Hindemith, Copernicus, and Ruff
Concerto for Horn and Orchestra
Paul Hindemith (1895–1963) taught at the Yale from 1940 to 1953. He was one of the world’s leading composers, and an extremely successful teacher as well. Hindemith, more than anyone else, turned the Yale School of Music from a respected regional institution into a world-class conservatory. Many brilliant young musicians, Willie Ruff among them, chose to come to Yale largely because they wanted to study with Hindemith.
The Gilmore Music Library’s Paul Hindemith Collection includes several of Hindemith’s original manuscripts, including the Horn Concerto, seen here. Sidney Fine (MusB ’31) later arranged this concerto for horn and organ, and he and Ruff performed and recorded that version in Woolsey Hall.
Hindemith was also the founder of the Yale Collegium Musicum, a pioneering early music ensemble. Ruff played and sang in several of their concerts.
The Harmony of the World:
A Realization for the Ear of
Johannes Kepler’s Astronomical Data
from Harmonices Mundi 1619
([Branford, Conn.: Kepler, 2000, p1979])
Ever since the ancient Greeks, scientists and music theorists have been intrigued by the way simple mathematical ratios can produce the intervals that make up the musical scale. Because the orbits of the planets can be described in similar mathematical terms, early scholars suggested that the planetary movements yielded an inaudible but celestial harmony, often called the “music of the spheres.” This ancient idea persisted into early modern times, and one of its most important proponents was Johannes Kepler (1571–1630), the astronomer best known for the laws of planetary motion that he deduced, including the discovery that the orbits are elliptical rather than circular.
While he was a student at Yale, Ruff studied with Paul Hindemith, who was so fascinated by Kepler and the music of the spheres that he wrote an opera entitled Die Harmonie der Welt (The Harmony of the World), with Kepler as the main character. The idea captured Ruff’s imagination as well, and in the 1970s he and John Rodgers (professor of geology at Yale) worked with computer programmer Mark Rosenberg to produce a musical realization of the planetary orbits. Although they based it on Kepler’s thinking, they did not restrict the project to the planets Kepler knew; they also included Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, which were discovered long after his death.
Hindemith’s opera will be performed in Linz, Austria in April 2017, and Ruff plans to attend.