Birth: Jul 10, 1895 in Munich, Germany
Death: Mar 29, 1982 in Munich, Germany
Genre: Choral, Opera
Although his fame rests on the success of a single work, the famous and frequently commercially mutilated Carmina Burana, Carl Orff was in fact a multi-faceted musician and prolific composer who wrote in many styles before developing the primal, driving language which informs his most famous work. In addition to his fame as the creator of Carmina burana, Orff enjoyed international renown as the world's pre-eminent authority on children's music education, his life's work in that area represented by Musik fur Kinder, five eclectic collections of music to be performed by children, eventually developing into a more extensive series known as Orff Schulwerk.
Born in 1895 to an old Bavarian family, Orff studied piano and cello while still a young boy. He later studied at the Munich Academy of Music, graduating in 1914. The music that he composed during this period shows the influence of several composers, including Debussy and Richard Strauss. In 1914, Orff was appointed Kapellmeister at the Munich Kammerspiele, where he remained until joining the military in 1917. Discharged from service the following year, Orff continued to work as a conductor, accepting further positions in Mannheim and Darmstadt during the 1918-1919 seasons. Returning to Munich in 1919, Orff studied composition privately with Heinrich Kaminski while supporting himself as a teacher. In 1924, he founded the Guntherschule for music and dance with Dorothee Gunther, dedicating himself to making musical performance accessible to children. Under his guidance, an entire orchestra of special "Orff instruments" was designed, enabling children to play music without formal training. The following year, Orff made three stage adaptations of works by Monteverdi. Continuing his work in the area of Baroque music, Orff became conductor of the Munich Bach society in 1930, a position he held until 1933. The experience of performing Baroque music, particularly sacred works for the stage, convinced Orff that an effective musical performance must fuse music, words and movement, a goal no doubt partly inspired by his work with the Guntherschule. Orff embodied his conception of music in the fabulously successful Carmina Burana (1937), which in many ways defined him as a composer. Based on an important collection of Latin and German Goliard poems found in the monastery of Benediktbeuren, this work exemplifies Orff's search for an idiom that would reveal the elemental power of music, allowing the listener to experience music as a overwhelming, primitive force. Goliard poetry, which not only celebrates love and wine, but also pokes fun at the clergy, perfectly suited Orff's desire to create a musical work appealing to a fundamental musicality that, as he believed, every human being possesses. Eschewing melodic development and harmonic complexity, and articulating his musical ideas through basic sonorities and easily discernible rhythmic patterns, Orff created an idiom which many found irresistible. The perceived "primitivism" of Carmina burana notwithstanding, Orff believed that the profound appeal of music is not merely physical. This belief is reflected by many other works, including musical dramas based on Greek tragedies, namely, Antigonae (1949), Oedipus der Tyrann (1959), and Prometheus (1966). These works, as well as some compositions on Christian themes, followed the composer's established dramatic and compositional techniques, but failed to repeat the tremendous success of Carmina burana. His last work, De temporum fine comoedia (A Comedy About the End of Time) premiered at the 1973 Salzburg Festival. Nine years later, Carl Orff died in Munich, where he had spent his entire life.
All Music Guide
1895 - 1982
"I'm a native Bavarian, born in Munich, and this city, this country, this landscape have given me so much, have shaped my self and my oeuvre." Carl Orff's childhood in Munich, where he was born on July 10, 1895, was full of impressions which would influence his later works.
After studying at the Academy for the Musical Arts, he began his "apprenticeship with the old masters." Monteverdi fascinated him most. He wrote new arrangements of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, Lamento d'Arianna and Ballo delle Ingrate and also wrote songs for voice and piano.
With the founding of the Gunther School, which Orff co-founded together with Dorothee Gьnther in 1924, a new creative field began for Carl Orff. At this center for education in gymnastics, rhythm, music and dance, and in close collaboration with his coworker Gunild Keetman, Orff developed the Orff Schulwerk, a new model for teaching music and movement.
"The goddess Fortuna must have been smiling on me when, as if by chance, she put a copy of a catalogue in my hands. It was published by a seller of old books in Wьrzburg, and one title in the list attracted me with an almost magical force: Carmina Burana," wrote Carl Orff in his memoirs about the discovery of the manuscript in Benediktbeuern Monastery which would serve as the basis for his best-known work. The selection of love songs, feasting and drinking songs which Orff excerpted from the manuscript and scored for scenes in a cantata would eventually become the most successful work in contemporary music-theater. After its premiere in 1937, Orff told his publisher: "Now you can take everything I've written thus far and which, you've unfortunately already printed, and smash it into pulp." A few years later Orff wrote Catulli Carmina and Trionfo di Afrodite, two works which he combined with Carmina Burana to form Trionfi - Trittico teatrale.
Fairytale as "the playful daughter of mythos" was Orff's source of inspiration for a new work. He used the Brothers Grimm fairytale The Moon as the basis for his Little World Theater. The opera The Clever One - The Story of the King and the Clever Woman is likewise based on fairytale materials. To a greater degree than in the opera The Moon, language plays a central role in The Clever One. The incisive musical style is inspired by the drastic and sometimes coarse sayings in an 1846 collection of adages.
"Language has always been a central concern in my works for the stage. In Die Bernauerin, the spoken word becomes the creative foundation," Carl Orff said. The story of Duke Albrecht and Agnes, the daughter of a barber-surgeon from Augsburg, is based on an actual historical event. The Bavarian comedy Astutuli, which deliberately insults its audience, places the musical emphasis above all on rhythmical speach. Orff's Comoedia de Christi Resurrectione - An Easter Play and Ludus de Nato Infante Mirificus - A Christmas Play are both enlivened by Bavarian idioms.
Carl Orff's Antigonae was first performed in Salzburg in 1949, two years after the world premiere of Die Bernauerin. The linguistic power of Friedrich Holderlin's German translation of Sophocles' tragedy was enthusiastically received by musical critics and dramatists. With Antigonae, Orff created an entirely new genre of music-theater. He continued to evolve this style in Oedipus, likewise in Friedrich Holderlin's German translation. Afterwards, Carl Orff felt that "the only possible continuation would be a work like Aeschylus' Prometheus." Premiered in 1968, some critics hailed the piece as a landmark event in the history of theater, while other critics found it difficult to comprehend.
Carl Orff ended his life's work with his most personal piece, De Temporum Fine Comoedia, the Comedy About the End of Time, which premiered at the Salzburg Festival in 1973.
Carl Orff died on March 29, 1982 in Munich. He is buried in the Schmerzhafte Chapel at the monastery church in Andechs.
WORKS by Carl Orff:
Der Mond [The Moon]
Die Kluge [The Clever One]
Comoedia de Christi resurrectione
Oedipus der Tyrann
Ludus de nato Infante mirificus
De temporum fine comoedia
Orff-Schulwerk: Musik fur Kinder [Music for Children]