S. Fink, C. Kuehnel, W. Osthoff, H. Schmidt-Mannheim, K. H. Stahmer, F. A. Stein
in Bayern, Band 31:
Hans Schneider, Tutzing, 1998,
3 7952 0944 7
Notes on Bertold Hummel
The break-down of unity within contemporary music has as one of its consequences the risk that the musician is going to be left behind, fallen by the wayside. The unity between instrumentally typical writing and importance of the statement seems undermined. The debate about whether modern music should be part of season-ticket concert programmes or should be found room elsewhere is basically another side of the same dilemma. In the meantime, however, a generation of young performers is growing up - at least in part - with the feeling of having been abandoned by their composer colleagues. The latter demand from orchestral musicians highest levels of technique, flexibility and concentration but largely neglect the need for presentations satisfying on all levels. Particularly amongst the critics there developed a harsh judgement on "Spielmusik" ("music for the joy of playing"), which was considered to rotate in its own little circle without taking account of progressive musical tendencies of the time.
But the need remained unmet. To counter this, there developed in Germany a style of composition which took its direction particularly from the works of Paul Hindemith. Today, these compositions have again found a much more convinced audience. Bertold Hummel is one such composer and can be seen as a "grandchild" of Hindemith via his teacher Harald Genzmer. Here there is no timidity about getting involved with forms catering for the pure pleasure of instrumental playing or about music reflecting pedagogical needs. These compositions meet with great resonance, as is evident from the number of performances, which often exceed those of the avant-garde by a long way.
Bertold Hummel, born in 1925 in Huefingen, which happens to be near Donaueschingen, where Hindemith at that time organised his concerts with contemporary music, is not considered as part of this avant-garde with its self-isolating tendencies, in its self-imposed ghetto situation. He has never attempted with his music to break out of the traditional concert forms but sees it rather as a deeply-rooted form of musical communication with wide-ranging possibilities from great concert halls to the church. Thus church music was for the Catholic Hummel one of the central areas of activity. It was in this field that last year a monumental, two-and-a-half-hour major work, the oratorio, "The Shrine of the Martyrs", was composed and performed for the first time in Wuerzburg where Hummel was active from 1963 onwards as a teacher of composition. Between 1979 and 1997, he was president of the state music college in Wuerzburg and was besides this director of the Studio for New Music, Wuerzburg.
Many of Hummel's compositions were written in connection with concerts for the Studio for New Music and also in collaboration with the percussion class of Siegfried Fink. In these works, there is a combination of pedagogical intention with a completely personal style offering room for the performer to exploit his instrument.
Originality as well as "usefulness" of the music were always at the centre of Bertold Hummel's compositional thinking. In this, he relied in large measured on the musical schemes of the baroque and classical periods, the Sonatina, the Divertimento and also the Suite recurring as the basis for his works, particularly when the emphasis was on the combination of instrumental enjoyment with pedagogical aims.
In more freely conceived works, of perhaps greater significance than the category mentioned, there resulted from impulses he absorbed from contact with the new discoveries of the avant-garde a "sound-colour" style, linked closely to Hummel's unusual abilities in the area of instrumentation. Here again he saw himself however as being on the side of the "users", as meant in his fundamental definition of two basic types of artist, of composer, as he saw them in history: the "discoverers" (Hummel described them as lighthouses and included here such figures as Haydn, Beethoven, Liszt, Debussy or Schšnberg) and the "amalgamators", amongst whom he mentions Bach, Mozart or Brahms. Hummel felt himself closer to the second group in his creative work, he attempted constantly to integrate harmoniously experiments and their results in his work, to place these, seen as it were through his eyes, at the disposal of performers. This does of course always run the risk of becoming schematic, but the element of originality provides the counterweight to this. It is on this latter element that the success of a work ultimately depends. But the work has to be able to resist the pressure from pedagogical impetus, from the wishes of the instrumentalist for enjoyably performable material and from the wish for individuality. Otherwise the work will fall under the wheels of banality or of elitism.
(from the programme booklet of the Munich Philharmonic: 2nd Chamber Concert, Munich, 1990, p.4-5)
Bertold Hummel, whose field was composing and not precise speaking and writing about music, has described himself on a number of occasions in the last five years, looking back on his work, as a eclecticist. Since he was, of course, aware that this term is generally used in a negative sense—“eclectic” means selecting from existing material, therefore non-original—he sometimes spoke of a “creative eclecticism”.
