Since we are approaching our 37th Anniversary in April, this seems a good time to celebrate by taking a look at some of our choice “evergreens” from those early years. In our November 2 and November 3 ’09 posts, we wrote about Delos founder Amelia Haygood and her pioneering vision for a label that would provide a platform for American classical artists. Amelia had once made a 30-for-30 list; and our present 36-for-36 series, begun with the November 6 ’09 post, follows Amelia’s choices for some of our representative early recordings. She started her list with our first Delos “hit,” produced when the label was three years old.
HINDEMITH: The Four Temperaments • Nobilissima Visione
Carol Rosenberger, piano
James DePreist, conductor
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
“We are in the presence of a recording so full of grandeur and eloquence that it may just succeed in turning the tide of opinion back in Hindemith’s favor … unsurpassable sonics… belongs in every self-respecting collector’s library.” Fanfare
Amelia started her list with this recording, representing the early Delos years, and featuring James DePreist, our first Delos conductor. “One of the finest conductors this nation has produced,” as the Chicago Tribune called him, Jimmy made an outstanding series of recordings for Delos through the years, representing his important music directorships in Helsinki, Oregon, and Monte-Carlo.
True to Amelia’s mission, Jimmy and I were both American artists at the very beginning of our recording careers when we made this recording. Jimmy had made his first recording of early Mozart symphonies (DE 1010) before we went to London, and I had already made my first recording of Szymanowski solo piano music (DE 1002).
Jimmy and I were caught up in the idea of recording the Four Temperaments and thought it would be fun if Amelia (a psychologist in her former career) wrote the album notes, since the piece is about an ancient theory of personality characteristics. Meanwhile Jimmy had fallen in love with Nobilissima Visione, and we all thought the two works would be an ideal pairing.
We recorded the Hindemith program at Abbey Road in London in June of 1976. We were all enjoying London, and I well remember our feeling of instant rapport with the Royal Philharmonic musicians. Among many delightful memories is the time Jimmy entertained us during a break with his dramatic mime of the tempestuous argument that begins the “Choleric” movement (the fourth temperament), and then portrayed the apology that follows (“I’mmmm sorrrrrrryyyyy”) with perfect pacing, along with a facial expression that begged forgiveness.
By happy accident, the release of this recording the following fall coincided with the Balanchine revival of the Four Temperaments ballet in New York City. The stars were obviously aligned for this album; suddenly there was widespread interest in the Four Temperaments due to the great popularity of the ballet. Our new Hindemith recording became Delos’s first “hit.”
Below are some general quotes about the music extracted from Amelia’s album notes. Her detailed running commentary about Hindemith’s musical descriptions of each personality type (too long to reproduce here) is a delight to read, and earned her kudos from reviewers. Just a small quote, again about the “Choleric” movement: “The Choleric personality, with his overflow of yellow bile, is hot-tempered and irritable. The movement opens with a quick, emphatic pronouncement from the strings. The piano immediately reacts with a slow burn, a gritting of the teeth which erupts into an outburst. The strings insist on their earlier statement, followed by more outbursts from the piano. Suddenly, our fiery friend is contrite in two charming recitatives from the piano. But he must win his point, and soon he’s back to insisting violently that he’s right…” To those of us who knew Amelia well, it was like hearing some of her frequent insights and observations about actual people.
“The 1976 revival of the Four Temperaments by the New York City ballet sparked the present interest in this intriguing work, which was first produced by Balanchine thirty years before. Hindemith, who had written the piece as a ballet, had waited six years for the production, for the work was completed in 1940, just after the composer had settled in the United States. Its first actual performance, in 1940, was a concert version in Boston, with Lukas Foss as piano soloist and Richard Burgin conducting the Boston Symphony.
“Hindemith’s warm and witty musical treatment of the four personality types stands alone as music, and indeed is often performed in concert versions as a piano concerto. The idea of dominant character traits associated with one of the four “humours” or body fluids (black bile, blood, phlegm, and yellow bile) originated in ancient Greece and was widely accepted through the Middle Ages. It formed, in fact, the basis of subsequent psychological personality theory.
“The theme, and each of its four variations, has three distinct sections, as if to show three different aspects of a personality, thus giving a portrait of some dimension. The lyrical statement at the beginning of the Theme, with its full string sound, sets the tone for the entire work: the essential dignity of man, no matter what his temperament. The virtuoso entrance of the piano marks the second section: quicker paced, full of vivacity, the more ebullient side of any personality. The siciliano third section of the theme is stated first by a solo quartet – tender, perhaps the vulnerable side of man…
“Nobilissima Visione predates The Four Temperaments by two years. Massine, who produced the ballet in London in 1938 with the Monte Carlo Ballet, tells the story of the work’s inception: ‘The idea of Nobilissima Visione was suggested to me by Paul Hindemith, whom I met unexpectedly in Florence. He had just come from the great church of Santa Croce, which contains the Giotto frescoes with scenes of St. Francis of Assisi. He was deeply impressed by them, and taking me by the arm, hurried me to the church so that I could see them also. I, too, was struck with their spiritual beauty, and could wel
l imagine why they had moved Hindemith so deeply . . . He suggested that we create a ballet about the life of the saint . . . After we had picked out the episodes that seemed most appropriate for our purposes, we discussed each one in detail. I described to him how I saw the scenes, and improvised the choreography, so that Hindemith could visualize it better. In his precise way, he wanted to make detailed notes and afterwards to play through a succession of liturgical music on the piano, since he had decided to base his score mainly on early French church music, especially of the great 14th Century composer Guillaume de Machault . . . Nobilissima Visione was actually not a ballet at all. It was a dramatic and choreographic depiction of the life of St. Francis, in which Hindemith . . . and I attempted, throughout to create and preserve an atmosphere of mystical exaltation.’ “