Culture Music

Celebrating Hindemith’s 125th

November 2020 marks 125 years since the birth of the German composer Paul Hindemith. To celebrate this anniversary, a series of recitals will be held at Pembroke College, Oxford. I got in touch with second-year music student Reuben Tendler, who is organising the festival.

What was your inspiration behind this festival? Why Hindemith in particular?

Hindemith was a unique composer; his music was and still is novel in its approach to technical problems and musical character. Far from being exclusive, however, Hindemith saw his music as having a broader social function outside of being listened to. He developed a method of teaching music, wrote textbooks to be used in schools, and wrote pieces for each classical instrument so that everyone could have the opportunity to play and understand challenging music. This ethos is what inspired the festival. Hindemith wrote dozens of these solo sonatas, meaning that the range of instruments playing at the festival is wider than typical college recitals. Not only does this allow some of the university’s greatest musicians to showcase their often under-appreciated instruments, but it also introduces audiences to new musical experiences.

Another famous composer celebrates a big birthday this year – Beethoven’s 250th! How do the two compare?

“Beethoven and Hindemith may seem to have a lot in common upon first glance – both being German composers – but to me, the similarity stops there. Beethoven’s music is very blocky, and constricted to structure, whereas in Hindemith’s music, multiple melodies and chord sequences are allowed to travel both with and against each other. The festival aims to be a cultural countersubject to what I believe are excessive celebrations of Beethoven’s 250th anniversary; 125 being half of 250 seems quite fitting! No other celebratory concerts for Hindemith seem to be occurring this year, so I feel it is my duty as a musician to spread his marvellous music.

What can we expect to hear at the festival? Who will be performing?

“The festival consists of five concerts, each containing two sonatas played by different people. The sonatas have been paired up to provide a good amount of contrast in musical style, length, mood, type of instrument, and how well known the piece is. This should create some really interesting and unusual combinations. For example, we have the Violin Sonata in E major, a slow, calm piece, back-to-back with the Piano Sonata for Four Hands, which has a frantic, exhilarating second movement. The first recital, however, will just be one soloist, the double bassist Sam Hopkins, playing music by both Hindemith and Bach. I think this will be a great introduction to the festival and to Hindemith’s world of music, as he was greatly inspired by Bach and his way of composing. Most of the performers are students, some are staff, and a few are members of the Oxford musical community. It is great to see that this love of Hindemith’s music stretches beyond the Faculty of Music.”

What works by Hindemith would you recommend to someone listening to his music for the first time?

“Whilst having a bit of a chunky title, the first and second movements of ‘Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber’ are a great introduction to Hindemith’s style – it plays around themes by a previous German composer, adding a modern sharpness and wit. For a taste of what’s to come in the festival, the Harp Sonata is a lovely listen.”

Do you have a personal favourite?

I love the Trombone Sonata – but then I would, since I’ll be playing it in the festival!

How can people access the festival? Will it be virtual, real-life – or both?

“Both! Recitals will on Tuesdays at 13:10 from the 27th October to the 24th November in the Pichette Auditorium in Pembroke College, and will last around 30-40 minutes – perfect for enriching a lunch-break! Due to social distancing, however, live audience numbers will be strictly limited. They will also be streamed online via the Festival’s and Pembroke College Music Society’s Facebook pages. The whole festival is free to watch and listen to!

What other musical ventures have you been involved in whilst at Oxford?

As a trombonist, I have been playing with the university Wind Orchestra and Brass Band, which has been great fun. I also very much enjoyed playing the accordion in a couple of theatre productions!

Is there any advice that you’d give to someone wanting to put on a music festival/event in Oxford?

I would say that the best thing to do is just to email people who run the venues and have the power to put on and fund events. More often than not these people are waiting for ideas to come to them, and so will jump at the chance of any student initiative.

This is part of The Oxford Blue Culture team’s ‘Meet the Creatives’, a series of interviews with the amazing members of Oxford’s creative community.

Katie Bunney

Katie Bunney (she/her) is the Music Editor at The Oxford Blue. She is a saxophonist and third-year music student at St. Catherine's College.