Hindemith: Cello Concerto (1940)

Paul Hindemith

Paul Hindemith

German born Paul Hindemith began work on his Cello Concerto in Switzerland and completed it in 1940 in the USA, where he and his wife had finally settled that year. Though some other works by Hindemith written around the same time, such as his Symphony in E-flat, show strong evidence of the anxiety and militaristic environment of the time, the Cello Concerto seems relatively untouched by the shadow of war. It’s essentially an outgoing and witty piece, even quite brash at times.

Hindemith’s relationship to the Nazis is a complicated one.  In 1934, Germany’s Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels publicly denounced Hindemith as an “atonal noisemaker”.  Other officials in the regime, however, thought that he might provide Germany with an example of a modern German composer. He finally emigrated to Switzerland in 1938 (in part because his wife was of partial Jewish ancestry).

Europe in 1940…

 “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”      

– Winston Churchill

1940 was a year of great turmoil in Europe, with the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Demark, Norway and the Channel Islands. Hungary, Romania and Slovakia joined the Axis powers.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

With the resignation of Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, declaring to the House of Commons “I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, tears and sweat”.

As the German air force’s attempt to gain air superiority over the RAF, the Battle of Britain raged from July to September 1940. The Germans’ ultimate failure was one of the turning points of World War Two as it prevented Germany from invading Britain.

The average age of an RAF fighter pilot in 1940 was just 20 years old.

The average age of an RAF fighter pilot in 1940 was just 20 years old.

Bomb attacks from both the RAF and Luftwaffe destroyed cities in the UK and Germany.

  • On 14 November the city of Coventry was attacked with 150,000 fire bombs, 503 tons of high explosives and 130 parachute mines.  In response the RAF began to bomb Hamburg two days later, and by the end of the war 50,000 Hamburg residents had died from Allied attacks.
  • The Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the German concentration camps was opened in occupied Poland.  Between May 1940 and January 1945, around 1.1 million people died here.

Also in 1940:…

  • Walt Disney’s second full-length animated film, Pinocchio was released on 7 February, and Fantasia on 13 November.  Fantasia features eight segments of classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski and performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra.
  • Charlie Chaplin’s parody of the Nazi regime, The Great Dictator was released.  Chaplin not only starred in the film, he also wrote, produced, scored and directed it.  It was his first true talking picture, and was nominated for five Academy Awards.
  • Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny made their animated debuts.
  • The Olympic Games, assigned to Tokyo in 1940 and later to Helsinki, were suspended due to WWII.
  • The very first McDonald’s restaurant opened in San Bernardino, California.
  • Women’s nylon stockings were first placed on sale across the United States on 15 May 1940. Almost five million pairs were bought on this day.

Born in 1940

Actors David Jason, Chuck Norris, James Caan, Penelope Keith, Al Pacino and Bruce Lee, and musicians Gene Pitney, Smokey Robinson, Solomon Burke, Tom Jones and Ringo Starr were all born in 1940.


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