Despite the circumstances, Trauermusik has justly become one of Hindemith’s most celebrated works, for it is a shining example of an ‘occasional composition’ that far transcends its occasion and makes a distinct contribution to the general repertoire. Closely allied in tone to the more reflective portions of the opera Mathis der Maler, it is a grave, shapely and eloquent lament, with a special quality of intimacy. The single movement falls into four sections, the first closely modelled (though without quotation) on the ‘Entombment’ music from Mathis. A second section, in a serene 12/8 pulse, seems to evoke old folksong melodies, either English or German. A livelier, more determined section follows, but its energy soon dissipates into renewed expressions of lamentation. The work ends with a free elegiac invention on J S Bach’s chorale Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit (Herewith I step before thy throne), well known in English churches as the Psalm tune ‘The Old Hundredth’. Hindemith considered that Bach’s text was a very suitable one for music about kings, but these final bars, appropriate for any obsequy, are among the most moving music he ever wrote.
from notes by Malcolm MacDonald © 2011