For soprano (the voice of God), 4 substituting sopranos (soloistic chamber choir for the voice of God), bass (Noah), large mixed choir*, and orchestra**
ca. one hour 30 minutes

* 12 or 24 each of sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses
** 3. (incl. piccolo and alto flute) 2. 3. (incl. Eb and bass clarinet) 2. (incl. contrabassoon) / / Harp, Celeste, Piano, 4 percussionists on stage and 4 to 64 set up around the space (can also be played by two synthesizers), strings 8 or 12 first violins, 8 or 12 second violins, 8 or 12 violas, 4 or 6 cellos, 4 or 6 basses

First version: commissioned by the Bavarian Radio (Bayrischer Rundfunk), under the title »Noah und die Sintflut« (Noah and the Deluge)
Premiere of the first version: June 27, 2003, with the Munich Radio Orchestra and Bavarian Radio Choir, conducted by Marcello Viotti (in the cycle »Paradisi Gloria«)
Final version:
completed in 2008

Audio samples:

René Staar - Hammabbul - Passagierliste

1. Passenger list Noah's Ark

René Staar - Hammabbul - Ertränkte Welten

2. Drowned worlds

Munich Radio Orchestra and Bavarian Radio Choir, conducted by Marcello Viotti

Score (Extracts, Pdf)

A short introduction to the score:

Hammabbul (Hebrew for The Deluge) is a work whose composition synthesized diverse currents of creative evolution, currents which overlap but also retain their individual characteristics. The work is indeed divided into separate movements and also into three large sections. But every movement and subsection is the product of an individual creative development. These subsections manifest a diversity of compositional processes and interconnected details.

Equally significant is the continuous self-renewal of the musical texture, realized particularly through harmonic metamorphosis: the logical development of the implications of a series of ten five-part chords which symbolize God as immutable constant.

An analysis of the relations between these chords, the various processes of their distribution and conversion, and a thorough analysis of the text and its relation to this harmonic series must be reserved for a more extensive future publication.

The significance of texture is particularly evident in the sections where the voice of God is heard. Chords are not simply put forth, but presented by the composer as if woven on the loom. This woven material appears in numerous interacting patterns. These appear sometimes as sustained sound (particularly that of the divided strings), or as pointillistic sound (in structures with many pizzicati and staccati), or as patterns of differing tone durations, sometimes presented as interlocking surfaces. The patterns are set up relative to the durations in the vocal parts, but this texture sometimes actively gets into the solo parts, particularly those of the echo sopranos. Actually these patterns function widely enough to serve as models for recurring melody-generating homologies.

The general structure of the work is however built up on the dualism between the voice of God that commands Noah and all the other various vocal elements developed and presented by the vocalists. On the one hand a concrete manifestation of divine will and of its mission for Noah, on the other the development of a human language from primordial sound to a synthetic syllabic speech.

But how does God communicate with Noah? Which language does he use? This dilemma led to the composer’s idea of assigning the voice of God to five vocal parts: a dramatic soprano, who chooses one of five possible languages, and four other sopranos who, somewhat in the manner of a motet choir, unfold a quasi-polyphonic structure in the four languages not used by the dramatic voice. The decision to present the voice of God in this manner effectively leads to there being five different versions contained within the one work.

Noah, in contrast to this, has only a few sounds available with which to articulate his helplessness, awe, and astonishment in the face of God, or his resentment at being hindered in the divinely ordained mission of building the ark. But at the end of the work he employs the vowel that had until then been omitted by all but God: the O, as expression of astonishment when confronted with the divinely created rainbow, sign of God’s reconciliation and covenant with mankind. The idea of omitting a vowel goes back to the fact that the oldest language known to be transmitted through writing, Sumerian, used only the four vowels I – E – U – A. The omission of O up until the third part serves therefore to illustrate the contrast between the antediluvian and postdiluvian worlds.

The choir is utilized in a varied manner: at first as the voice of humanity doomed by the deluge, later as the voices of spirits and whales, then at the end as the voices of angels supporting Noah. The text of the choir develops at first out of the phonemes of a synthetic syllabic language inspired by Sumerian, the oldest language preserved in written documents.

In the first choir of the work the vocalists are divided into four groups each of 12 (or 24) speakers, who appear sometimes soloistically and sometimes in a choristic manner, at times using unorthodox accessories such as cardboard tubes or megaphones or playing small instruments, such as various whistles. The repertoire of the “Choir of depravity” also includes loud breathing, laughing, or shouting (all in the most diverse nuances), whispered or murmured consonants, blowing into cupped hands, and slapping of the hand on the mouth.

While Noah builds the ark (Nr. 4, at the beginning of the second section), the choir develops a synthetic language in three dialects, one sung on the vowel a, the second on u, the third on i. The division of the choir is thus confined to three groups.

The divinely commanded boarding of the ark (Nr. 6) is accompanied by the choir—this time divided into two four-part groups—with the imitations of animal sounds. In the Choir of derision (Nr. 7a) the spectrum is reduced to one four-part formation.

This example should make it clear that the process character of the piece reaches into the smallest details of the realization.

But the microcosmos of this large score should be understood only as part of a small self-created universe encompassing the most diverse pieces from duo to large-scale choir/orchestra work, which the composer has gathered together into his Op. 22. One journeys through the most varied musical genres, whereby all pieces are pervaded by a strong central idea: the development of a new harmony based on the realignment of chord intervals. One can, if one pleases, see Hammabbul as my small contribution to the Harmonielehre of the new century.
(René Staar, Vienna, December 2007; Translation: Jorge E. López)