in memoriam Bertold HummelBer

Karl Heinz Wahren: in memoriam Bertold Hummel
Martin Hummel: Speech on the 27th November, 2002

Karl Heinz Wahren

In Memory of Bertold Hummel

The last time we saw each other was in July in Berlin on the occasion of the meetings of the GEMA Ratings Committee for Serious Music. When we greeted each other, I thought his appearance had changed a bit; he was thinner in the face and more asthenic than the year before. That may have been due to the temporary consequences of excessive professional exertion. I didn't give it any more thought because his participation in our conversations during the initial days of the extensive and nerve-racking assessment work was as lively and unerring as ever. It wasn't until the third day that he complained of feeling ill and then finally returned to Würzburg prematurely.
The liveliness of the moment suppresses the thoughts of a possible last encounter, especially in the case of a revered, amiable colleague and friend. So the news of his death just four weeks later took me completely by surprise and was very painful.
We had known each other since 1971. That year, he had invited our Gruppe Neue Musik Berlin (New Music Group of Berlin), which had been successful in West Berlin since 1965, to a concert as the head of the Studio for New Music in Würzburg. This later developed into a professional friendship, which distinctly deepened in the course of time through our encounters at the annual GEMA meetings, occasional concert performances together and the subsequent conversations.
From the very beginning, I was impressed by Bertold Hummel's behaviour towards his fellow human beings, which I would like to call benevolent. I have not experienced this character trait expressed in such a distinct manner in any other educated individual. It is the ability to understand others and therefore the gift of conveying encouragement in life - and to do so in a manner that is not naive and uncritical. As a practising Christian, Hummel was well balanced and discerning, but also had a mind that was always prepared for the inevitable confrontations.
Yet, the humanitarian aspect of his character, the understanding he had for people who thought and acted in a manner different from his own, his sense of harmony despite contrary positions - this sounds like the squaring of the circle - were extraordinary. At the same time, he could be strict, especially in cases of artistic insincerity, contempt towards colleagues or tiresome vanities.
"As a composer, I feel that I am obligated to the community in which I live. It is my objective to make a modest contribution towards the effort of making the world a more humane and liveable place." This was the motto of Bertold Hummel, who was born in 1925 in the vicinity of Donaueschingen. His ancestors in Baden, on both his father's and his mother's side, were craftsmen, but his father became a teacher, choir director and organist. The latter awakened his receptive and interested son to music at an early age. Somewhat later, as the headmaster of a school close to Freiburg in Breisgau, he gave his son piano lessons. The son's special musical talent was particularly promoted at the secondary school through violoncello, theory of harmony and composition classes. When the student heard Bruckner's "Third" at a symphony concert, he decided to become a composer. His participation in the boy's choir at Parsifal performances of the Freiburg Stadttheater (Municipal Theatre) strengthened this intention. In Anton Bruckner and Richard Wagner, he chose two long-term role models for his professional goals. But first, he was forced to put on the earth-brown uniform of the National Labour Service due to the demands of the National Socialist dictatorship for premilitary training. Then, just six months later - and now in the olive-green Wehrmacht uniform - he had to march off to the Second World War. He withstood this storm of steel without physical injury; even during his time as a prisoner-of-war in France, he began to write compositions for the prison-camp band after the German capitulation of 1945. In 1947, he returned to his homeland and was able to continue his school education that had been interrupted shortly before the start of the war and he completed it with the matriculation examination.
Immediately following his graduation, he began studying at the Freiburg Music Conservatory; his courses included composition with Harald Genzmer, his violoncello teacher was Atis Teichmanis and he studied conducting with Konrad Lechner. Hummel remembered this post-war era of the late 1940s as a period of "euphoria in making up lost time for the generation returning from the war."
With a group of young musicians, he began a concert tour as a cellist through the South African Union in 1954 that lasted almost one year. This is where he married his colleague, the violinist Inken Steffen. After their return home, Hummel first accepted a position as cantor in Freiburg. He also continued performing as a cellist, among other things as a permanent substitute member of the symphony orchestra of the Südwestfunk Baden-Baden radio station. By now, his compositional work had met with recognition through many awards, including the Cultural Prize of the National Federation of German Industry (1956), the Composition Prize of the City of Stuttgart (1959) and the Robert-Schumann Prize of the City of Düsseldorf (1960). In 1963, he was appointed to the position of composition teacher at the Bavarian State Conservatory of Music in Würzburg. For more than two-and-a-half decades, he was intensely committed to contemporary music there.
