Human or Monster?
Finding Our Ethical Bearings Amidst Ominous Transitions
Caption: This painting of the Temptation of Saint Anthony was represented musically by Paul Hindemith in the 1934 symphony Mathis der Maler (Mathis the painter). It was premiered by the great German conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Wilhelm Furtwängler. The Nazis soon banned performances in Germany, considering Hindemith a “degenerate” and “Jewish connected.” This led to a confrontation between Furtwangler and the Nazi state with Furtwangler refusing to conduct again until the ban on the composition was lifted. He was an implacable foe of the Nazis who decried Hitler as an “enemy of the human race,” and called the political climate in Germany a “pigsty.” In 1936 he wrote: “living today is more than ever a question of courage.”
Hindemith later expanded the symphony into an opera based on the life of Mathias Grunewald – the plot revolving around an artist’s ethical duty to follow his vision regardless of political pressures. The opera was eventually premiered in 1938 in Zurich, Switzerland.