19 in strings and bassoon in octaves. Its first two measures are restated by the cello in m. 27 and m. 30, and the entire theme returns in m. 36 in woodwinds and strings in octaves. The first three measures are restated in m. 51 in clarinet and horn before the entire theme makes a comeback in m. 59 in brass, thus rounding off three full appearances in this section, each one with the tonal center of C#.


Fig. 10 – Theme (B)

Theme (B), like theme (A) draws from the same intervallic pool of minor thirds, minor seconds, and perfect fourths, but unlike its predecessor it gravitates to a strong tonal center, reinforced by a homorhythmic accompaniment with preference for quintal and quartal harmonies, sometimes embellished with a triton. Theme (B) returns again in m. 376, this time without the accompaniment of the homorhythmic texture but with a constant flow of sixteenth notes in violins. It is first stated in C#, but later modulates to Eb (m. 383), C# (m. 394), Eb (m. 400), and F (m. 403). Even so, it is juxtaposed against a sustained thrill in upper woodwinds, the flow of sixteenth notes in violins and another contrapuntal layer in lower strings, each gravitating to their own tonal center, thus rendering the tonality of theme (B) inconspicuous.

Theme (C) resembles theme (B) in that it remains in the tonal center of C# and the same meter and tempo with its pulsating triplet feel. Its melodic contour is limited to seconds and thirds. It appears only twice in this section (never to return again), first in the oboe, then in flute, oboe, and clarinet in parallel fourths, both times in counterpoint to theme (E).

Fig. 11 – Theme (C)

Theme (D) consists of the characteristic three-note upward motive comprising the intervals of perfect fourth and minor sixth. It first appears in clarinet in m. 102 and then is scattered throughout the upper woodwinds and finally in the brass beginning in m. 134. Like Theme (C), theme (D) is accompanied by the contrapuntal accompaniment of theme (E), but in contrast, theme (D) veers away from the tonal center of C#, constantly modulating.

Fig. 12 – Theme (D)

Theme (E) with its propelling triplet figure of quarter note followed by an eight note is a subordinate contrapuntal theme to themes (C) and (D). It is more frequently stated in its three variants:


Fig. 13 – Theme (E)

As the fugato progresses, theme (E) reuses the elements of each variant but loses its distinguishing opening perfect fourth dip and becomes a mere contrapuntal texture whose traces continue up until m. 190.

Theme (F) is introduced in m. 141. It unexpectedly breaks the polyphony of the previous themes with its homorhythmic and homophonic texture. Its stepwise melodic contour resembles themes (B) and (C). Its harmonic language draws from extended tonality and modulates frequently, gravitating toward major keys. The full theme consists of two segments, of which the first one is most frequently heard.


Fig. 14 – Theme (F)

Theme (F) is prominently stated in two sections of the movement (mm. 141-192 and 235-351) in various instrumentations, augmentations, modulations, and syncopations. It is also unexpectedly woven at the end of the lyrical cello theme in m. 203 and in violins in m. 218-219.

Theme (G) is introduced in m. 195 in cello and returns one more time in m. 306 in viola. In contrast to all previous themes it is deeply lyrical and with a wide melodic contour. It appears for the first time in the pivotal slow section of the movement and it is woven against a calm and very sparse accompaniment of strings. In its chromaticism, it lacks a persistent tonal center, albeit the harmonic underpinning of quartal sonorities seeks to focus its meanderings, yet it fails to do so, as the harmonies constantly shift. This instability is one of the most alluring moments of the entire movement, and rightly so as the theme is derived from the vision in the opera in which Mathis’ lover Ursula appears as a seductress. When theme (G) is restated in viola in m. 306, it is played at double the speed with a frantic texture in the woodwinds and strings, completely shifting its character.


Fig. 15 – Theme (G)

Theme (H) opens the Coda in m. 407 with a lively outburst. The fast sequence of the eight notes makes it impossible to clearly delineate the length and proportion of the theme, but its frequent repetitions (eight times) in the strings against other thematic material create a fugato texture.


Fig. 16 – Theme (H)

Theme (I) is introduced in m. 429 in clarinet, then appears in a duet with horn, and later with horn alone. With a short break the theme loops up until m. 518. It creates another layer of the playful fugato of the Coda. With its preference for thirds and seconds, theme (I) is reminiscent of themes (B) and (C), but its origins are directly derived from the melodic contour of the opening gesture of the first bar of the movement.


Fig. 17 – Theme (I)


Fig. 18 – The opening gesture of the third movement

Yet another layer of the fugato is introduced in m. 467, theme (J) Lauda Sion Salvatorem, a Latin sequence for Corpus Christi – a Catholic hymn expressing praise to God for the elements of the Eucharist and affirming the doctrine of transubstantiation. The sequence appears in augmentation in the upper woodwinds as the fugato continues in the brass and the strings.


