Hindemith's setting of Whitman's When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd has been called his only "profoundly American" work. However, the double entendre of its original subtitle, "An American Requiem," alluding to Brahms's Ein deutsches Requiem, mirrors Hindemith's ambivalence about his own postwar cultural identity. Although the work's intertextual links with the German polyphonic tradition extend back to Bach, "Taps" is the only overt "American" reference. But the phrase in quotation marks within the final subtitle, "A Requiem 'For those we love,' " is the incipit of a World War I hymn of commemoration, "For those we love within the veil." Hindemith quotes verbatim the melody for this hymn from the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal, which identifies it as "Gaza," a "Traditional Jewish Melody" (in turn derived from a Yigdal). The Requiem may be reinterpreted as a covert commentary on Whitman's text from the post-Holocaust perspective of Hindemith's conflicted personal and artistic circumstances.
- Copyright 1997 The American Musicological Society