We are also making music, but the kind that only specially prepared ears can bear. Best of all, those that are stuffed with cotton. We have committed the crime of creating a drama with music, to be performed after the New Year. You, too, are cordially invited to attend. But please, bring some aspirin along.
Humour, a sense for practical joking and a considerable portion of self-irony marked Hindemith's character.
He wrote to friends in Switzerland in December 1913 as follows:
«The greatest achievement of recent months was the founding of our Conservatory Club 'Urian'. We are 6 members (each one crazier than the other) and our primary aim is to amuse ourselves. [...] We make music, too, but such music that only specially prepared ears can endure. Best of all, those that are stuffed with cotton. We have committed the crime of making a drama with music that we shall perform after New Year's Day. You are also cordially invited. But please bring along some aspirin.»
The circle of friends mentioned here inspired Hindemith, during the years 1913-1920, to write down a total of seven so-called «Dramatic Masterworks» – absurd, at times surrealistic pieces the subjects of which usually have an autobiographical background.
Numerous occasional pieces of the genre of entertainment music, as well as parodistic pieces, were also intended for performance with musician friends, of which only the titles and scoring designations have been handed down.
The following works have disappeared: «Festmarsch: Das Grab ist meine Freude», «Musik für 6 Instrumente und einen Umwender» for flute, piano, 2 violins, violoncello and double bass, and the «Gouda-Emmental-Marsch» for piccolo flute, piano and string quintet.
The compositions that have been preserved, including «Minimax. Repertorium für Militärorchester» (1923), the «Ouvertüre zum Fliegenden Holländer, wie sie eine schlechte Kurkapelle morgens um 7 am Brunnen vom Blatt spielt» (1925), both for string quartet, and the «Lied mit großer Orchesterbegleitung im Stile Rich. Strauss' (Text aus einer Imkerzeitung)» for soprano and string quartet (1925) give an impression of Hindemith's musical humo
One of Hindemith's great passions was playing with the model railway, for which he invited friends and acquaintances – including personalities such as the pianist Artur Schnabel and the author Gottfried Benn – to his flat in Berlin during the 1930s.
The Swiss harpsichordist Silvia Kind, who studied with Hindemith in Berlin, remembers the following:
«At that time he possessed 300 metres of track and the most sophisticated electric equipment with remote-control track switches and signals. On Sundays he could sit down and work out a meticulous timetable that would have done honour to any station manager. The hours in normal operation were represented in minutes, the minutes were in seconds. When the participants were together, the railroad was built up for a half a day through three rooms. Operation started in the afternoon; each person received a timetable and stopwatch, and had to operate a train that was required to adhere exactly to the indicated stops and passing places and arrive precisely at the right second. Mrs. Hindemith said that the men would often appear pale and exhausted at 2 or 3 in the morning and ask for schnapps, especially if Artur Schnabel, another railway fanatic, was present.»
In their enthusiasm for various types of sportive activities, the Hindemiths were very much representative of the leisure trends of their time. During the summer holidays of the year 1931, they engaged a sport instructor to travel with them to Bad Tölz, supervising them in ball playing, shot putting and gymnastics, and during the 1930s, the Hindemiths together with the publisher Willy Strecker hiked on tours lasting several weeks through the Black Forest, Silesia and the Eifel mountain range. In their later residences in Switzerland and in New Haven, one of the ways in which they expressed their closeness to nature was in the devotion with which they cultivated their garden.
Hindemith possessed a fine sensitivity for high quality art and literature. Literary expressionism – poems of Else Lasker-Schüler and Georg Trakl – fascinated him, as did the poetry of Christian Morgenstern and Rainer Maria Rilke. He paid special attention to the selection of texts for his compositions.
In 1930, to the poet Eduard Reinacher, Hindemith clarified his ideas concerning the nature of texts to be set to music:
«If I am to make a song out of a text, it must have loose places, left blank by the poet to a certain extent, left free for the composer in such a way that the music is needed there.»
Hindemith's letters to his wife convey an impression of his art of narrative, vividly combining «the great and general with the clearness of details.» (Walter Jens).
He described the visit to the astronomical observatory on Mount Wilson in California in the following words:
«Music sounded in one of the domed structures that we entered. A photographer, who sat behind the second largest telescope taking pictures of some star for hours on end, was playing Mozart's Symphony in E-flat on the radio or gramophone to pass the time in the darkness and cold. That was rather strange to hear in this starry environment, for when one thinks of working with these objects, one imagines something like icy silence in the infinite expanses.
But then, after the initial surprise, it was really as if this music united with this infinity to form an organism of dimensions and sound in which there was no disturbance of error or obfuscation. I hardly believe that any other music besides that of Bach and Mozart would have endured such a confrontation!»