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Friday, November 23 • 17:00 - 18:00
Viola Mania - Hindemith's black comedy "Der Bratschenfimmel"

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A brief summary of this black comedy; Abdul is a bank clerk with a deep hatred for his boss, devising an especially gruesome way to kill him. Finally he hits on the solution: death by modern music, deciding, “I will unlearn how to do everything I ever learned how to do on the viola”, “I will practice ‘anti-viola playing’ until my viola playing is so terrible it becomes lethal.” As the play goes on, increasing numbers of people die, each from a more ludicrous and hilarious cause than the previous, all triggered by the anti-viola playing. The soundtrack to Der Bratschenfimmel is horrifyingly bad playing of Hindemith’s own viola sonatas, to very amusing effect.
Paul Hindemith: a humorous, light-hearted composer who was also a radical playwright. Can it be true? Humour and Hindemith might not be synonymous in the popular imagination, but countless compositions, plays and artworks from his early years are testament to his mischievous and eccentric personality.
It seems surprising that his instrument of choice from the tender age of 24 was the viola. In the midst of a successful career as a solo, chamber and orchestral violinist, Hindemith served a mandatory period at the front during World War I, and almost immediately afterwards took the plunge and switched to the viola. It was a mere ten weeks before he began work on his first composition for the instrument, the Sonata op.11 no.4. Hindemith’s official public debut as a violist took place just a few months later in Frankfurt on 2 June 1919, in a concert dedicated solely to his own compositions, including his String Quartet op.10 with the Rebner Quartet and the premiere of his Viola Sonata op.11 no.4.

Violists will be familiar with several of Hindemith’s serious viola compositions from his early period: the two sonatas for viola and piano, op.11 no.4 (1919) and op.25 no.4 (1922), and the three sonatas for solo viola op.11 no.5 (1919), op.25 no.1 (1922) and op.31 no.4 (1923). His less serious compositional, literary and artistic pursuits from this time, however, are less familiar. The unknown treasure from this period is undoubtedly the play Der Bratschenfimmel (Viola Mania), the last of eight so-called Dramatic Masterworks written by Hindemith for his Urian Club between 1913 and 1920, intended for performance by Hindemith and his friends in their homes. In a letter to close friends on 28 December 1913 Hindemith wrote of the formation of the club, established solely for the performance of his Dramatic Masterworks, mentioning the members not by name but by nationality: ‘Three are Swiss and the rest German.’ Hindemith’s friend Albert Linder, a musically enlightened bank official who lived in Frankfurt, was certainly a member, and Der Bratschenfimmel is dedicated to him.

It is likely that Linder was a member of the club almost from the start, since one of the first plays, Der verschleierte Raub (The Veiled Robbery), dates from 1914 and features Linder in the lead role. Linder is in fact the dedicatee of three of Hindemith’s eight Dramatic Masterworks. The next play dedicated to Linder, Ein neues Traumspiel: Abdul Rednils Träumereien (A New Dream Play: Abdul Rednil’s Dreams) was written in 1916– 17. The protagonist is clearly named after Linder, whose nickname was ‘Abdul’, and whose surname spelt backwards is ‘Rednil’. This play re-enacts a quartet rehearsal that ends in a terrible fight and a collection of instruments being broken. The crazy scenes include the performers playing string quartets by a Russian composer in the music salon of Abdul’s wigwam and Queen Cleopatra arriving on an elephant. The play Winter (1919) recounts a Rebner Quartet rehearsal during a bitterly cold winter after World War I – and the bizarre events continue, as a picture of Brahms plummets to the floor and everyone except for Adolf Rebner (Hindemith’s violin teacher) ends up freezing to death.

It is thought that Der Bratschenfimmel was performed privately in one of the Urian Club members’ homes, but there is no extant documentation to confirm this. All eight Dramatic Masterworks focus either directly or indirectly on music, although none of the texts has a score. Under strict instructions from Hindemith, his Viola Sonata op.11 no.5 can be heard being performed appallingly throughout Der Bratschenfimmel.
The play is in four acts, with a quirky cast list and some truly bizarre settings, including a shop supplying articles of death, sales, procurement and advice (including testimonials from distinguished murderers); in front of the Affenstein (site of the old lunatic asylum); a room in Bornheim (known as the ‘Merry Village’ since it was in the red light district); and, last but not least, the toilet at the Cooperative Bank.