In the obituary in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 12th August 2002, Michael Gassmann wrote, “He saw himself as someone ‘who has observed and analysed the experiments in their entirety’. Bertold Hummel was thus what an avant-gardist is not–but he was filled with enthusiasm.” This formulation seems to me somewhat exaggerated, but it contains a core of truth. How, then, is Bertold Hummel’s creative work in music to be distinguished from the avant-garde of the fifties and sixties, for these were the decisive years of his generation, and, if he was enthusiastic, what was he enthusiastic about? A statement of programmatic relevance to the whole musical avant-garde was formulated by Karl-Heinz Stockhausen in his Arbeitsbericht [Work Report] 1952/53, whose aesthetic approach was as follows: “One can no longer rely on the immediate sound ideal. The sound ideal is determined by all the music one has previously heard. If it still had validity, one would also have to continue to conform to classical order.
The creative alternative to continuing as things always have been has produced, as we know, serial and electronic music, the latter’s genesis being achieved initially with serial methods. Bertold Hummel did not in fact construct any of his works on serial techniques. He once mentioned to me that, in his first stages, he carried out studies with total predetermination of pitches, durations and timbres, but was apparently repelled by the results. Hummel saw no personal necessity to deny the validity of the precepts of classicism. Nor did he, naturally, wish to comply with them unquestioningly. He wished to extend these precepts where his creative curiosity called for it and enrich them with solutions of his own: this was his concept of originality, a concept repeatedly emphasised to me at the start of my studies with him. He therefore strove, with increasing persistence from the seventies onwards, for a personal style, while the avant-garde expressly abjured such efforts and, in a certain sense, wanted to discover music anew with each work. This was the direction indicated by a statement of the then young composer Isabel Mundry: “Distrust, in a creative sense, what you are already capable of–I hope, in this way, to preserve myself and, at the same time, to remain in motion. Perhaps one will more readily attain an authenticity if one avoids cultivating it.” Could it be that two irreconcilable attitudes collide here? The fact is that Bertold Hummel, up to the very end, accorded priority in his working process to creative spontaneity, following up with precise determination of every detail. That one of the determining factors in his sound ideal was “all the music that one has previously heard” was for him completely natural and not a reason to rebel against this fact. He was, furthermore, knowledgeable about all the achievements of his epoch, including those whose blessings he did not accept. One could say, regarding the music of his time, that he was excellently informed, and all who knew him were aware that he was to be seen in Donaueschingen every year, hardly missed an important radio transmission in his region and, with his students of the day, thought through everything that was presented to him. He did, however, like every composer, have certain preferences. He loved Gregorian chant, the classics, Anton Bruckner, Alban Berg, Paul Hindemith and Olivier Messiaen, with whom he also felt connected in a vivification of Catholicism. He was enthusiastic about them, their music permeated him and, thanks to his transforming personality, brought forth a new style.
 Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, Texte zur elektronischen und instrumentalen Musik, Cologne, 1963, p. 32
 Isabel Mundry, booklet text for the CD of the Deutscher Musikrat, WERG
In Bertold Hummel’s workshop, nothing is lost. As a nine-year-old, for example, he heard Bruckner’s Third Symphony in Freiburg and reached this conviction: “I must become a composer!” He notated a four-bar sequence of chords which he quoted, much later, in his three-movement organ work "In memoriam Anton Bruckner", premièred in 1989 at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. Anton Bruckner and Olivier Messiaen left their mark on the church musician Bertold Hummel as much as by their piety as their avant-gardism. His own sacred music is likewise audacious and astringent, complex and demanding. Time and again, Hummel pointed to the French organ music of the 20th century and found words of praise for its succeeding in anchoring the contemporary in the consciousness of the people of the church, avoiding the ghetto-existence which has often marginalised sacred music elsewhere. Bertold Hummel has received numerous distinctions. As early as 1956, he was awarded a bursary by the Federal Association of German Industry. In 1960, he received the Composition Prize of the City of Stuttgart, in 1961 the Robert Schumann Prize of the City of Düsseldorf, in 1988 the Culture Prize of the City of Würzburg. In 1968 he was awarded a bursary by the Cité des arts internationale de Paris. Since 1982, he has been a member of the Bavarian Academy of the Fine Arts and gives lectures at home and abroad. The greatest recognition, of course, are the performances of his works throughout the world, mainly in, besides Europe, the USA, South America, Canada, Russia, Japan, Australia. One would wish Germany—and Bavaria—similar record figures. While the prophet may not be unknown in his own land, a little more familiarity would be appropriate. For his music — as Karl Schumann said at Hummel’s 65th birthday — “has what one would desire: substance and professionality, individuality and polished compositional technique, precise craftsmanship and profundity…” Not least, this composer also speaks to those “who hear beyond the details of constantly idiosyncratic and polished compositional techniques.”
(Rheinischer Merkur, Number 22, 30th May, 1997)
Claus Kühnl (1977, LP booklet text: LP: Christophorus 73902)