Experiences on the Front
On 16 January 1918 Hindemith set off for the Alsatian village of Tagolsheim to the south of Mulhouse, a village not directly affected by the war. «The Front is about 3 km before us. Things are quite peaceful here,» he wrote in his war journal on 19 January. As a military musician of the «Res. Inf. Reg. 222,» he played the bass drum in the band. He wrote to a girl friend: «I was assured that this instrument had never before been treated so rhythmically. Service is not so hard, I have a lot of free time and can work on what I want.»
Hindemith composed his 2nd String Quartet Op. 10 in Alsace. The regiment commander Count von Kielmannsegg was a great music lover and allowed the formation of a string quartet that had to perform for him regularly. Hindemith spent most of the day with intensive rehearsals for the quartet and the regiment band.
After the regiment was transferred to Flanders, Hindemith was confronted with actual fighting for the first time. He wrote in his journal on 27 May: «Towards evening 8 bombs were thrown near the town. One hit the ammunition convoy that bivouacked 10 minutes away from us. [...] A horrible sight. Blood, bodies full of holes, brain, a torn-off horse's head, splintered bones. Dreadful! How mean and indifferent one becomes. I don't think I could have eaten or worked in peace before after seeing such a sight – and now one sits at home again, writing, chatting, in a good mood – not thinking about how soon the bell could also toll for us. – It's gradually becoming creepy here. Are we going to withdraw unharmed???»
During the last weeks of the war, Hindemith was ordered to the trenches, standing guard in close proximity to the Front. He luckily survived the numerous battles and bombings uninjured, and experienced the end of the war in Flanders on 10 November: «An event that I shall never forget for the rest of my life. When we already fell asleep, we were all ordered to the Colonel. [...] The Colonel entered from the castle door accompanied by several officers and read in candlelight – a wonderful picture! – decrees of the Chancellor, Hindenburg and the 17th Army. Shuddering, we heard that the Emperor abdicated, that Ebert will become Chancellor and – oh greatest bliss – that there will be cease-fire in the coming days. [...] We went home as if dazzled, hardly able to grasp this news.»