Vienna Symphony Orchestra
Date Written - 1946
Requiem 'For those we love'
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Hindemith's very close ties with the musical tradition amply account for the presence of a Requiem in his oeuvre. Surprising however is the fact that it is not based on the liturgical text of the mass for the dead, but on a text by the American poet Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892). Having already set to the music three poems by Walt Whitman as songs with piano accompaniment in 1919, Hindemith was very familiar with Whitman at the time of his work on the Requiem in 1946.
The composition of the Requiem was triggered by the death of President Roosevelt in April 1945 and by the end of World War II, which followed immediately thereafter. Hindemith possibly chose this text in view of the fact that Whitman had written his poem "When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom'd" in 1865 upon the assassination of President Lincoln, thus erecting a poetic memorial to this symbol of American unity. Hindemith saw a certain inner connection between these events. Perhaps Whitman particularly appealed to Hindemith because he so masterfully succeeded in interweaving the sorrows and the joys of life; but it was undoubtedly also important to him that the poetry was American, from the country which had now become his home. Hindemith conceived his Requiem in 12 sections, thus omitting some stanzas and texts from the original poem, which is in 16 sections. The poetic complexity of the illustrative motifs and themes underlines the music-dramatic structure and expressive range of the piece. In the center of these illustrative motifs is the song of the bird. Hindemith uses this image and theme like a thread to weave together the musical and dramatic structure of his work. At the end, the strands seem to intertwine in a melancholy closing piece as the song of the bird is elevated to the song of the artist and echoes his feelings and the events.
As in almost all of Hindemith's works, the various movements of the Requiem display an abundance of formal ideas. They range from recitative-like open forms to supple arioso structures, to compact, terse figures and to mighty, sweeping and yet rigorously constructed pieces. The latter can be illustrated by the "Introduction and Fugue" for chorus (No. 7). This piece can be considered as the axis of the Requiem by its central position, but at the same time as a grandiose climax in which Hindemith skillfully combines Whitman's remarkably illustrative poetry with his unique contrapuntal artistry. In this movement, Hindemith formulates a kind of hymn to America, an ode to the plentifulness and beauties of this country. But by casting this hymn in the form of a fugue, he also conjures up the recollection of the old country, his native land which gave birth to traditions but destroyed them as well. Hindemith wrote the first draft of his "Requiem" in the early part of 1946. The piano-vocal score was completed on 20 March; the fair copy of the score was ready exactly one month later, on 20 April. The work was premiered in New York on 5 May of the same year by the Shaw Chorale under the direction of
- Dieter Rexroth