Composers Datebook®

Hindemith's St. Francis ballet

Composer's Datebook - July 21, 2023


In London on today’s date in 1938, the Ballet Russe of Monte Carlo presented a brand-new work by the German composer Paul Hindemith based on the life of Saint Francis of Assisi entitled Nobilissima Visione.

The idea may have been suggested by Hindemith’s wife, who had recently converted to Catholicism. The Hindemiths had visited the Church of Santa Croce in Florence were deeply impressed by its frescoes depicting scenes from the life of St. Francis.  Hindemith originally intended to incorporate melodies by the 14th century French composer Machaut into his ballet but ended up writing original themes in an archaic style. As a staged ballet or as a concert suite,  Nobilissima Visione proved to be one of Hindemith’s most popular works.

“My ballet is not an eye-catcher in the old style,” wrote Hindemith in 1938, “It is not exactly full of sparkling wit, but all the same it makes a fine impression, with all the trappings of success that a composer greedy for recognition could wish. Even the earthshaking impresario Sol Hurok was so impressed that he pressed me to his smart businessman’s heart and is insisting on my conducting the piece myself in New York and surrounding villages.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Paul Hindemith (1895 - 1963) Nobilissima Visione San Francisco Symphony; Herbert Blomstedt, conductor. London 433 809

On This Day


  • 1896 - French composer Jean Rivier, in Villemomble


  • 1838 - German inventor of the metronome, Johann Nepomuk Maelzel, age 65, on board the brig Otis in the harbour of La Guiara, Venezuela, en route to Philadelphia; Beethoven's orchestral battle-symphony, "Wellington's Victory," was originally written for one of Maelzel's mechanical music-machines


  • 1733 - Handel: oratorio "Athalia," in Oxford (Julian date: July 10)

  • 1938 - Hindemith: ballet, "St. Francis," at Covent Garden in London, with composer conducting (the suite titled "Nobilissima Visone" is drawn from this score)

  • 1971 - William Bolcom: “Frescoes” in Montreal, with Bruce Mather (piano and harmonium) and Pierrette LePage (piano and harpsichord);

  • 1983 - Thomas Oboe Lee: "Morango …almost a tango" for string quartet, at the Sanders Theater in Cambridge, Mass., by the Composers in Red Sneakers ensemble

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®