commentary to opus 100

Back to work register

Third Symphony, "Jeremiah", op. 100 (1994-96)

I. Moderato (Anathot) beginning

II. Presto (Babylon) beginning

III. Adagio (Lamentationes Jeremiae) beginning

IV. Moderato (Hymnus-Lakén) beginning


First Performance: August 15, 1997, Riedenburg
Moskauer Sinfonieorchester / Alexei Kornienko

Orchestra: - - Timp., Perc. <3 - 4>, Hrp., Strings

Duration: 45 Minutes

Publisher: Schott Music

Conventus Musicus CM 107

Video: Works by Hummel on youtube

The Third Symphony, "Jeremiah", op. 100 was composed in the years 1994-96. The impulse for the composition came from reading the novel "Jeremias" by Franz Werfel. The four movements of the Symphony correspond to four important phases in the life of the prophet.
Thus in the first movement the calling of the youthful Jeremiah in his native Anathoth, where he constantly returned during his life, plays a particular role .
The relentlessness of the second movement recalls the Babylonian captivity of the people of Israel.
The famous Lamentations over Jerusalem are reflected musically in the third movement. The final movement expresses the "nevertheless" (Lakén) with which the sorely tested messenger of God constantly responded to his personal defeats and distress.
The musical language of the Symphony is expressive and unorthodox. Old Testament numerical symbolism plays as big a role as compositional techniques ranging from modality to twelve-tone.

Bertold Hummel

Analyse by Bertold Hummel:

Interview with Bertold Hummel
(extract from the programme of the Stadttheater Würzburg, season 1997/98 relating to the third Symphony Concert 4th/5th December 1997)

Can you sketch the compositional development you went through up to the creating of your Third Symphony?
Coming as I do from the Hindemith-Genzmer school, I was already open in the 1950s to a plurality of compositional methods. From childhood on, I was familiar with Gregorian chant, and was increasingly interested in modal techniques, going as far as twelve-tone. Besides tonal extensions such as polytonality or Messiaen's sound-colour theories, my curiosity was aroused above all by rhythmical possibilities practised by other cultures as well as the incorporation of electronic techniques. In all of this, the "triangular relationship" composer - performer - listener remained a constant challenge, to be met on various levels: from the demands of a virtuoso score for orchestra or chamber ensemble to compositions with serious intentions for amateurs and children.

To which composers are you most indebted as models?
Palestrina - Bach - Bruckner - Messiaen

Does your Third Symphony differ from previous works in the choice of means of expression? Which contemporary works are in your opinion closest to it?

I would primarily draw your attention to the means of expression in my oratorio "The Shrine of the Martyrs", op. 90 as well as to my "Visions for large orchestra", op. 73. In terms of aesthetics and aims, I feel most closely linked to the music of Olivier Messiaen.

How do you relate to the symphonic work of Anton Bruckner, whose First Symphony will be heard as second work in the programme?

My relationship to Bruckner's symphonic work is very close, since an early encounter with his Third Symphony was the decisive moment in my turning to the profession of composer. My reverence for this ingenious symphonist has remained unbroken to this day.

You have said yourself that reading the novel "Jeremiah - hear the voice" by Franz Werfel inspired you to the composition. Is there then a dramatic plot or programme behind this music, based on particular scenes in the book?

Although a programmatic idea is already suggested in its origins, the Symphony does not contain a "drama" involving Jeremiah. It is more a matter of individual scenes which particularly impressed me, interpreted as a kind of parable.

Which chapters or passages of the novel have continued to occupy your thoughts?

The calling of the prophet, Babylon and the Babylonian imprisonment of the people of Israel, the Lamentations of Jeremiah, whose traces are lost after the fulfilment of his task in banishment in Egypt.

Leonard Bernstein also made a personal statement of faith in his First Symphony with the title "Jeremiah-Symphony". With this work, written in 1942, he sought to share the terrible sufferings of the Jews in Europe under the Nazi regime. Do you know Bernstein's work and did it influence your conception for your Third Symphony?

Only after the completion of my work did I hear Bernstein's Symphony for the first time. His impressive conception, with the sung texts worked into it, is orientated in my opinion towards other aims.

Was there, in addition to the occupation with Werfel's novel, a contemporary event to which you relate the Lamentations of Jeremiah?

The Lamentations have been interpreted musically repeatedly throughout the centuries; they are also part of the Holy Week Liturgy in the Catholic Church. I had long had the intention of realising my own musical interpretation.

What is the basic musical material of the Third Symphony? Which musical language do you use? How does the listener distinguish the motif material and what development does this go through?

The material consists of fixed sequences of tones (modes), layers of chords and rhythms, which should as I see it be recognisable despite numerous variations. The development plays a smaller role than the contrasting of musical states of mind in which the tonal material changes its form. My tonal language is pluralistic and also makes unorthodox use of modality, polytonality and tonal fields of up to 12 tones; it uses rhythmic models from the simplest to multiply superimposed metrical layers. In the instrumentation, percussion instruments have a prominent place. Even chains, metal sheets and a resonant pipe are worked into the symphonic events.

How, for example, does the idea of the calling of Jeremiah in the first movement take a concrete, aurally perceptible form?

The long-drawn-out calling of the young Jeremiah, the son of a priest, who felt himself in no way adequate for the task of a prophet and vacillated between doubt, rebellion and dedication, determines a lot of the first movement: represented here in the first seven bars: Yahweh calls: "Jeremiah". No Answer.

Anathoth (near Jerusalem), Jeremiah's birthplace, to which he constantly returned during his life, remained somehow a source of strength and solace.

With what musical means and sounds do you evoke the Babylonian captivity of the people of Israel?

