Interpreting the mourning process through Hindemith's Trauermusik



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Paul Hindemith traveled to London in 1936 intending to give the British premiere of his concerto for viola and chamber orchestra titled Der Schwanendreher on 22 January. The premiere--and much else--was put into question a few minutes before midnight on 20 January 1936, however, when King George V passed away. The next day, Hindemith worked from 11:00 A.M. - 5:00 P.M. composing Trauermusik (Music of Mourning) for solo viola and string orchestra as a tribute to the recently deceased King of England. Thus, the circumstances surrounding the compositional origin of this piece invite a discussion of mourning in both a historical and musical context. In this paper, I will touch on issues such as how mourning defines us as humans and how emotions associated with mourning can be represented in music and experienced by the listener. I will illustrate how mourning helps us to understand the meaning of Trauermusik when it was written and first performed in 1936, following the death of King George V. To do this I will use Maurice Blanchot's ideas from his La Communauté inavouable, specifically his discussion of how death and mourning help to both define humans and bring them together into a community. Having established this critical framework, I will then provide a hermeneutic reading of Trauermusik, using analytical insights based on Hindemith's use of the 0167 pitch collection as my evidence. At the heart of my thesis is the belief that combining both historical insights and detailed analytical knowledge of Trauermusik will heighten the listener's experience of the piece to a greater extent than either perspective could on its own.