After Hummel became the director of the "Studio for New Music," he introduced the works of numerous young composers in his concerts. In the meantime, some of these names have become familiar to broad audiences interested in this type of music. Hummel's worldliness allowed him to bring together apparently irreconcilable aesthetic schools in his programmes, provoking public discussion on the spectrum of compositional creativity during the last quarter of the 20th century. He also knew how to demonstrate his flexibility in understanding stylistic contrasts through his psychological awareness to the students in order to awaken their mental agility and the receptivity of their senses, therefore stimulating their imaginations.
Our own ideals set our standards, and it was always Hummel's objective to expand the horizon of his musical perception without becoming untrue to himself. This means that he succeeded in finding his own recognisable style of composing. It originally had its roots in the neo-classicism of his teacher Harald Genzmer - and, in turn, the latter's teacher Paul Hindemith. But Hummel had long become independent of it and found his own musical message through the influence of the French schools of the early 20th century, as well as an indirect influence by the new Viennese school. The French composer Oliver Messiaen, whose concepts of tonal colours are given their own translation in Hummel's compositions, clearly contributed to Hummel's inspirations.
Of course, the composer Hummel always had also to exercise his role as the academy teacher. In 1973, the Bavarian State Conservatory of Würzburg was converted into the second Bavarian Music Academy and Bertold Hummel was appointed to full professorship. He was ultimately elected to the position of president of this academy in 1979, and then became its honorary president after his retirement in 1988. Previous to this, in 1982, he had been elected as a member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts. In 1985, he was honoure with the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and the City of Würzburg also honoured him with its Cultural Prize in 1988.
Freed from the burden of 15 years of time-consuming academy work, Hummel composed untiringly and with much inspiration, always searching for new possibilities of expression, which he then integrated into his very own personal style of music. "In my opinion, now, at the end of this millennium, after a century in which experimentation has played a large role, the longing to discover a new language will increasingly spread throughout the world. I believe that a new aesthetic of the plural possibilities will assert itself against the orthodoxy of the respective 'school'."
In order to participate in the numerous international performances of his works as a listener, in recent years Hummel travelled to many countries including as the USA, Russia, Australia, France, Austria, Switzerland, Poland and the Czech Republik. An interesting selection of his compositions was released on the label Conventus Musicus.
His compositional honesty was equal to his diligence. His works, numbering more than 200, did not prevent him from participating in the copyright society for us composers, GEMA, on an honorary basis. For over 25 years, he belonged to the exceptionally important Ratings Committee as one of its most responsible members. He also taught his students about the vital importance of copyright for composers, encouraged them to attend the GEMA General Meeting and was always there when the discussion involved the concerns of classical music. Yet, he always remained reserved throughout his lifetime, never tried to capture the spotlight and presented himself only when there was no other choice. His inner sense of poise did not require the superiority complex that some composers have as a compensation for the genius cult that blossomed during the 19th century and that was increasingly lost during the 20th century.
His family, the lifelong union with his wife, the six married sons - five of whom became professional musicians, as an four of the daughters-in-law, as well as the 17 grandchildren, all of this apparently gave him the stability and the serenity that he radiated up to the end, even during difficult "discussions" such as those concerning GEMA problems. His life's work as a composer has left its mark on almost all of the musical genres and types of instrumentation. He analysed the new compositional techniques of the 20th century, those of 12-tone music, as well as those of the serial techniques, jazz or the possibilities of the electro-acoustic music. He was as successful in using the discovery of percussion for our evening music as he was in using the harmonic colour of the saxophone. In particular, he was one of the most important, secularised representatives of contemporary sacral music. In response to the question about a characterisation of his compositional style, he said: "I would call it a style of metamorphosis, which includes everything that especially impressed me from the musical world repertoire of the past and present; coupled with a strong personal will to express myself - more or less as a creative eclecticism."
We equally mourn the composer and the educator, but above all the amiable colleague and the human being, Bertold Hummel.

(from: GEMA Nachrichten NR: 166 3/2002, Berlin)




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