In the disastrous years before and during the Second World War, when confidence in a harmonious future was as difficult as it was crucial for spiritual survival, two German artists in exile wrote what would become their late masterpieces. The composer Paul Hindemith conceived an opera on the famous astronomer Johannes Kepler’s mature life and theories The Harmony of the World
; the poet and novelist Hermann Hesse wrote a complex literary collage The Glass Bead Game
. The two quests are mirrored into circumstances that are almost equidistant from the mid-20th-century period in which their stories are being told—Hindemith’s opera centers on an outstanding intellectual in the late 16th and early 17th centuries while Hesse’s work focuses on this intellectual’s counterpart projected into a fictional world of the early 23rd century. In both cases the quest for harmony and truthful proportion manifests at all levels of the stories told and of the works telling them.
This study examines Hindemith’s The Harmony of the World and Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game in the light of the Pythagorean tradition and the urgent question of how universal harmony can heal the spiritual, mental, and emotional developments of contemporary individuals and of society at large.