At first glance, pianist Paul Wittgenstein and clarinetist Benny Goodman don’t have much in common. The one came from one of the wealthiest families in Austria and pursued a career as a classical pianist, although his family initially did not approve. The other grew up in poor circumstances as the son of Jewish immigrants in Chicago and achieved enormous success as a swing musician in the U.S. and around the world. And yet, in my research, I foreground their commonalities: both commissioned famous composers of their time to write new concertos for them, in one case even the same person: Paul Hindemith (1895-1963).
Hindemith regularly worked on commission. His Kammermusik no. 7, op. 46 (1928), for the Frankfurter Rundfunk, the Konzertmusik op. 49 (1930) for the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Festival in Washington, or the Konzertmusik op. 50 for the 50 year jubilee of the Boston Symphony Orchestra are just some examples. So it was obvious that I now followed the heels of this composer and visited the Hindemith Institute in Frankfurt with their comprehensive collection of correspondence, concert programs, literature, and various other material on Hindemith.
Apparently, Wittgenstein had approached Hindemith in late 1922 or early 1923 with a request for a composition. It was one of the first commissions Wittgenstein granted and would be followed by numerous others. Hindemith completed his Klaviermusik, op. 29, in the first half of the year and sent the score to the pianist, who, however, never performed the piece. This had a lasting effect on its performance history, for Wittgenstein was also unwilling to step back from the exclusive performance rights he had secured for his lifetime. As a result, the score was not accessible for a long time, and the Klaviermusik could not be premiered until 2004 by Leon Fleisher (with the Berlin Philharmonic and Simon Rattle). In 2011, Fleisher as well recorded it (with Christoph Eschenbach and the Curtis Symphony Orchestra).
You can find various articles on Hindemith’s work for Wittgenstein, for instance:
- E. Fred Flindell: “Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961): Patron and Pianist”, The Music Review 32 (1971), 107-127.
- Idem: “Dokumente aus der Sammlung Paul Wittgenstein”, Die Musikforschung 24/4 (1971), 422-431.
- Irene Suchy and Albert Sassmann: “…freue mich, dass ihr stück ihnen auch selbst gefällt… der Pianist und Mäzen Paul Wittgenstein”, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 165/1 (2005), 56-59.
- Susanne Schaal-Gotthardt: “‘es würde mir leid tun…’ Hindemiths ‘Klaviermusik mit Orchester’ op. 29 für Paul Wittgenstein”, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 166/3 (2005), 46-47.
In 1938, Hindemith left Europe for the U.S., where he was appointed at Yale’s Department of Music. In 1941, he was contacted by Eric Simon, who at that time was advising Benny Goodman on classical music. Goodman had asked Simon for ideas in his search for composers whom he could commission to write new solo concertos. Simon had suggested Hindemtih, and after Goodman’s and Hindemith’s approval, immediately began negotiating the further terms of the project.
This cooperation was interrupted (for unknown reasons) after a few months. In 1947, however, Hindemith, by now back in Europe, finally delivered the planned Clarinet Concerto. Similar to Wittgenstein, exclusive performance rights were reserved for Goodman, but only for 3 years. Exhausting this period, Goodman eventually premiered the piece in 1950 at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Soon after the concerto was no longer legally restricted, Hindemith performed it in Zurich in 1955 and also recorded it in 1958 – the soloist both times was the French clarinetist Louis Cahuzac.
If you’d like to learn more about the collaboration between Hindemith and Goodman, I happily announce a forthcoming article of mine on that subject:
“More Than One ‘Double Life:’ Artistic Conceptions, Networks, and Negotiations in Benny Goodman’s Commissions to Paul Hindemith and Darius Milhaud” (manuscript accepted for the Journal of the Society for American Music)