Babylon, at that time the great empire of Nebuchadnezzar, who defeated the Egyptians decisively in 605 B.C. at Karkemisch, is symbolised by three percussionists in a relentless and rhythmically variable movement, sharply accented by the orchestra tutti. A melancholy, chorale-like melody, which can be seen as reflecting the state of mind of the captive Israelites, appears repeatedly as if behind a curtain. The display of Babylonian might remains dominant.

The famous Lamentations form the background for the third movement of your work ...

The Lamentations - the heart of the Symphony - seek to interpret Jeremiah's sufferings, his humiliations, his imprisonment as well as his lament over the fall of Jerusalem.
He had prophesied the destruction of the city because of the falling away of the Israelites from Yahweh's precepts, he had demanded the submission to Babylon and foretold seventy years of captivity and thus drew upon himself the implacable hate of his opponents.

Has the creative effort of the Third Symphony produced a kind of personal "Laken", a "nevertheless" of the composer Bertold Hummel?

The "Laken", which time and again kept Jeremiah from despair, can in my opinion serve as a model for all human suffering and effort. For Judaism, afflicted so unspeakably in our century, this "nevertheless" was an anchor of hope.


In 1997, his third Symphony, "Jeremiah", (inspired by Franz Werfel's novel) received its première. Hummel gave me the CD which appeared at the same time, remarking with characteristically little insistence: "Well, perhaps you will have time to have a listen." I was thus hardly prepared for the mighty and deep sonorities of this great and significant work. What colours in harmony and orchestration! What density of form and, at the same time, what clarity and distinctness in the musical language!

Thomas Daniel Schlee (in "Guardini-Stiftung e.V. - Jahresbericht 2002, Berlin")

The effect of the piece is in my opinion based less on the principle of symphonic development as in the late 19th century than on the magic of sound projections in different dimensions (horizontal, vertical, in increasing and decreasing dynamics).
Fascinating sound spaces are opened. Although there is a programmatic idea (the Jeremiah legend), the Symphony does not represent the "drama" of this material.
In the case of Mahler, for example, who is considered the absolute musician par excellence, it is curious to note that the dramatic plan is always latently presently in the symphonic process (up to the 6th Symphony at any rate).
Nietzche expressed himself very appositely on the kinds of content that can be transmitted in various ways by the medium "music". He speaks of the "Artistic Forces", the Apollonian on the one side and the Dionysian on the other. ("The Birth of the Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music")
The "Apollonian" musician, as I would choose to classify Bertold Hummel for present purposes, took his original inspiration from a parable-like dream vision.
The musical characters enter as already complete forms. The associative functions of the sonorities apply for the whole duration of the piece.
The substance of the cells of material remains unchanged, resulting in a unifying logical consistency.
I see the work as a musical ritual of great proportions, subdivided into four clearly separate sections. Within each of the four sections: rich contrasts and variety. A great experience for the listener!

Alfred Thomas Müller



FAZ, 23th July, 1999

Hummel's Jeremiah Symphony

To belong to the Hindemith-Genzmer school and to name Olivier Messiaen as his model composer is for the Würzburg composer Bertold Hummel, born in 1925, no contradiction. He unites Hindemith's claims of musical transcendence, as he worked them out compositionally in the Keppler opera and the Symphony of the same name, "The Harmony of the World", with Messiaen's modally informed, confession-of-faith-like music into a pluralistic compositional art woven through with plainchant. In almost every one of his works, which cover many genres, Hummel seeks to make audible the "meaning of the world in the praise of God". He does not however write everyday functional church music which would have to legitimise its contemporariness sacrally. There are indeed frequent biblical references, yet in terms of style, instrumental playability and above all in sound, his works earn a solid place amongst contemporary compositions even without spiritual help. The excellently prepared Philharmonisches Orchester Würzburg under the energetic direction of Jonathan Seers has produced a stunningly brilliant live concert recording of his Symphony "Jeremia", premièred two years ago. The long-drawn-out calling of Jeremiah, the son of a priest, to his task as prophet is represented in a musical drifting back and fore from simple rhythmic models to structures as complicated as superimposed multiple layers. With highly varied and richly coloured percussion apparatus, Hummel finds for the famous scenes of lament over the threatening fate of the city of Jerusalem a musical language of large scale gestures, which does not however become banal. Movement in sound is for Hummel immediate bodily expression, so that dark atmospheres promise evil and bright colours good. Jeremiah's self-doubts are represented by means of an extreme mixture of pastels. It is above all Hummel's virtuosically concertante handling of the instruments that makes the work worth hearing.

Donaukurier 18th August, 1997

Hummel's musical language takes small motif cells as its starting-point, takes on an initial appearance of archaic strictness and earnest, depicts fear, menace and melancholy vividly, but points time and again to conciliatory visions and ambivalent feelings on a level beyond all fear and terror.


FAZ 16th September, 1997

The première of Bertold Hummel's Symphony "Jeremiah", something like a statement of faith, attained with its rearing gestures almost an apotheosis.


Main-Echo 21st August, 1997

Hummel exploits to the full the possible combinations and transformations of the thematic cells, obtains imposing and richly varied orchestral sounds and proves himself once again to be sovereign in handling a giant instrumental apparatus.


Mittelbayerische Zeitung 18th August, 1997

Hummel's artistic instrumentation guaranteed an animated sequence of events; fascinating string sounds, colourfully varied woodwind and imposing interjections from the brass contrast with rhythmically accented passages forced on their way by all kinds of percussion. Particularly impressive was the Lamentations movement with its intensive musical language. The final movement provided a somewhat longer passage of increasing intensity, fading away quietly after a quasi archaic pathos.

Back to previous page

Deutsch - Français