Amor und Psyche (Farnesina)

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            Subtitled, “Overture to a ballet for orchestra,” this delightful composition was composed during World War II (1943) and given its world première by the Philadelphia Orchestra.  The “Farnesina” in the title refers to the marvelous early sixteenth-century Renaissance villa in the center of Rome, built by the powerful Chigi family, bankers to the Vatican.  It later became the property of the Farnese family, hence the name.   What is artistically significant about the reference by Hindemith are the frescos by Raphael in the loggia depicting the myths of Amor and Psyche.

            Hindemith is without question one of the most significant composers of the first half of the twentieth century, and one who stands almost alone in the breadth of his achievement.   He espoused a musical philosophy that was founded in deep reverence of discipline, musicality, craftsmanship, mastery and respect for past musical traditions, and commitment to the education and training of students.  He composed in almost every musical genre, and while certainly a “modern” composer, whose compositions explore a shifting degree of dissonance, his works draw upon almost every genre and compositional technique in music history.  He emphasized fundamentals of musicianship for all, and demonstrated that in his pedagogical works and in his own formidable performance skills.   He wrote as solicitously and appropriately for young children as he did for professional performers. Trained primarily as a violinist—later switching to viola—he played in professional string quartets, and remarkably taught himself to play credibly on most of the orchestral instruments, the better to compose the series of solo sonatas that he wrote for most of them.

            During the thirties he fell into disfavor with the Nazi government and emigrated, ultimately taking a position at Yale University in 1940, became an American citizen, and established an influential career as a teacher of theory and composition—even leading the early music ensemble.  His music—though part of the standard repertoire of the century--was viewed as somewhat passé by the young Turks of the fifties, and he ultimately retired to a small village in Switzerland, where he lived until his death in 1963. Never a controversial figure, he was the epitome of a solid musical citizen of genius who cultivated a dedicated artistic engagement with his public.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2015 William E. Runyan