Biographical: Short biography - K. H. Stahmer: Biographical notes on Bertold Hummel - Pictures


Klaus Hinrich Stahmer


Bertold Hummel was born on the 27th November, 1925 in Hüfingen near Donaueschingen, Baden. He was the fourth child of the primary school teacher Gustav Hummel and his wife Cleopha, née Bernhard. Both parents were real Black Forest people. The father came from a watchmaker's family from Schonach near Triberg and the mother was the daughter of a miller from Schönenbach near Furtwangen. As teacher-training in the years before the First World War also included an intensive musical study in which pianoforte, organ and violin as well as choral conducting, harmony and counterpoint were compulsory subjects, the musical talents of the father were so far advanced that people later only ever spoke of him as the teacher, choirmaster and organist. The mother was also a lover of music and with her humorous hearty hospitality made the teacher's house a universally popular meeting-place, in which finest fare accompanied frequent music, song and celebration. Teacher, priest, doctor and dispensing chemist were in those days the pillars of the cultural life of the small community with its civic ideals and met regularly to play quartets. And so it is only natural that the son came at an early age into contact with good classical music. On Sundays he sat beside his father at the organ and soon knew about scores and stops. At the same time he also heard of course gregorian chant, which was to impress and form him throughout his life. The spectrum of music he heard as a boy ranged from Palestrina to contemporaries such as Hilber, Lemacher or Schroeder. When he heard Weber's "Freischütz" performed in the Festival Hall, Hüfingen, he was filled with enthusiasm. (Picture)

Having no doubt absorbed in early years all the valuable impressions that his life in the country had to offer, Bertold Hummel's artistic development received new nourishment with the move of the family to Merzhausen near Freiburg in 1932. The boy, now seven years old, grew up amidst the flourishing musical life of this medium-sized town with its rich history and eventually became an active part of it. The father, in the meantime a head teacher, gave him piano lessons. Imperceptibly, the boy laid aside the hard inflexions of his native dialect from the Baar valley and took on the more singing diction of the alemann Breisgau. He was still young (Picture) as the bishop's seat at the foot of the Black Forest was "seized" by the national socialist rulers, but he soon realised that the family home was sceptical about the brown-coloured ideology. Here his world view developed, characterised by a lofty humanitarian ethos and liberal values, a view which would often find expression in his compositions of later years. Hummel recalled that the purchase of a radio in 1934 and the resulting period of listening to concerts and music was one of the important milestones in his development. This was and continued to be for him one of the most important sources of information on modern music.

With his admission to the secondary modern school in Rotteck in Freiburg in the year 1936, a new phase of life began. The music teacher Wilhelm Weis recognised immediately the unusual talent of the new pupil and arranged for Bertold Hummel to have cello lessons (Picture), while he himself taught him harmony and counterpoint privately. The attendance at a symphony concert, into which he had pestered his parents, was a decisive experience. Bruckner's "Third" was on the programme. His enthusiasm knew no limits, and he resolved to become a composer! This resolve received further confirmation when he sang regularly in the boys' choir in performances of Wagner's "Parsifal" at the Municipal Theatre, Freiburg. The fixed stars in the heavens of this young secondary pupil, Wagner and Bruckner, had risen and were to remain there for the rest of his life. In the meantime, several pieces had been composed and some of them tried out in school concerts and presented to a small audience, with the result that a decision was taken to send a number of them to the composer Julius Weismann, resident in Freiburg, to ask his opinion. Without hesitation, Weismann declared he would take over the boy's composition lessons, but the circumstances of war put an all too early an end to this instruction. Here, on the way to becoming a musician, he suffered infringement of his personal liberties when he was denounced for his long-established participation in the music at the home of a respected Jewish family in Freiburg. At the age of eighteen, he was enlisted in the "Reichsarbeitsdienst" and six months later called up for military service. There was no question of continuing musical studies.

Late in the war he was taken prisoner in France and saw the first opportunities to perhaps make music after all and was active in helping to form a prisoners' orchestra (Picture), consisting of a string quartet, woodwind, trombone, trumpet, saxophone, accordion, piano and percussion. Here his first string quartet was performed, along with popular works in his own orchestrations from Wagner's "Legend of the Grail" and classical overtures to popular music of the day. The missing double-bass was constructed under his supervision by fellow prisoners in the camp carpentry workshop and - miracle of miracles - it really worked! After five adventurous escape attempts, he was finally successful in 1947 in reaching via Belgium and Luxembourg the fields of home once again, upon which his first task was to resume school education in a course for returned soldiers at Freiburg University, where he obtained the high school leaving certificate (Picture).

