The Poetics of Music
In 1951, Hindemith prepared his lectures given in 1949/50 through his tenure of the Charles Eliot Norton Chair for Poetry at Harvard University as the book «A Composer's World: Horizons and Limitations.» He presented it in a slightly amended German version in 1959 as «Komponist in seiner Welt: Weiten und Grenzen.» This book describes his musical poetics.
In the sense of a resume, all the numerous essays, talks and lectures that Hindemith wrote and held in the United States from 1940 and in Europe from 1948 come together. Hindemith explained: «This book may serve as a guide through the small universe of the workshop of a creator of music,» and: «From a central area of fundamental music theory, we wish to branch out in all directions into adjoining aesthetic, sociological, philosophical and other areas of experience.»
Hindemith poses the questions of what, how, for whom and in what connection a work is to be composed, not only relying on his rich experiences as composer, composition teacher, instrumentalist, conductor, music theoretician and organiser, but also on his extensive reading of music-theoretical and aesthetic treatises. Hindemith tends to derive his criteria from all epochs. Present-day musical life, as Hindemith sees it, must strive to maintain the highest standards that once existed and have perhaps been forgotten. He finds these standards developed in the writings of Boethius and St. Augustine.
Hindemith describes the difference between the «conscious» and «emotional» perception of music as an activity to be achieved by the listener, through which an «acoustical impression» is transformed into a «truly musical experience.» He compares «musical inspiration» with a lightning-like illumination of the landscape: the composer views the work to be created as in a «vision» and preserves it with as few losses as possible. Hindemith views the ability to have "visions" as unconditionally granted, but considers that the ability to realise the «vision» can, on the other hand, be taught.
Hindemith describes the «working material» of the composer as melodic, harmonic and rhythmic laws which apply in all conditions and are to be differentiated according to the «technique and style» of the work. Hindemith observes a moment of melancholy in the selfless and altruistic devotion of the «interpreter» to the work; he pleads for the historical-authentic performance practice and determines the training of composers without illusions: «[...] composing, although serving a calling, is not a profession; [...] the training of musicians, not of composers, is the task.» Hindemith warns young composers: «Be prepared [...] for disregard, boycotting and malicious gossip. But trust in the power of your work.» He concludes: «[...] don't think of yourself; just always ask what can I give the next person. The innermost reason for such modesty is the conviction of the musician that, beyond all rational experience and all skills, there lies a region of the vision of the unapproachable in which the veiled secrets of the art live - felt, but not explained; requested, but not commanded; bowing down, but not surrendering. We cannot enter this region; we can only hope to be chosen as one of its heralds.»