commentary to opus 50

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Contrasts for Strings, op. 50 (1973)

I. Introduction

II. Burlesque

III. Elegy

IV. Vivace

V. Pedal-point

VI. Allegro molto

VII. Epilogue


Intrumentation: 8 Violins, 2 Violas, 2 Violoncelli and 1 Double Bass

First Performance: october 28, 1973, Mainz, Hilton Hotel
Badisches Kammerorchester / Manfred Reichert

Duration: 14 Minutes

Publisher: Schott Music

Musicaphon M 55717

Video: Works by Hummel on youtube

Bertold Hummel's Contrasts for Strings, op. 50 (1972), is subdivided into seven formal sections. The string orchestra is divided into thirteen parts. Traditional categories such as melody, harmony, and polyphony are audible, yet they follow independent principles of organization. The musical material is derived from a twelve-tone series that appears linearly in its entirety in the third section ("Elegy"). All melodic-linear forms come from permutations of this series' original form, and from the work with segments of it. For the vertical stratifications of sound (harmony) Hummel preferred to use the two transposltions of the whole-tone series, but also tonal complexes of thirds and fourths. We encounter a specific polyphonic-contrapuntal disposition in the sixth section ("Allegro molto"). Here, three structures are linked one another (repetitive rhythmized-gllssando-Iinear). The fifth section ("Pedal point") likewise follows a similar principle (steady eight-notepulsation, melodic expansion). In the second section ("Burlesque"), complementary rhythms are bound to tonal complexes in different pitch ranges (pizzicati). In the fourth section a "contrast" results from the interconnection of a moving continuum (sixteenth notes) with "splayed" tonal surfaces and markedly rhythmized unison attacts. The title Contrasts refers both to the whole work (structurally different sections) as well as to the inner structure of each individual section.

Thomas Müller



Melos 1974/II, (Critique of the première)

Here is captured, in seven independent movements of strongly contrasting but yet very balanced expression, a fascinating world of sound, transparent for the listener and immediately convincing on the occasion of its première. Burlesque and Elegy mark the extremes of a whole scale of different fields of experience, set in the frame of a meditative Introduction and a restrained, melancholy Epilogue. Vivace and Allegro Moderato polarise the musical magic of an impressive Pedal-point. Spontaneously, one makes comparisons with the genre string quartet. Here, Hummel has taken similarly flexible forces in hand, often enough subdividing them into thirteen individual solo parts. From this body, he draws out finest sound textures, comical effects and gripping moments of power. It seems that here a blending of clear formal principles with a wealth of personal statements has taken place. At the same time, the composer keeps the work free of any exaggerated pathos and can bring across much more with his economical gestures than with an unbridled espressivo.

Klaus H. Stahmer


Braunschweiger Zeitung, 1st December, 1975

As Overture to the evening, Heinz Zeebe chose a piece with a guaranteed impact, the Contrasts for 13 strings (1973) by Bertold Hummel. These seven single movements are written in tonally free traditional notation and are remarkable for their differentiated richness of colour. The pieces, closing with a delicately fading Epilogue, were excellently performed by the string players, who showed a fine sense of tone colour.


Orchestra, 1973

Alongside B. Britten's "Simple Symphony", which nowadays will hardly be missing from the repertoire of any string orchestra - and was also played at the end of the programme in Mainz - these new orchestral miniatures could establish themselves firmly. They promise to become, like Hummel's "Figures in Sound", genuine repertory pieces.


Mainzer Allgemeine Zeitung, 30th October, 1973

Hummel's work is moderately modern, a celebration of nuances in sonority for the ear, a particularly "acceptable" opus, causing pleasure rather than disruption. Subtle textures woven from foreign harmonies appear, but as additions to normal triad chords. The element of hovering and buzzing dominates, with harmonics, effects with glissandos and trills, with priceless pedal-point. This is a high-level colouristic event, catering for the refined techniques of the string players, who occasionally even have to conjure up an oboe or bassoon effect.


Stuttgarter Zeitung, 18th June, 1974

Of the works for chamber orchestra, the Contrasts for thirteen strings by Bertold Hummel was a well-sounding piece, full of effects, music of a tonally free quasi-impressionism, which should provide chamber orchestras, with their main activity lying in the area of baroque music, with a beneficial change from the routine.


Badische Zeitung, 28th January, 1974

What develops here out of a prologue-like violin cadence is an animated piece, rich in fantasy and figures. Hummel leaves fashions to go their own way, makes it clear that he is interested in the full sonority of a string ensemble. Something good to listen to by a man of much ability, one who understands diversity in orchestral writing and has an intact relationship with the concrete effect.

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