After compulsory participation in rebuilding work in the town, Hummel finally entered the newly founded Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg and from 1947 studied composition with Harald Genzmer, cello with Atis Teichmanis, chamber music with Emil Seiler and conducting with Konrad Lechner. Hummel's fellow student Dieter Weiss recalled these early student years as a "unique time of awakening" (Picture) and Bertold Hummel spoke of "the euphoric catching-up by the generation returned home." Pictures by Chagall, Braque, Léger, Picasso and Rouault were exhibited by courtesy of the French military government. Paul Hindemith was a guest. Four professors played, on the staircase of the Wenzinger House on the Minster square, the principal building of the Music College, Messiaen's still brand-new "Quartet for the End of Time". The foundation for Hummel's inexhaustable enthusiasm for Messiaen was laid! Of enduring value was the study with Genzmer, whose rich treasures of universal learning formed the basis for Hummel's aesthetic ideal orientated on principles of craftsmanship. Through him he becomes familiar with the whole spectrum of western music. Having learned from Hindemith, Genzmer helped the young composer develop thinking in sound. This thinking would merge a little later, organically and without a break, with the completely different harmonic techniques of Messiaen and Schönberg to become a thoroughly individual sound language. And Genzmer's thoughts and suggestions on the language of form were such that they could be effortlessly united by Hummel, in the years after his studies, with the formal concepts of Stravinsky. Hungry for knowledge, the up-and-coming composer received inportant impulses in Kranichstein during the Darmstadt summer courses, where it was Messiaen in particular who deeply impressed him as a personality and artist. It was of course natural that Hummel should be caught up in the general excitement of entering new fields and was led by Leibowitz and Nono to music of the Schönberg school. In 1952 his name appeared on the programme of the Donaueschingen Day of Music. Here the "Missa brevis" op. 5 had its première.

After seven years of intensive study, the twenty-nine year-old was attracted to foreign parts for the first time. He accepted along with a group of young musicians the invitation of the South-West African Cultural Association and set off as a cellist on a ten-month concert-tour through the Union of South Africa. For this Hummel composed works which are amongst the first he retained in his definitive work catalogue! Also amongst the party was the violinist Inken Steffen, born in 1927 on the island Sylt, whom he married in Swakopmund (Picture).

Once back in Germany, the now husband and musician took the post of cantor St. Konrad in Freiburg and played regularly as a cellist (Picture) when large symphony orchestras were required at the South-West radio in Baden-Baden and at the Municipal Theatre, Freiburg. It was no surprise that his abilities as a composer and arranger found opportunities here. Meanwhile, the first of six sons (Picture) had been born, and life became more expensive. His wife Inken kept up her successful career as a violin teacher (Picture) - and did so until well into the 1990's! - and helped her husband to concentrate more on composing. Thus the chamber opera "The Emperor's New Clothes", a ballet for the State Theatre, Oldenburg and not less 50 organ compositions for the new organ book for the Archdiocese Freiburg came into being. First honours such as, for example, the Culture Prize of the Federal Association of German Industry (1956), the Composition Prize of the City of Stuttgart (1959) or the Robert Schumann Prize of the City of Düsseldorf (1960) indicate his rising success.

