commentary to opus 93

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Phantasus - Song-cycle for voice and guitar after poems by Arno Holz, op. 93 (1990)

I. In meinem schwarzen Taxuswald / In my black yew forest

II. Aus weißen Wolken / From white clouds

III. See, See, sonnigste See / Sea, sea, sunniest sea

IV. Vor meinem Fenster / Before my window

V. Rote Rosen / Red roses

VI. In meinem grünen Steinwald / In my green stone forest


First performance : February 5, 1991, Dinkelsbühl, Konzertsaal
Martin Hummel / Clemer Andreotti

Duration: 24 Minutes

Publisher: Vogt & Fritz VF 1095-00 / ISMN: M 2026-1418-1



Arno Holz (1863-1929), founder and theoretician of Naturalism, was already pointing towards Expressionism in his late period. This is particularly true of his verse work "Phantasus" (almost 1600 pages), with lines of different length arranged symmetrically about the central vertical axis of the page,
The cycle comprises six selected poems; the music seeks to interpret their meaning. In this, the guitar often takes the role of commentator - especially in the 3rd song, "See, See, sonnigste See" ( "Sea, sea, sunniest sea"), which represents the dramatic climax of the work. The guitar introductions to the first and last songs have correspondences and thus provide a formal framework. While in the songs 1, 2 and 4 the lyrical aspect dominates, the songs 3 and 5 are of a more dramatic nature. In the 6th song, a pedal-point over 36 bars gives rise to an atmosphere of pale moonlight and a restrained close.
The cycle was composed in 1990 at the suggestion of my son Martin, to whom it is dedicated.

Bertold Hummel


From the late 1980's onwards, one also finds song-cycles in Bertold Hummel's work which depart from the traditional piano accompaniment. Guitar accompaniment is a variant on this, but can still be seen to be related. This combination enjoyed great popularity - within the field of German song - in the later 18th and early 19th century. Hummel uses this form in his song-cycle "Phantasus" on a free selection of poems from the eponymous collection by Arno Holz. Although the capacity of the guitar for polyphonic work is severely limited, Hummel continues in principle with the structures known in his piano songs. There are, however, frequent passages with typical guitar techniques such as e.g. rasgado (constant arpeggio with the fingernails, mostly from the top string downwards and back), as in the opening of the third song ("See, See, sonnigste See" / "Sea, sea, sunniest sea"). Holz' artistic Neo-Romanticism with its Rococo nostalgia (disregarding his moments of naturalistic modernism) is captured musically by Hummel with a slightly impish wink, e.g. when in the first song Blumen (flowers) are mentioned very simply, the following blinken (wink) is set with a compass-copy of the same motif. The instrumental introduction to this song, "In meinem schwarzen Taxuswald" / "In my black yew forest", returns rich in associations at the beginning of the last song, "In meinem grünen Steinwald" / "In my green stone forest" , rounding off the cycle. The ballad-like third song, "See, See, sonnigste See" / "Sea, sea, sunniest sea", is rendered by Hummel with realistic humour, leading in the voice to glissandos and trills and even to that speaking at approximately suggested pitches, a technique first used by Engelbert Humperdinck in the earlier version of his "Königskinder". But if the triads in the passage wohnen die alten Götter / the old gods dwell in the second song ("Aus weißen Wolken") may appear ironical, one has the impression at their return in the last song that Mond / moon and Sonnensee / sun-sea, the blauen Blumen / blue flowers and the Harfe / harp are indeed taken so seriously as atmospheres that the (once again open) cadence in C major - second and first inversions are used - is all the more convincing, particularly because the note E has already been sounding throughout the whole song (with the exception of the instrumental introduction).

Wolfgang Osthoff (in "Zu den Liedern Bertold Hummels", Tutzing, 1998)


Arno Holz: from Phantasus

In my black yew forest
a fairy-tale bird sings -
the whole night
flowers wink.
Under stars, which are reflected,
my boat drifts.
My dreaming hands
dip into floating water-lilies.
Below, soundless, the deeps.
Distant the shore! The song...

From white clouds
a castle forms.
Mirror-like lakes, blessed meadows,
singing fountains of deepest emerald!
In its gleaming halls
the old gods dwell
still, in the evening, when the sun
sinks in purple, the gardens glow,
my heart beats in the face of its wonders
and for a long time ...I stand. Full of longing!
The night draws near, the air grows dark,
like trembling silver the sea winks,
and across the whole world.

Sea, sea, sunniest sea, as far as you can see!
Over the rolling waters,
exulting, a thousand Tritons.
On their shoulders, from a shell,
raised high, a woman.
Her nakedness in the sun.
Below her, dripping,
the dazzling surfaces of mother-of-pearl
time and again anew tall,
thick, plump, enamoured, like toads,
seven old, slimy sea-creatures.
The faces! The groaning and the snorting!
There, suddenly, raging out of the depths, Neptune.
His beard flashes. "Good-for-nothings!"
And, splish-splash, his trident
around the bald pates of the weaklings.
They bellow! Then, quickly,
here a podgy hand still,
there still a belly - they are gone.
The beautiful one smiles.
Neptune bows.

Before my window, a bird sings.
Silent, I listen; my heart melts away.
It sings of what I had as a child
and then - forgotten.

Red roses wind around my encrusted lance.
Through white lily forests, my stallion snorts.
From green lakes, reeds in their hair,
slender, unveiled maidens emerge.
I ride as if of bronze. Constantly, close before me,
the phoenix bird flies and sings.

In my green stone forest, the moon shines.
In its light a pale woman sits and sings.
Of a sun-sea, of blue flowers,
of a child calling mother.
Tiredly, her hand falls over her knee,
in her mute harp the moon glints.

Translation: William Buchanan

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