Carl Orff

From Academic Kids

Carl Orff
Carl Orff

Carl Orff (July 10, 1895March 29, 1982) was a German composer born in Munich. While being one of the most seminal composers of the 20th century, his greatest success and influence has been in the field of music education.



Orff refused to publicly speak about his past. What is known, however, is that Orff came from a Bavarian family that was very active in the German military. His father's regiment band supposedly had often played the composition of young Orff.

Moser's Musik Lexicon states that Orff studied at the Munich Academy of Music until 1914. He then served in the military during World War I. Afterwards, he held various positions at opera houses in Mannheim and Darmstadt, later to return to Munich to further purrsue music studies.

As of 1925, and for the rest of his life, Orff was the head of a department and co-founder of the Guenther School for gymnastics, music, and dance in Munich, where he worked with musical beginners. Having constant contact with children, this is where he developed his theories in music education.

While Orff's association, or lack thereof, with the Nazi party has never been conclusively established, his Carmina Burana was hugely popular in Nazi Germany after its premiere in Frankfurt in 1937, receiving numerous performances (although one Nazi critic reviewed it savagely as "degenerate" — entartet — implying a connection with the contemporaneous, and infamous, exhibit of Entartete Kunst).

Orff was a personal friend of Kurt Huber, one of the founders of the resistance movement Die Weie Rose (the White Rose), and who was executed by the Gestapo in 1943. After World War II, Orff claimed that he was a member of the group, and was himself involved in the resistance, but unfortunately there was no evidence for this other than his own word, and other sources dispute his claim (for example [1] (

Orff is buried in the Baroque church of the beer-brewing Catholic monastery of Andechs, south of Munich.

Musical work

Orff is most known for Carmina Burana (1937), a "scenic cantata". It is the first of a trilogy that also includes Catulli Carmina and Trionfo di Afrodite. These compositions reflected his interest in medieval German poetry. Together the trilogy is called Trionfi, meaning triumph. It is described by the composer as the celebration of the triumph of the human spirit through sexual and holistic balance. The work was based on a 13th-century erotic verse found in Bavaria. While "modern" in some of his compositional techniques, Orff was able to capture the spirit of the medieval period in this trilogy, with infectious rhythms and easy tonalities. The medieval poems, written in an early form of German and Latin, are often racy, but without descending into smut.

With the success of Carmina Burana, Orff orphaned all of his previous works except for Catulli Carmina and the En trata, which were rewritten until acceptable by Orff. As a historical aside, Carmina Burana is probably the most famous piece of music composed and premiered in Nazi Germany. Carmina Burana was in fact so popular that Orff received a commission in Vienna to compose music for Midsummer Night's Dream, which was supposed to replace the banned music by Mendelssohn. Orff began working on the new incidental music, but he did not complete it until 1964.

Orff was reluctant to call any of his works simply operas. For example, he called Der Mond ("The Moon") (1939) a "Mrchenoper" or Fairytale Opera. He placed Die Kluge ("The Wise Woman") (1943) into the same category. In both compositions there is that same medieval or timeless sound, without actually copying the musical idioms of the period. Their melodies, rhythms and, with them, text appear in a union of words and music.

About his Antigone (1949), Orff said specifically that it was not an opera, rather a Vertonung, a "musical setting" of the ancient tragedy. The text is an excellent German translation, by Friedrich Hlderlin, of the Sophocles play of the same name. The orchestration relies heavily on the percussion section, and is otherwise fairly simple. It has been labelled by some as minimalistic, which is most adequate in terms of the melodic line. The story of Antigone has a haunting similarity to the history of Sophie Scholl, heroine of the White Rose, and Orff may have been memorializing her in his opera.

Orff's last work, De Temporum Fine Comoedia ("A Play of the End of Time"), had its premiere at the Salzburg music festival on August 20, 1973, performed by Herbert von Karajan and the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. In this highly personal work, Orff presented a mystery play, in which he summarized his view on the end of time, sung in Greek, German, and Latin.

Pedagogical work

In pedagogical circles he is probably best remembered for his Schulwerk (1930-35), translated into English as Music for Children. Its simple musical instrumentation allowed even untutored child musicians to perform the piece with relative ease. Much of his life Orff worked with children, using music as an educational tool - both melody and rhythm are often determined by the words.

Orff's ideas were developed, together with Gunild Keetman, into a very innovative approach to music education for children, known as the Orff Schulwerk. The term Schulwerk is German for schooling or school work.

External links

de:Carl Orff es:Carl Orff fr:Carl Orff he:קארל אורף nl:Carl Orff ja:カール・オルフ pl:Carl Orff sv:Carl Orff zh:卡尔·奥夫


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