commentary to opus 101b

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Fantasia poetica "in memoriam Wolfgang Borchert" for Dulcimer and Viola op. 101b (1997)

The beginnig of Fantasia poetica

Première: November 23, 1997, Munich, Gasteig
Thomas Weber / Karl-Heinz Schickhaus

Duration: 16 minutes

Publisher: Vogt & Fritz VF 1279 / ISMN M 2026-0219-5

Vogt&Fritz Sound GAMI 8016

 

The Fantasia poetica resulted from a suggestion by the dulcimer specialist Karl-Heinz Schickhaus and is a homage to the prematurely deceased poet Wolfgang Borchert (1921-1947), who - like Bertold Hummel - had to go through the terrors of the World War II as a young man. This work in one movement confronts the instrumentalists with high demands. Varied sound character, changes in tempo and metre as well as dynamic extremes typify the themes, which are to a large extent based on the letters of the scale contained in the names concerned. The work closes with a Passacaglia, which fades into nothing.

 

Heidi Ilgenfritz: work analysis (excerpts)

In 1997, Karl-Heinz Schickhaus planned a matinee "In memoriam Wolfgang Borchert" as part of the Munich Dulcimer Concerts. It was to be on the Lutheran All Souls' Day, the 23rd November, only three days after the 50th anniversary of Borchert's death. Karl-Heinz Schickhaus then asked Bertold Hummel for a composition with a connection to Wolfgang Borchert and suggested the instrumental combination of dulcimer and viola.

Bertold Hummel, who was himself for a short time a prisoner of war, spoke of Borchert's best-known work, "Draußen vor der Tür" ("Outside before the door") as the radio play of his generation. Before beginning work on the Fantasia Poetica, he read once again this "play that no theatre wants to produce and no audience wants to see", as Borchert's subtitle puts it, with the main aim of getting hold of the right atmosphere. But he also responded, in a certain way, to the form. As in a story, the Fantasia Poetica consists of a succession of different themes. Hummel did not copy the form compositionally, but the individual sections of the work do correlate with the stages in Beckmann's development. At the end of both the play and the Fantasia Poetica, the correlation is clearest: "Outside before the door" ends with the repeated question:
"Why then are you silent? Why?
Does no-one give an answer?
Does no-one, no-one give an answer???"

Hummel repeats the final theme in exactly this way, he slows it down and broadens it and at the end lets it fade away in pizzicato harmonics in pianissimo. Above the final note, he sets a pause lungo and writes as a last indication al niente (into nothing).

In the Fantasia Poetica, Hummel uses three cryptograms.
1. First of all, I would like to go into the letters of the scale contained in the name
W-O-L-F-G-A-N-G B-O-R-C-H-E-R-T (German B, H = English B-flat, B),
because Hummel betrays these to the player on the page inside the cover. This name appears for the first time in the opening section in bars 65/66 in the viola and is taken up immediately in bars 67/68 by the dulcimer, but without further development. For the second section, Hummel uses the "Wolfgang Borchert" theme as a ritornello with a total of five appearances. In the Passacaglia, the "Wolfgang Borchert" theme provides the basis for ten different variations and an intermezzo. In all, Hummel thus uses this cryptogram 18 times within the Fantasia Poetica. This process gives the name a special importance, for, even if the listener is not aware that this is a cryptographic derivation from Wolfgang Borchert's name, he will nevertheless certainly notice the returns of the theme.
2. The name of the dedicatee is also concealed in Hummel's work:
S - C - H - I - C - K - H - A- U - S (German S [Es], H = English E-flat, B),
at the beginning three times in succession in bars 5/6 as well as bars 11/12 of the next section and four bars later transposed a major second upwards. At the end of the Quasi Cadenza, the "Schickhaus" theme provides decorative notes around the cadential trill note E-flat, initially twice in the dulcimer, then twice in augmentation and extended by a sixth mixture above in the viola.
In the Allegro section, Hummel also calls on the "Schickhaus" theme. He brings it three times in succession in the same form, namely in a mixture with the fifth above, whereby he increases the dynamics with each appearance.
A final appearance of the theme is at the beginning of the Coda.
In total, the "Schickhaus" theme is thus heard 13 times within the Fantasia Poetica. While the "Borchert" theme appears principally in the second section and continually in the Passacaglia so that the repeats of the theme can hardly be missed, the name Schickhaus (incidentally without his forename) is heard somewhat more seldom and in less prominent places. Furthermore, it clearly undergoes less development.
3. Beyond these two cases, Hummel also conceals, as in most of his works, his own name, as a kind of signature, enclosing the Fantasia Poetica like a bracket: in the first bar the forename B-E-R-T-O-L-D (German B = English B-flat). The notes between simply supply a diffuse seventh mixture. In the last two bars, the surname: H-U-M-M-E-L (German H = English B) appears. Here again a diffuse mixture is heard, this time with a minor ninth.
The whole-tone "Bertold" theme with which the piece begins is also used several times by Hummel; he repeats it initially in bars 3/4 and then includes it mainly in the cadenza-like passages: bars 83/84 first of all, then in the quasi Cadenza bars 157-160 and once again in bars 186-191. In all of this, the theme is varied only rhythmically, without coloration or mixture effects. As a result, it is always easy to recognise.
The individual sections of the Fantasia Poetica:
1st Section: (undesignated) - bars 1 to 98
2nd Section: (undesignated) - bars 99 to 201
3rd Section: (Passacaglia) - bars 202 to 268
4th Section: (Coda) - bars 167 to 295

(from the diploma dissertation by Heidi Ilgenfritz: Werkanalyse der "Fantasia Poetica" op. 101b für Hackbrett und Viola von Bertold Hummel, Richard-Strauss-Konservatorium, München 2002)

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