Thomas Stevens

Musical Expression III

  • General Quotes

Hindemith Strikes Again!

A few decades ago, one of the all-time tyrants among the ranks of orchestra conductors, responding to a comment from a highly regarded principal player during a rehearsal of one of the world’s finest orchestras, reportedly told the musician to “save his feelings for his doctor and just play his part.” Apparently, the player had stated he “felt” a particular solo passage should be played in a certain manner, which turned out to be an unfortunate choice of terms to express a musical opinion, at least according to the maestro, whose comment produced, as the story goes, a rather colorful counter-response-in-kind from the musician*.

All of which reminds one of the following Paul Hindemith Quotable (A Composer's World) from 1949: "Even if performers of any kind-singers, players, conductors, were actually the demigods that many of them think they are and some of them believe themselves to be, in reality they are, in respect to the current that flows from the composer’s brain to the listener’s mind, nothing but an intermediate station, a roadside stop, a transformer house, and their duty is to pass along what they received from the generating mind. Although our system of notation can give them no more than approximations of the composer’s intentions, they are supposed to understand his written symbolism and by means of their own interpretational liberties and changes add merely what is the minimum requirement for a realization of the composition in sound. The ideal performer will never try to express his own feelings-if he thinks feelings are to be expressed-but the composer’s, or what he thinks the composer’s feelings were. Covering a piece with a thick layer of the performer’s so-called feelings means distorting, counterfeiting it. A performer, in doing this, changes his function from that of a transformer to a competing generator-and the shocks from the clashing of two different currents always hit the innocent listener……”


*This story was circulated among students and orchestral musicians during the early 1960s. When preparing an article for the Brass Bulletin a few years ago, hoping to include a reference to this story, I managed to locate two retired members of the orchestra in question who remembered “something like that” having occurred, but neither of whom, for some inexplicable reason(s) was willing to go on record as verifying it. If and when anyone were to ever come forward as a valid source, the names of the participants would be added to this story.