To a casual listener, this constructivist approach to composition can easily be perceived as overly-academic, dry, dispassionate, or soullessly detached, a music more rooted in technique than enlivened by inspiration, or, perhaps, a music that is more science than art. Indeed, as an avid listener-for-pleasure (now retired from composing), I often find myself seeking or wishing for a pathos in Hindemith that isn't necessarily there. Yet I still adore this music for its democratic accessibility as well as its occasional flash of sly referential humor such as introducing Big Bill Broonzy's This Train into the finale of Pittsburg Symphony (1958), using the military march by Beethoven as a countermelody in the scherzo of the Sinfonia Serena (1946), or the sardonic quoting of Mendelssohn's Wedding March in the Concerto for Winds and Harp (1949). I delight in the luminous grandeur of Nobilissima Visione (1938) (based on themes by Machaut, reflecting Hindemith’s lifelong passion for early music), the Symphony: Mathis der Maler (1930), or the slow middle movement of the Cello Concerto (1940), basis for William Walton's glorious Variations on a Theme of Hindemith (1963); the sunny lyricism of the Der Schwanendreher Concerto (1935), and the somber dignity of Trauermusik.
Where his orchestral and chamber compositions are concerned, Hindemith has been served very well on record over the decades. Deutsche Gramophone and EMI have offered multi-disc retrospectives of the composer’s own recordings, both as conductor and viola soloist. The German label CPO issued a 15-disc set (3 slip-cased volumes (1987-1992)) of the complete orchestral music to coincide with the Hindemith centennial in 1991, and, as of this writing, the catalog lists no fewer than 43 recordings of the Symphony: Mathis der Maler. Another German label, Dabringhaus und Grimm (MDG) issued a 10-disc series of smaller-scale works, including the complete sonatas in 7 volumes, and a sparkling album of vocal chamber music, all performed by the marvelous Ensemble Villa Musica, in the early to mid-1990s. CPO and Naxos have released new recordings of the complete string quartets and other chamber works, and, it seems, new recordings and highly desirable re-issues of older ones show up almost every month.
Yet, with the exception of a few pieces, Hindemith's choral oeuvre has not faired quite so well on record, though, technically and stylistically, the music is no less accessible than the popular orchestral works. (A competent high-school choir can tackle the Rilke chansons with good results.) In fact, Hindemith's choral style feels quite conservative when compared to many of his contemporaries in the "professional avant-garde". He eschews the dense textures and towering chord clusters of the serialists (Schoenberg, Webern, Nono) as well as the ironically acerbic anti-settings of Stravinsky, in which the composer intentionally ignores the natural stresses in a text. By contrast, Hindemith strikes us today as positively tame, and, more often than not, refreshingly mellifluous, his neo-classicism closer to that of Brahms or Reger than Stravinsky. Compare, for instance, Hindemith's 1963 setting of the ordinary of the Mass (intended for practical liturgical use) with Stravinsky's "objective" 1947 concert setting for mixed choir and winds. It would be difficult to imagine a wider divide in attitude and style.
As far as I know, there has never been a truly comprehensive survey of Hindemith's choral music either on LP or CD. Probably one of the composer's most familiar and popular works, the Six Chansons after Rilke (1939) have shown up in choral anthologies as far back as the 1960s, notably, The Canby Singers for Nonesuch (1966), and the Gregg Smith Singers on a maddeningly boxy-sounding Grenadilla LP (1977). Un cygnet (The Swan) and the feather-light 30-second Puisque tout passé (Since all is passing) have made encore-like bows in a few collections, mostly on fairly obscure labels. But what of the other works? To find many of them, collectors have had to settle for a drib here and a drab there, along with a fair amount of redundancy and overlap.
Premiered at Harvard University in May 1947 at a symposium on music criticism, performed by the Collegiate Chorale and members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Robert Shaw (who had also given the premier of Hindemith's When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd the previous year), Apparebit repentina dies (Now Dawns the Day of Repentance) sounds very much like the typical mature Hindemith, a tad somber in spots, perhaps a bit on the dry side, but unique among the composer's works in its instrumentation, and highly effective in exploiting the combination of choral and brass sonorities. Indeed, the power of the brass shines through at every turn, lending a measure of excitement to the music, which anything less than a first-rate chorus cannot always match. The unusual text, an early-Medieval forerunner of the Dies Irae, dates from the Seventh century. A rough-spun abecedarium (23 couplets, each couplet beginning with a successive letter of the alphabet), it is a formal conceit very much in accord with Hindemith's structural approach to music.
