In many ways, Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) has proved more influential on 20th century German music than, say, Wagner or Stockhausen. His position as a teacher at Berlin’s Hochschule in 1927, his music for the Jugendbewegung or German Youth Movement in the 1920s and his Gebrauchmusik or utility music of the 1930s, all promoted collective music making and welcomed untrained musicians as well as odd instrument players (see his compositions for mechanical piano, xylophone, heckelphone or trautonium). For all the talk about Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk and deathly Romanticism, his actual influence has been remarkably limited in Germany, whereas Hindemith’s shadow can be felt in the vitality of Blaseninstrument ensembles (that’s where Harald Sack Ziegler comes from) ; the happy, minimalist experimentalism of Kraftwerk and Berlin techno ; the Neue Deutsche Welle‘s pseudo-naivety – not to mention Holger Hiller’s 1981 electronic version of Wir Bauen Eine Stadt or Palais Schaumburg’s reprise of #2 Gibst du mir Steine.
Written by Hindemith in 1930, the children’s song cycle Wir Bauen Eine Stadt, or We’re Building a City, is about an imaginary city build and ruled by children alone, with all the fantasy, non-sense and naivety the situation implies. British music critic Guy Rickards says it was written “in collaboration with Berlin schoolchildren” (Hindemith, Hartmann and Henze, Phaidon, 1995), but I could not double-check the fact. The score was originally for piano and children’s choir, but the piece was premiered in 1930 by an orchestra and choir – I assume this is the version on this 1957 recording. A solo piano version was also published by Schott. These modern nursery rhymes, with lyrics by Robert Seitz and Käthe Rudo, were specifically conceived for children’s voices and un-professional musicians. Wir Bauen Eine Stadt alternates a cappella songs, dialogues, instrumental parts with choir+orchestra numbers, and Hindemith succeeds in keeping things simple but charming throughout while recreating the excitement and fun of building a city. Yet the play can also be seen as a political statement – or at least a rejection of all political statements: consider track #10, titled Bei uns haben die Erwachsenen nichts zu sagen, which translates as: The adults are not in authority at our place (thanks, Dispokino). Note: a new orchestration was written in 1973 by Luciano Berio under the title Costruiamo Una Città (info here).
The B-side of this LP has a ravishing Kinderkantate or children play by German composer Helmut Bräutigam (1914-1942). During the 1930s, as head of the youth program on a Leipzig radio station, Bräutigam composed extensively for school orchestras and children’s choirs. Von allerlei Tieren is very likely one of these compositions.
01 Wir bauen eine Stadt (4:00)
02 Gibst du mir Steine (:42)
03 Musik, das Bauen darstellend (:49)
04 Erst kommt der Backer (:46)
05 Mit dem Autobus (:54)
06 Ankommende Leute (2:33)
07 Ich bin ein Schaffner (:48)
08 Guten Tag, Frau Bergmann (1:49)
09 Jetzt ist’s Nacht (3:49)
10 Bei uns haben die Erwachsenen nichts zu sagen (1:13)
11 Wir bauen eine Stadt (:56)
12 Von allerlei Tieren (20:06)
Rundfunk-Kinderchor Leipzig, choir
Rundfunk-Instrumentalgruppe Leipzig, orchestra
Hans Sandig, conductor
Total time 38:19
LP released by Eterna, East Berlin, DDR, 1957