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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Tuesday, July 21

Hindemith's St. Francis ballet

Synopsis

On today's date in 1938, the Ballet Russe of Monte Carlo presented in London a brand-new work based on the life of Saint Francis of Assisi entitled "Nobilissima Visione." The choreography was by Leonide Massine, and the music by Paul Hindemith.

The idea of a ballet based on St. Francis 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, and had been deeply impressed by its Renaissance frescoes depicting scenes from the life of St. Francis.

In the 1930's, Hindemith was increasingly fascinated by music of the past, and originally intended to incorporate melodies from the French medieval composer Machaut into his St. Francis ballet, but ended up writing original themes in an archaic style. Whether presented as a staged ballet or in the composer's own concert suite arrangement, "Nobilissima Visione" proved to be one of Hindemith's most popular works, and a work that he often conducted himself.

"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, cond. London 433 809

Additional Information

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