The Apparebit has a fairly scant recording history. A good performance coupled with the Mass was released by the German Wergo label (LP 60016 (1966)), recorded in September and December 1965 by the Schola Cantorum of Stuttgart with the brass ensemble of the Southwest German Radio SO (Baden Baden) under Clytus Gottwald. This recording was subsequently re-issued in Europe on the Deutsche Harmonia Mundi label, and in the US on Mace-Scepter (MCS 9095 (1967?) LP and cassette, disappearing from the American catalog altogether by the early 1980s. This recording was available, however briefly, on CD as part of a massive, impractically expensive box set retrospective of the Wergo label.
Since the beginning of the new century, three additional performances have appeared on CD, including this Creed/Hanssler recording. One can fairly quickly dispense consideration of the live performance at the 2007 WASBE convention in Killarney Ireland with the Chetham's School of Music Symphonic Wind Orchestra and the Chamber Choir and Consortium of Irish Choirs, directed by Martin Bussey (Mark 7218 MCD); a fairly dull performance, marred by noise from the audience and indifferent choral singing.
Berlin Classics 1735-2 Wake, Awake! (2001) features the Big Band and Chorus of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra under Kenny Wheeler, and was the first mainstream professional studio recording of Apparebit repentina dies to appear in nearly four decades. It is a truly outstanding performance, albeit part of a rather oddly eclectic program, including Stravinsky’s Mass in addition to a handful of eccentric, jazz-inflected classics. The Berlin Classics album is currently out of print and commanding a pretty hefty price from the few sellers who have a copy to part with, though it has been available (and quite reasonably priced) as an MP3 download since 2008.
I would first recommend the Wheeler/Bamberg recording of the Apparebit repentina dies, for its greater depth, vibrant, immediate sound, and the sheer expressive power of the chorus. These singers seem to have studied the meaning of the text, and that understanding is conveyed with extraordinary dignity and grandeur. Creed makes a powerful case for the music, but not nearly so convincing or memorable as Wheeler. Though I do not think most listeners will be at all disappointed by this new recording. Creed’s program fills (permanently one would hope) a huge gap in the Hindemith discography, and one could hardly ask for a more polished performance. Highly recommended to Hindemith fans, and all those truly adventuresome lovers of Twentieth century choral music.
Globe 5125 (1994)
Danish National Radio Choir
CPO 999 345 2 (1996)
Der Junge Chor Aachen
Fritz ter Wey
Hindemith: Apparebit repentina dies (for choir and 10 brass instruments) (1947)
Plus works by J.S. Bach, Lackner, Wheeler and Hollenbeck
Big Band and Chorus of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra
Wergo WER 66422 (2001)
Hindemith Lieder, Chöre, Kanons
(Songs, Choruses and Canons)
Hindemith: Male Choruses
Songs on Old Texts Op. 33
Variations on an Old Dance Song for male chorus
The Demon of the Gibbet for male chorus
Canons (various voicings)
Berlin Radio Chorus
Hindemith: Apparebit repentina dies
Plus works by Marco Putz and Joseph Phibbs
Chetham's School of Music Symphonic Wind Orchestra
Chamber Choir and Consortium of Irish Choirs
Six Chansons after Rilke
Songs on Old Texts Op. 33
SWR Vocal Ensemble, Stuttgart.
(recorded September-December, 1965)
Deutsche Harmonia-Mundi (?) (1968?)
Mace (MCS 9095 (1967?))
Apparebit repentina dies
Schola Cantorum of Stuttgart:
Brass ensemble of the Southwest German Radio SO (Baden Baden)
Deutsche Harmonia-Mundi DHM 1001-03 (3-LP set) (1982)
(EMI Electorla F 667.720-667.722)
Zeitgenössische Musik in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland 1945- 1950
(Musical Mysticism in West Germany, 1945-1950)
Hindemith: Apparebit repentina dies
String Quartet #6
Symphony in B-flat
Plus works by Strauss, Egk, Pepping and others
Cologne Radio Symphony Chorus and Brass Ensemble
Nonesuch H-71115 (1966)
The Dove Descending: Choral Music by Stravinsky, Hindemith, Carter & Warlock
Hindemith: Six Chansons after Rilke
Stravinsky: The Dove Descending
Carter: Heart Not So Heavy As Mine
The Canby Singers
Grenadilla GS 1034 (1977)
Modern Ayres, Canzonets & Madrigals
Hindemith: Six Chansons after Rilke
Plus works by Fauré and Kodaly
The Gregg Smith Singers
Lyrichord LLST 7161 (date?)
The Last Works of Hindemith and Schoenberg
Schoenberg: Dreimal Tausend Jahre
The Whikehart Chorale