commentary to opus 72b

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Scenes from Faust Ballet after a dance-poem by Heinrich Heine for Wind and Percussion Ensemble, concert version Op. 72b (1979)

I. Incantation

II. Seduction

III. Dance of unholy spirits

IV. Witches’ Sabbath beginning

V. Gretchen (Intermezzo)

VI. Fair and the damnation of Faust

 

First Performance of the concert version: December 2, 1985, Würzburg, Hochschule für Musik
Bläservereinigung und Schlagzeugensemble der Hochschule für Musik Würzburg / Günther Wich


Orchestra: 2.2.2.2 - 3.2.2.1 -Perc. <5>

Duration: 25 Minutes

Publisher: Schott Music

Video: Witches' Sabbath


I. Incantation
Midnight: Faust draws magic circles in the ground with a sword - incantation - (conjuring up of spirits) - the earth opens, accompanied by thunder and lightening. Mephistophela appears as a dancer. Faust is at first sceptical, but then interested and fascinated. To please her, he lets her teach him dancing, which, after initial failed attempts, finally succeeds. An apparition is called up, finally persuading him to enter into the contract with Mephistophela. With his signature he renounces his blessedness in heaven in return for worldly pleasures now. Afterwards, Faust is alone again.

II. Seduction
At the Duke’s court, Faust recognises in the Duchess the apparition shown to him by Mephistophela - rendezvous.

III. Dance of unholy spirits
Mephistophela’s companions, in the shape of Bacchantes, dance in joyful anticipation of the Witches’ Sabbath.

IV. Witches’ Sabbath
Circle of witches - dignitaries of the Underworld with scurrilous masks - vile parodies of church music - adoration of the black goat - obscene dances before his pedestal - Faust launches into the stir with utter enthusiasm as he sees the Duchess there. But as she gives herself to the black goat, Faust feels revulsion at this satanic Mass and escapes unnoticed through the air on magic horses. - the orgy reaches its climax. At the first ray of sunlight, the black goat goes up in flames. - the whole apparition is at an end.

V. Gretchen (Intermezzo)
Faust is enchanted by the pure naturalness, virtue and beauty of the burger’s daughter "Gretchen". He seems to find in this unpretentious idyll the happiness he has long sought and resolves to marry Gretchen.

VI. Fair and the damnation of Faust
People come together on the square before the cathedral - dance, merriment, turbulence, trumpet blasts; - mockingly and in disgust, Mephistophela, dressed as a herald, watches the harmless, unrestrained goings-on. She causes great confusion as she reminds Faust about his contract, which he had signed with his own blood. Suddenly, a terrible thunderstorm breaks out, conjured up by Mephistophela - Faust‘s time of worldly pleasures is at an end. The people flee into the adjacent cathedral - the bells ring - the people sing and pray - Faust attempts in vain to avert the threatening calamity - the princes of Hell demand their tribute - Mephistophela turns into a serpent and strangles Faust - the earth opens - the princely household of Hell disappears with Faust into Hell.

 

"Leitmodes" in the Scenes from Faust

 

Franz Rauhut: Interview with Bertold Hummel
(from the programme of the Berliner Festwochen, 1979, which were dedicated to the theme "Faust")

At the request of an English theatre director, Heinrich Heine wrote in 1847 a Faust in ballet form, bold but realisable. Gluck had successfully composed Don Juan ("Le festin de Pierre") as a ballet, but the hopes of fame for "Doctor Faust, a dance-poem" were not fulfilled. But the poetic details of his portrayal captured the imagination of composer Bertold Hummel, who in his "Scenes from Faust for wind and percussion" followed closely the intention of the poet with music of unusual suggestiveness. The première at the "Berliner Festwochen" on the 25th September, 1979 with the Bläservereinigung der Jungen Deutschen Philharmonie in the Theatersaal of the Hochschule der Künste was received enthusiastically.

In the first act, "Incantation", Dr. Faust conjures up the spirits of the Underworld in his study and Mephistophola persuades him, with help of the seductive apparition of the Duchess in the mirror, to sign the pact. Here droning demonic motifs overpower with horror; these recur in variations and with occasional scurrilous onomatopoetic effects throughout all the acts.

The second act, "seduction", at the court of the Duke, has the Duchess dancing with Faust and the Duke, in ironic contrast, with Mephistophela.

