Paul Hindemith was Germany’s rising star in the classical music world when Hitler came to power in 1933. Internationaly sought after for his composing and teaching, Hindemith, was disapproved of by the Nazis because his wife, Gertrude, was half Jewish. The string quartet he was playing in was disbanded (two members were Jewish), the premiere of his new opera, Mathis der Mahler was denied Nazi permission and there was constant bad press from the Nazi controlled media.
By 1937 Hindemith’s patience ran out. He received increasing requests for his music from abroad, especially America. At the end of March 1937, he resigned his position at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin and moved to Switzerland.
Several tours of America followed. During his second visit, in the winter of 1938, he wrote the following to his wife “As soon as I work through the letters, postcards, and reviews that have piled up, I am going to get to work and write something for clarinet or bassoon quartet”. He began writing his clarinet quartet while sailing back to Europe in April on the S. S. Hamburg, finishing the first movement. He completed the second movement in Europe on April 23.
Composition was interrupted by the premiere of his opera Mathis der Mahler in Zurich, and the last movement was completed during a holiday stay in Chandolin, Switzerland on June 15, 1938.
The quartet was premiered on April 23, 1939 in New York during Hindemith’s third tour of America. Before the performance Hindemith described the work in a letter to his wife: “The clarinet quartet does very well for itself. It is a considerable chunk of music, sounds very nice, and ought to make a good impression”.
Hindemith emigrated to America in 1940 and spent the next two decades teaching at Yale, composing and writing. (notes by Steven Klimowski)