The main gist of the plot is that Abdul Linder, a dissatisfied, vengeful and not altogether sane bank official, concocts the elaborate and grotesque murder of his boss, the bank manager, by anti-viola playing – performing Hindemith’s own compositions so appallingly that the sound causes death to the listener. At various intervals throughout the play, heinous extracts from Hindemith’s Viola Sonata op.11 no.5 can be heard being scraped obsessively – these are Abdul’s crazed attempts to commit murder.

Act One begins with Abdul standing before a picture of his hated boss whining petulantly about his lot in life: ‘Thanks to the bank I am totally ill. I could leave. But then this play would not come to be written. Such a misfortune I must prevent. Abdul Linder – that’s me – remains alive. And desires to give Paul his chance to have his fling. My forbearance gives way to anger. My angelic patience and almost fairy-tale graciousness finally gives way. Long live vengeance!’ The act continues with Abdul seeking his perfect method of murder. When he finally stumbles upon an advertisement for 10,000 violas, divine inspiration takes over.

Act Two begins with Abdul standing in front of the old lunatic asylum pontificating on his chosen method for killing: ‘A terrible way to die – by “anti-viola playing”. I must practise till my fingers fall off; I must practise as long as it takes to unlearn the viola, until my skill has reached the point of absolute zero, and from this low point I must study anti-viola playing long enough to gain a superhuman perfection – only then can I attack my manager effectively. I must buy countless violas, for no one instrument can survive this manner of practising. A new one must replace it every half an hour.’ The remainder of the act reveals the extent of Abdul’s fixation with the task at hand as he cajoles, bullies and bribes various people to give him violas – a midwife, an old man, Julius Caesar and even a lady in the street with a viola case in her hand.

Act Three opens with Abdul talking to himself at home: ‘I want to be the anti-viola playing Paganini, even if my neighbours perish in droves in the process!’ He then talks joyfully about the wonderful violas he has acquired: ‘This one too is special; an Amati, costing 250 marks. Here is a Klotz. A credit to its maker and it costs almost as much as a pound of ham. That is only a selection. The pearl is undoubtedly the midwife’s viola.’

Abdul begins bumping off visitors, friends and even his cat with his appalling anti-viola playing, while exclaiming maliciously to all and sundry: ‘Here is something beautiful for you to hear: the latest sonata by my friend Paul Hindemith, who also wrote this thriller. With the help of this difficult piece I will become the greatest anti-viola player.’

In Act Four, Abdul stands laden with violas, music and a music stand in front of a toilet at the Cooperative Bank and recites a soliloquy:
‘What is life? A W.C.
Fate, making use of it, presses man
To its bright light and with clear eyes he sees
The wide basin of life spread out before him.
He plunges in with a bold leap,
Traversing the world impulsively.
Nevertheless life has but a short span.
Fate pulls the chain in question,
Death comes in the f

avatar for Anthony Hewitt

Anthony Hewitt

Pianist, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
Anthony Hewitt is regarded as one of Britain’s most gifted pianists, and, since winning the prestigious William Kapell Competition in Washington D.C., has enjoyed a prolific performing career spanning two decades, including concerto appearances with the National Symphony Orchestra... Read More →
avatar for Louise Lansdown

Louise Lansdown

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
Louise Lansdown was appointed Head of Strings at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in 2012. Louise is the founder of the Cecil Aronowitz International Viola Competition and Festival, launched at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in October 2014, as well as being the founder and President... Read More →
avatar for Lucy Nolan

Lucy Nolan

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
Dublin-born Lucy enjoys a busy career as a chamber musician and teacher. She moved to England in 2004 and graduated with highest honours from the Royal Northern College of Music. Lucy is a founding member of the Eblana String Trio and frequently guests with a number of Britain's leading... Read More →
avatar for Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Viola Class

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Viola Class

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire has a firmly established reputation for its outstanding violadepartment, partly due to its close links with the British and International Viola Societies. In 2014,the inaugural Cecil Aronowitz International Viola Competition and Festival took place inBirmingham... Read More →

Friday November 23, 2018 17:00 - 18:00 CET
Hofplein Rotterdam, Main Theatre Benthemstraat 13, 3032 CC Rotterdam, Netherlands