Fig. 19 – Theme (J) – Lauda Sion Salvatorem

With its transformative power, the sequence gives way to an all-brass homorhythmic chorale of Alleluia derived from Begegnung des Antonius mit dem Eremiten Paulus. In the opera, it appears after St Paul reaffirms St Antony’s original calling. It is a song of praise and celebration. In contrast to the chromaticism of all previous themes, the modality of theme (K) (Alleluia) is striking. Its exclusive focus on the brass section is immensely powerful and satisfying, and the common practice voice leading creates a sense of order and finality.


Fig. 20 – Theme (K) Alleluia

Formal Design

The third movement of Mathis der Maler Symphony is structured as a ternary (A-B-A). The Introduction (mm. 1-18) and the Exposition (mm. 19-140) together form segment A of the ternary, which introduces the primary thematic material (themes A, B, C, D, and E). The Exposition establishes the movement’s tonal center of C#, prepared by the Introduction in which the opening theme is first stated on Ab and then on Eb. (implying the dominant of the main key, C# = Db). Within the first segment of the ternary, Hindemith also displays the homophonic, homorhythmic, and polyphonic textures, all to be used in symmetrical proportion throughout the rest of the movement.

Segment B (mm. 141-375) of the ternary features a new thematic material, introducing themes (F) and (G). Because it completely departs from the material of the Exposition, it cannot be considered a Development in the sense of a sonata allegro. I therefore labeled it as Departure. However, the developmental techniques are very much at work throughout the entire segment but they are strictly limited to theme (F) and (G) which have created their own ternary within the segment delineated by the fast-slow-fast subsections and the symmetrical changes in textures. Overall segment B functions as a departure from the thematic material of segment A, dissolution of the tonal center of C#, and relieving the tension with the introduction of the central slow subsection (mm. 193-234).

(Fig. 21 DIAGRAM – missing. I will upload it if I can locate it.)

The closing segment A of the ternary structure is a Recapitulation of the thematic material of the opening segment A. Theme (B) returns, this time transformed by the polyphonic texture, and so does theme (A) in the disguise of theme (I). Not surprisingly, the overall climax of the movement is ushered by the return of theme (B) around m. 405 which lies at 75% measured by the proportion of bar numbers and 83% measured by the length of time (as featured on the previously mentioned recording).

The Recapitulation segment of the ternary also brings back a fugato, albeit constructed with different themes, and even the opening homorhythmic texture, although in a new context. Most importantly, however, the final segment prepares the return of the tonal center C# (= Db) through its dominant Ab at the opening of the Coda in m. 407. When the Alleluia chorale arrives at Db, despite the novelty of the melodic line and the striking freshness of unaccompanied brass chorus, there is no mistaking it for anything else but the final grandiose and immensely satisfying resolution. Perhaps this is the true climax of the movement since the climax of theme (B) in m. 405 seems too restrained and misfired with its untimely cut of the melodic line in which the trumpet begins to reiterate theme (F) but is abruptly silenced. Although the score does not specify it, the recording features a caesura here, amplifying the lack of closure. With the entrance of the fugato of the Coda, one hopes that the fulfillment lies ahead, and the Alleluia does not disappoint.

The overall formal design of the Versuchung des heiligen Antonius exhibits a well planned symmetry, not only on the fundamental ternary level, but also in its subsections. Each segment of the ternary consists of three sub-segments. In addition, the tempo map features a palindrome design in which the fast sections are separated by and book-ended by slow ones.

Developmental Techniques

The developmental techniques featured in the third movement resemble those of the first movement. Hindemith relies very much on the contrapuntal treatment of the themes, almost as if they were subjects of a fugue. He restates them without development, transposes them, truncates, augments, or scatters in a fugato texture. The only significant means of propelling of the forward motion of movement are the changes in the accompanying texture and orchestration, such that the themes never appear in the same setting.

Hindemith varies the textures from homorhythmic, through homophonic, and polyphonic, but their implementation is very conservative in that he shifts within larger blocks, often coinciding with changes in instrumentation, producing a conservative orchestral sound. Likewise, his treatment of orchestral choirs is very square such that the voicings are usually delineated along the lines of the instrumental families often in antiphonal calls and responses.

All the above-mentioned characteristics tend to evoke the stylistic influences of the Baroque and Classical periods. In this context, the slow section (mm. 193-234) is all the more striking as Hindemith presents the strings (especially Violin 1 in m. 216) in multiple divisi parts, evoking a sound reminiscent of such late Romantics a Ralph Vaughan Williams or Richard Strauss.

