When Hindemith emigrated to America in 1940, he had more or less all of Germany’s music history with him in his mind. Many of the works he wrote in American sail further along on this abandoned past.
Ludus Tonalis may be the most brilliant example of this process. This imposing piano work is best listened to with the idea that it’s a ‘great-grandson’ of Bach’s famous Well-tempered Clavier: a series of twelve fugues, flanked by preludes, interludes and postludes. This ‘note play’ is sometimes described as Bach with wrong notes, but that’s only half true: the music is definitely Bachian in the unsurpassed way it combines musical elements. But there are no ‘wrong’ notes. Hindemith doesn’t plaster over his great role model but has him reborn into a subtle new musical universe. The game of notes has new rules: what grates in another piece can be a form of freedom. Wrong is relative.
"Mr. Price [a copyist]: Please don’t try to make things nice. All the wrong notes are right. Just copy as I have – I want it this way." – Charles Ives (Fourth of July, 1914)
Paul Hindemith: Ludus Tonalis
Since beginning his artistic career, Jan Michiels has done everything possible to immerse his audiences in the richness of 20th- and 21st-century music, especially piano music. In this sense he’s a Festival 20·21 ‘partner in crime’. So of course he had to include some new classics like Hindemith’s Ludus Tonalis. Michiels undoubtedly knows what to do with the piece, given that Bach’s music too is running through his fingers and his heart.