- 11 October, 2013
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When Schumann wrote his artless Scenes of Childhood in 1838 (Naxos 8.550784), he titled the short fourth movement “Pleading Child”. The final chord remains unresolved, suggesting that the child is gazing up at a parent, waiting for the answer to a question that never comes.
We wondered if some of the Naxos artists with new releases this month felt similarly quizzical vis-à-vis the composer represented on their disc; would they have liked to be able to put a couple of questions to that composer in person, were it possible to go back in time and do so?
Idil Biret’s latest release of all of Hindemith’s works for piano and orchestra or other forces (Naxos 8.573201-02) carries a resonance much deeper than the veneer of Turkish-pianist-meets-German-composer.
“I met Hindemith in the late 1950s during one of his visits to Paris,” Biret says. “Had I thought of it, the two questions I would have asked him would have been the following:
“Following a recommendation by Wilhelm Furtwängler, you were approached in Berlin in 1934 by the Turkish Embassy and invited to go to Turkey to make a study of classical music activities there and make recommendations. The German Culture Ministry also supported this request, which must have surprised you in view of the position you found yourself in at the time in Nazi Germany.
You then visited Turkey four times between 1935-1937 and wrote three reports totaling around 180 pages titled “Vorschläge für den Aufbau des türkischen Musiklebens” (Proposals for the organization of Turkish musical life). This led to fundamental reforms in the country leading to a vibrant activity in all areas of classical music which is unique in the world of Islam.
What made you accept this highly unusual invitation?”
We can only speculate as to what Hindemith’s answer might have been. Having been labeled as a degenerate composer by leading members of the Nazi regime, however, he may simply have felt inclined to apply his energies where they would be genuinely appreciated. As an indirect beneficiary of the reforms suggested by Hindemith and put into place by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first President of Turkey, Idil Biret has reason to count her blessings.
Hindemith’s statue stands at the entrance to the State Conservatory in Ankara, but the year before Biret was born, the composer had already relocated to America, despite a welcome mat being laid out for him by the Turkish government to stay. In contrast, Béla Bartók had petitioned to be admitted into Turkey, but bureaucratic delays and the worsening situation in his native Hungary encouraged him, too, to look towards the States.
Both composers arrived there in 1940 – Bartók landed in New York, Hindemith in New Haven, home to Yale University. Biret’s husband, Sefik Buyukyuksel, was a student there from 1964 to 1967, which provided the rationale for his suggestion that this month’s release should be performed by the Yale Symphony Orchestra and recorded in the university’s Woolsey Hall, “a sacred temple of music where I had attended many concerts during my years at Yale.”
All of which forms the backdrop to Biret’s second question for Hindemith:
“You went to the USA in 1940 and taught music theory at Yale University for 13 years, returning to Europe long after the war, in 1953. In the late 1930s there was an invitation from the Turkish government to come and stay in Turkey to help implement the proposals contained in your reports.
What made you decide (and prefer) to go to the United States?”
Far from the carnage of Europe’s warmongering, and with the country showering him with recognition, it was probably inevitable that America would come out on top of his list of options.
In 1953, Hindemith left the States to settle in Switzerland. Eight years later, he received a letter from the US President. The following extract gives substance to that sense of being appreciated and the continued, invaluable and largely unsung contributions he made to classical music, over and above his compositions:
“I am hopeful that this collaboration between the government and the arts will continue and prosper. Mrs Kennedy and I would be particularly interested in any suggestions you may have about the possible contributions the national government might make to the arts in America.
My wife joins me in extending best thanks and regards.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Hindemith’s death.
This disc marks Idil Biret’s 100th album release during a long career of recordings which started in Paris when she was only seventeen years old.