Historical Music Theory
In the library at Yale University, the famous ‹Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library,› Hindemith found an extensive collection of music-theoretical writings from antiquity to modern times, as well as valuable manuscript collections with music from the 14th to the 17th centuries. He was able to use this rich collection for his teaching of the History of Music Theory, always taught on Saturdays for two hours during the first half of each academic year.
Music treatises ranging over two millennia were read in this course: from the Ancient Greeks (the Pythagoreans, Plato, Aristoteles, Aristoxenos) and the Church Fathers (especially St. Augustine) and other authors of the early Middle Ages (Boethius, Isidor of Seville, Guido d' Arezzo) up to texts of the late Middle Ages (Johannes de Grocheo, Tinctoris), the Renaissance (Vicentino, Zarlino) and the Baroque (Kircher). For his own studies, Hindemith prepared excerpts from original sources and secondary literature that he recorded in an extensive card catalogue. This intensive occupation with the music theory of the most widely varying epochs provided him with numerous stimuli for the development of his own musical aesthetic, as he was to formulate in A Composer's World, published in English in 1951.
In his teaching Hindemith made an effort not to merely study the theoretical writings, but also to demonstrate their contents with the help of compositions, thus integrating practical music-making into his theory teaching as an inherent part of it. Thus the Saturday classes during the second semester were transformed into a regular choral and instrumental rehearsal of the Collegium Musicum.
The History of Music Theory class was very popular with students, as can be gathered from an evaluation sheet of a student survey: «The organisation and realisation of this course are outstanding. Some students believe, however, that too much emphasis is placed on the amount of names and treatises that seem to have little practical value for students. Stricter selection criteria in admitting students to this course could eliminate those who only attend it in order to avoid examinations and to join the Collegium Musicum.»