Mathis der Maler

Paul Hindemith’s Opera and Symphony, “Mathis der Maler” is set in the 1520s and focuses on the character of Mathis Grünewald, a Reformation-era painter. In an opera concerning an artist during the Protestant Reformation, the religious background of the plot and meaning of the characters in the work are of great importance. One would think then, that scholarship on this work would take into, at the very least, some consideration of the religious meaning and importance that undergirds the work.

I am learning quickly that this is not necessarily the case. Much scholarship has been done on Hindemith’s work in terms of its placement within Nazi Germany, and the parallels drawn between Mathis’ life and Hindemith’s efforts to exist within the regime of the Third Reich. Less emphasis has consequently been put on directly analyzing the religious aspects of the work. Certainly at the least there is a great dearth of analysis as I have searched on this subject in the English literature on Hindemith’s composition. It is possible, that this is a consideration taken into account in the German scholarship; however, I cannot read German, so the extensive body of literature that one can find on this topic, as outlined in the very helpful and exhaustive annotated list of literature compiled by Luttman. This leaves me with both a daunting and exciting possibility of being able to combine the political analysis of the work with its religious elements. This could be very rewarding, however it leaves a large task for me to take on. The other bigger issue is that it is a basis for what could be a large undertaking and a difficult and vague area for me to develop a thesis. Either way, it is an exciting possibility, and I look forward to (and dread just a little) the upcoming project.

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