The "Witches' Sabbath" in the third act is, as climax of the whole work, poetically and musically the mostly richly saturated with themes and motifs. One witch after another whizzes past, a blasphemous parody of the Mass is dedicated to Satan, appearing in the form of a goat; he dances a minuet with the Duchess, who is a bride of Satan. Faust is disillusioned with her, discovers that all the seductive powers of Hell are worthless magic. Then Mephistophela causes classical Helen of Troy to appear to Faust, now obsessed by the longing for pure beauty. Helen’s leitmotiv captivates with its changes of sound colour.

Faust’s attempts in the fourth act, entitled "Helen", to couple with the famous beauty fail when the jealous Duchess storms in and the classical world falls into decomposition. Faust takes revenge for this by killing the Duchess.

The fifth and final act brings a holiday fair onto the stage with charming, cheerful music. Dr. Faust, appearing as a charlatan doctor, now believes he will finally find happiness in domestic life with the sweet mayor’s daughter, whom he wishes to marry on the spot. But Mephistophela enters and comes between them with the pact in blood and the sinner is carried off into Hell in a vigorous spectacle. The Faust leitmotiv sounds for the last time as a sweet reminiscence.

What lead you to tackle Heine’s "dance-poem"?
The directors of the Berliner Festwochen came to me with the request for a Faust composition. As a student, I had written stage music for Marlowe’s Faust.

Faust was always an interesting theme for me. I found Heinrich Heine‘s reworking of the material as a dance-poem especially interesting. Here I saw an opportunity to write a very varied composition.

Why did you use the Wagnerian leitmotiv technique?
To make it easier for the listener to follow the "plot", I allocated a particular sequence of notes to each major person in the drama - something like a "leitmode", which alters its shape according to the dramatic situation.

Can your work be understood as a "symphonic poem" or as "programme music"? Or do you prefer a performance as a ballet? Would a brief programme be a help towards understanding it?
A brief programme could aid comprehension in a concert performance. A ballet version is for me the most ideal form, as long as the choreography and production are brought into harmony with the music.

Am I wrong, if occasionally seem to detect some kind of similarity with Dukas’ "The Sorcerer’s apprentice" or Stravinsky’s "Firebird"?
Whether there are musical links to the works mentions is something I cannot judge, for at the moment I cannot see my work from an objective distance. Certainly I would have nothing against any classification in the literature of my "Scenes from Faust" alongside the works mentioned.

Can you relate personally to the human problem we see in Faust?
I believe every creative person can relate personally to this problem in Faust. I must admit that I developed a particularly close affinity to the person of Faust not least through my years of friendship with Luigi Malipiero, whose Faust productions were unforgettable.

You remained true to Heine’s outline of the story, but right at the end you depart from this, replacing the Christian bells and organ music by a last appearance of the Faust leitmotiv. What was your reason for this?
Right at the end of my Scenes from Faust - almost as a dying echo - his leitmotiv is heard again. This is meant to show that the disappearance of Faust into Hell does not mean that the problem of Faust has disappeared from the world.

Why did you reduce your orchestra to wind and percussion?
This instrumentation was one of the conditions set when the commission was given. Originally I would have preferred writing for full orchestra. While working on the composition, I found it fascinating trying to produce as colourful a score as possible and hope that, despite the restrictions, I have been successful in this.

Did any special problems arise in creating this composition?
Difficulties were only to be seen in the limited time at my disposal and in the resulting hectic rush to produce material for performance.

Is it important to you to make your work easily understandable for the audience?
I consider producing an understandable work very important and would rather risk being accused of being too obvious than lead my listeners into hopeless confusion.

May I ask you how long you worked on your Opus?
The bulk of the composition with instrumentation was completed in the months of July and August, 1979 and demanded particularly intensive work.

 

Press

Spandauer Volksblatt 27th September, 1979

... his Scenes from Faust have been worked out with an eminent feeling for sounds and effects. Such a compendium especially of differentiated percussion effects is not to be encountered often. The piece has a promising future.

 

Berliner Abend 26th September, 1979

... (Hummel’s) music is scenically strikingly effective and is directed to its audience with sureness of aim..

 

Tagesspiegel Berlin 27th September, 1979

The composer showed great craftsmanship and a sure sense of effects for wind and percussion...

From the very beginning, the first movement, "Incantation", descended into the abyss of grumbling woodwinds almost sounding like brassy trombones, carried on deluges of percussion ....

 

Weser-Kurier, Bremen 1st October, 1979

The undeniably romantic pathos of Heinrich Heine’s dance-poem is carried over into an indeed new tonal language which is primarily pictorial and associative.

 

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