commentary to South African Suite

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South African Suite for Chamber Orchestra, op. 13a (1956)

I. Ali Baba

II. Kalahari

III. Boer Dance

IV. Basotho Elegy

V. Heia Safari beginning


Orchestra: - - Perc., Hrp., Strings

Duration: 18 Minutes

Publisher: Ricordi Berlin MOD 386 // Score and Parts

Video: Works by Hummel on youtube

I was in South Africa in 1954 / 55. The situation of art in Namibia was very different from that in the Union of South Africa. While there were for example concerts and artistic activities in Cape Town and Johannesburg comparable with those in Europe, Namibia and also other smaller places in the Union of South Africa were musically absolutely under-developed. The political situation of apartheid was one I could not agree with and has today, thank God, been overcome. At that time the South African Suite - almost a musical travel diary - took shape with the movements Ali Baba, Kalahari, Boer Dance, Basuto Elegy and Heia Safari, recorded after my return to Germany by Willi Stech with the Kleines Orchester des Südwestfunks Baden-Baden.

Bertold Hummel (in: "Gespräch mit Bertold Hummel" Januar 1998, Tutzing 1998)


In the years 1954/54, Bertold Hummel joined a group of German artists as cellist and composer for an extended concert tour through the Union of South Africa.
Impressions from the journey and the folk-songs he collected there went into the South African Suite, which was immediately produced by the Kleinen Unterhaltungsorchester of the Südwestfunk Freiburg and frequently included in their programmes. This orchestra, very popular at the time, and its leader Willi Stech were also otherwise active in commissioning works from the young composer and arranger.


Badische Zeitung, 27th September, 1963

In the "South African Suite in 5 Movements" (composed for the Stech Ensemble) by Bertold Hummel from Freiburg, the joint influence of two techniques was immediately apparent: cantus firmus, known from our older traditions as a structural device in the way we have just discussed, together with masterly instrumentation of the most refined kind. This combination took the form of fluctuating sonorities interacting with precise gestures in the musical language, the latter expressed principally through the pendant for asymmetrical rhythms. Hummel wrote his music in South Africa - in a manner of speaking a study of that geographical environment with a touch of old Boer traditional song.

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