Stylistic Influences

Hindemith’s music influences are varied. His early musical roots are late Romantic. His first composition teacher Arnold Mendelssohn, a great-nephew of Felix Mendelssohn, was dedicated to reviving the German Protestant music. Later he studied with a modernist composer Bernhard Sekles and under his tutelage Hindemith explored the influences of Brahms, Dvorák, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Reger, Schreker, Schoenberg and Richard Strauss. His own works from this period exhibit opulent late Romantic harmonic language which he later renounced and attacked.

In 1920s Hindemith experimented with his own brand of expressionism. He expanded his harmonic language beyond the limits of tonality and expanded his orchestral palette, yet at the same time explored two-voice polyphonies and remained faithful to the traditional formal designs, such as sonata form and variations.

Hindemith also became associated with the New Objectivity movement and began preferring the linear polyphonic idiom, abandoning formal coherence, thematic development, and tonal harmony in favor of metrically uniform structure, pulsating meter, irregular accents, dissonance, and independence of the voices.

In parallel, as a performer, Hindemith played violin and later viola in a string quartet, which often performed works by such composers as Bartók, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern, Kurt Weill, Philipp Jarnach, Ernst Krenek, Ernst Toch, Alois Hába and Hans Pfitzner. His discovery of the viol and viola d’amore during this period stimulated his interest in early music of which he became a student, practitioner, and a proponent. His works began to exhibit a neo-Baroque characteristics, employing tonality colored by modality. Mathis der Maler belongs to this stream.

Inasmuch as Hindemith was willing to experiment in certain areas, he was adamant and dogmatic about others. Of the Schonberg’s 12-tone technique he said: “What is art in this technique was already art beforehand, without it, and can continue to be so after it. The technique as such does not create any works of art.”(3) He described himself as skeptical of progress and “profoundly unmodern”.(4) Yet his works had a wide appeal and during the American period (1940-1953) his fame grew not only in the United States, but back in Europe.

In compositional circles his star rose and faded. At first he created a following of students at Yale, but later on, as stylistic expectations changed, he was marginalized by the avant garde, especially as his criticism of new techniques became more intense. When the new music enthusiasts at the Darmstadt summer courses had described his recent compositions as “old iron”, he responded, “It is an honor to belong with the ‘old iron’. Music history is full of old iron, and it was always more durable than new bullshit’ (unpublished letter to Schott, 29 July 1949).(5)

In spite of the ever-shifting musical styles and the battle between the old and the new, the legacy of Hindemith remains. Upon his death, he was recognized as the greatest musician of his time. As a teacher, he influenced a generation of American composers, including Samuel Adler, Norman Dello Joio, Lukas Foss, and William P. Perry. In 1968 the Hindemith Foundation was established in order to encourage the study of his compositional output. His works have enjoyed multiple performances, as his eclectic style tends to appeal to wider audiences.

Mathis der Maler is Hindemith’s credo, his mission statement, his own libretto to the opera of his life, and a legacy to other composers and artists. His music continues to speak to the importance of remaining faithful to one’s artistic calling amidst distractions and criticism. Pursuing one’s art is not selfish or cowardly, it is one’s duty and destiny.

(1) Paul Hindemith, “Zur Einführung”, in Textheft zur Uraufführung im Stadttheater Zürich am 28. Mai 1938, pp. 3-5. (Translation Siglind Bruhn)
(2) Siglind Bruhn, The temptation of Paul Hindemith: Mathis der Maler as a spiritual testimony. (Pendragon Press, 1998), xv
(3) Ian Kemp, “Preface”, Paul Hindemith, Mathis Der Maler Symphony. Ernst Eulenburg Ltd., 1984.
(4) Ibid.
(5) Ibid.


Bruhn, Siglind. The temptation of Paul Hindemith: Mathis der Maler as a spiritual testimony. Pendragon Press, 1998.

Giselher, Schubert. “Hindemith, Paul.” In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online, (accessed November 27, 2010).

Hindemith, Paul. “Zur Einführung”, in Textheft zur Uraufführung im Stadttheater Zürich am 28. Mai 1938, pp. 3-5. (Translation Siglind Bruhn)

Kemp, Ian. “Preface”, Paul Hindemith, Mathis der Maler Symphony. Ernst Eulenburg Ltd., 1984.

©2010 Dosia McKay. If you intend to copy any portion of my work, please cite me in the credits/bibliography. To fail to do so would be to plagiarize.


3 comments on ““Mathis der Maler”, Symphony by Paul Hindemith – Analysis

  1. Pingback: Episodes from a Symphony – Allegro Vinyl

  2. imaniword
    March 24, 2022

    I appreciate your essay and detailed musical analysis. I’ve enjoyed the symphony since first hearing it back in the late 1980’s, but wasn’t aware of the message behind it and its historical context.

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