The turning-point in Bertold Hummel's life and artistic career resulted from from his nomination as a teacher of composition at the Bavarian State Conservatory, Würzburg, in 1963. While the bulk of the work in the first years was more or less the teaching of harmony, counterpoint, figured bass and ear-training as compulsory subjects in the syllabus for singers and instrumentalists, he was nevertheless able, with sureness of aim and making much use of analysis of contemporary works, to keep composition students at the Conservatory and finally to establish a composition class (Picture) . It is also true that the beginnings of Hummel's work in Würzburg came at a time when a number of open-minded colleagues were prepared to support his efforts at innovation. His compositions in the 1960's reflected encounters with colleagues such as, for example, the percussionist Siegfried Fink; we feel the breath of new experiences in sound. In Lotte Kliebert, the daughter of the former head of the institute and composer Karl Kliebert, Hummel found a committed Würzburg personality who could persuade him to take over the direction of the recently founded "Studio for New Music". There followed until 1988 many years of responsible work establishing the cause of new music in the generally cautious bishop's seat on the Main. With an expressly liberal attitude in questions of style and aesthetics, he creates a platform in Würzburg for the widest imaginable spectrum of composers from Korn, Genzmer and Büchtger, via Hába (Picture), Stockhausen and Rihm, to Lachenmann eine Plattform in Würzburg. After half a year at the Cit■ des Arts in Paris in 1968, he was given the post of deputy director at the music institute in Würzburg. The director, Hanns Reinartz, had managed to get a new building erected for the Bavarian State Conservatory. At the inauguration of the concert hall in 1966, Hummels second Symphony, "Reverenza" is performed under the baton of the director. When the institute was transformed into the second Bavarian Music College in 1973, Hummel became a permanent professor and director of a composition class. Now free from the tasks of teaching compulsory subjects, he dedicated himself intensively and emphatically to the training of a new generation of composers and, as far as time allowed beside his own composing, he helped them to find opportunities for performance. The fact that there is no epigone-like forcing on the students of the meanwhile highly characteristic musical language of the teacher can be positively evaluated as a sign of Hummel's acceptance of a breadth of styles. In the twenty years of teaching up to his retirement in 1988, he established something like a "Würzburg school of composition", characterised by an ethos of accomplished craftsmanship and striking practicality. Successful composers like Jeff Beer, Ulrich Schultheiß, Claus Kühnl, Klaus Ospald, Jürgen Schmitt, Horst Lohse, Jürgen Weimer, Hermann Beyer, Christoph Weinhart, Armin Fuchs, Christoph Wünsch, Tobias M. Schneid and others provide him with a certificate of his responsible tutorship with a concern for the personal maturing of the students entrusted to him. In 1979, Hanns Reinartz left the post of director, his deputy Bertold Hummel was elected to succeed him. At this point, Hummel fixed all his ambitions on carrying out both tasks - President and teacher of composition - fully, without their significantly interfering with each other.

As son of an organist, active himself for many years as a cantor and with personal ties with the Archdiocese of Freiburg, Bertold Hummel also found in Würzburg good opportunities for artistic work in the field of church music. Shortly after the move to Würzburg, he received a commission for a "German Mass" for soloists, choir, congregation and large orchestra to mark the completion in 1967 of the reconstruction of the cathedral in this principal town of this part of Franconia along the Main. Four years later, the cathedral hosted the world premi˙re of the "Metamorphoses on B-A-C-H" for eleven wind instruments and organ - a commission for the Würzburg Bach Society, recently founded under guidance of Günter Jena. The crowning climax of the series of works written for Würzburg Cathedral is "The Shrine of the Martyrs" with composition and first performance in 1989 on the occasion of the 1300th anniversary of the mission and martyrdom of the apostles to the Franks, on a text by Bishop Paul Werner Scheele. In order to be able to tackle this full-length work for five soloists, mixed choir, boys' choir, speaker, three organs, percussion ensemble and large orchestra at all, Hummel asked to be released from his duties as Director and teacher at the College. In 1988 he gave up his position (Picture) but remained linked to the institute as Honorary President. This was the year in which he was honoured by the city of Würzburg with the Culture Prize, having been previously appointed to the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts (1982) (Picture) ) and having received the distinction of the Federal Order of Merit First Class (1985).

In the years following this release from the burdens of office, Bertold Hummel composed ceaselessly and successfully for large ensembles at home and abroad, travelled to countries such as the USA, Russia, Australia, France, Austria and Poland to be present at performances of his works and was additionally involved in preparing printed and recorded versions of his works. . Honours such as the Bavarian Order of Merit (1994), the Friedrich Bauer Preze of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts (1996) or the Culture Prize of German Catholics (1998) demonstrate the high level of appreciation and respect shown to Bertold Hummel on grounds of his personality and artistic work.

On the 9th August, 2002, Bertold Hummel died in Würzburg following a short but severe illness.

from: Komponisten in Bayern: BERTOLD HUMMEL



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