The Life You Give: Carl Orff *VII 10 1895

Carl Orff, born July 10, 1895, in Munich, Germany, is the composer known particularly for his operas and dramatic works and for his innovations in music education.

Orff studied at the Munich Academy of Music and with the German composer Heinrich Kaminski and later conducted in Munich, Mannheim, and Darmstadt. His Schulwerk, a manual describing his method of conducting, was first published in 1930. Orff edited some 17th-century operas and in 1937 produced his secular oratorio Carmina Burana. Intended to be staged with dance, it was based on a manuscript of medieval poems. This work led to others inspired by Greek theatre and by medieval mystery plays, notably Catulli carmina (1943; Songs of Catullus) and Trionfo di Afrodite (1953; The Triumph of Aphrodite), which form a trilogy with Carmina Burana. His other works include an Easter cantata, Comoedia de Christi Resurrectione (1956); a nativity play, Ludus de nato infante mirificus (1960); and a trilogy of “music dramas”—Antigonae (1949), Oedipus der Tyrann (1959), and Prometheus (1966). Orff’s system of music education for children, largely based on developing a sense of rhythm through group exercise and performance with percussion instruments, has been widely adopted. In 1924 in Munich he founded, with the German gymnast Dorothee Günther, the Günther School for gymnastics, dance, and music.

Source: Britannica

Opera, Blood, and Tears
The Life You Give: Carl Orff
in celebration of his life in music
July 10 at 1pm EST
on Clubhouse

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 für 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 Güntherschule for music and dance with Dorothee Günther, 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 Güntherschule. 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 an 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.

By Rovi Staff / Source: all music

“Gisei, das Opfer” (Gisei, the sacrificial victim)


The nobleman Matsuo and his wife Chiyo come out of a Japanese temple into the surrounding grove by night. When Matsuo stoically comments that God has accepted their own child as a victim, Chiyo breaks down. A short time later, Chiyo brings her son Kotaro to the teacher Genzo’s village school and asks the teacher’s wife to enrol her son as a schoolboy. The mother has hardly left the schoolroom when Genzo bursts in in a state of intense distress. As a loyal acolyte of the formerly ruling prince Michizane, he had on the prince’s death hidden Michizane‘s son Kwan Shusai as a pupil in his school. Only a few moments ago, this secret had been betrayed to the new prince Tokihira – a vehement opponent of Michizane – and, what was worse, the prince had already demanded of his henchmen, among them Matsuo himself, that they bring him the head of the former prince’s son. Matsuo had also been an acolyte of Michizane like the loyal Genzo, but due to unfortunate circumstances had also been appointed in the service of the new ruler. Approaching soldiers can already be heard outside the school. In a state of panic, Genzo, who on his entry had noticed the similarity between the new pupil and Kwan Shusai, resolves to have Kotaro instead of Kwan Shusai beheaded. Matsuo, who must recognize that the head belongs to his own son, lies to the henchmen, asserting that the head belongs to the prince’s son Kwan Shusai. After Matsuo and Tokihira’s soldiers have retreated, Chiyo bursts in to see her son. In greatest desperation, Genzo draws his sword to kill the mother as well; in a quick reaction, Chiyo succeeds in parrying the stroke of the sword with her son’s desk. A shroud and burial flags fall out of the splintered desk. Genzo realises with horror that Chiyo and Matsuo deliberately brought their son to the village school to sacrifice him in place of the prince’s son. Matsuo enters, a broken figure, confirms the suspicions and declares that he has once more proved his loyalty to the murdered Michizane through the sacrifice of his own son. Chiyo, devastated by the death of her son, sinks lifelessly to the floor.

Source: Schott Music


Kathryn Lewek (soprano) – Kwan Shusai; Ryan McKinny (bass-baritone) – Genzo; Ulrike Helzel (mezzo) – Tonami;
Markus Brück (baritone) – Matsuo;
Elena Zhidkova (soprano) – Chiyo;
Jana Kurucová (mezzo) – Kotaro;
Burkhard Ulrich (tenor) – Gemba

Choir and Orchestra of Deutschen Oper, Berlin/Jacques Lacombe
rec. live, Deutsche Oper Berlin, 18-19 May 2012

Source: Music Wen International

At seventeen, Carl Orff composed his first theater work, which he considered an embarrassment; he allowed no productions in his lifetime. The belated premiere of Gisei—Das Opfer (Gisei—The Sacrificial Victim), at Darmstadt in 2010, caused little stir in the opera world, which ignores Orff’s stage works despite their stylistic kinship with his popular Carmina Burana.

But this conscientious live recording, from Deutsche Oper Berlin in 2012, proves that Gisei, despite its naïve borrowings—from Pelléas, traditional Japanese theater, and elsewhere—has undeniable appeal. Orff’s libretto is based on an eighteenth-century Japanese drama, Terakoya (The Village School), in which Genzo, a calligraphy teacher, is commanded to kill a pupil who’s the son of a deposed ruler. Genzo instead sacrifices another boy, with the acquiescence of that child’s anguished parents.

The emphasis is less on grisly action than on its emotional impact. The victim’s bereaved parents are presented first, in an anticipatory prologue that, taking up a full third of the work’s one hour, defers the action too long. The prologue stands apart in its excessive homage to Debussy’s muffled walking rhythms and gauzy effusions of harp and flute. The scenes that follow, set in the school, are more heterogeneous, with traces of Stravinsky, Wagner and others. (Orff attended Munich performances of Madama Butterfly and Das Lied von der Erde not long before he wrote Gisei.) But the contrasting prologue and drama share two major characteristics—colorful, inventive orchestration and an expressionistic vocal style, mostly in a loose parlando mode.

Two male roles dominate the work with extended solos. In this charged performance, baritone Markus Brück is particularly compelling as Matsuo, father of the victim, heard in mourning during the prologue, then as menacing enforcer, the agent of the new despot demanding the child’s head, and finally forced to accept the loss of his own son. In that final scene, Brück’s mixture of pain and resignation is expressive in an unforced, lyrical style. As the excitable, doubly duplicitous Genzo, bass-baritone Ryan McKinny proves dexterous and flexible across a wide vocal range.

The women in the cast sing with dramatic commitment and often impressive vocal bloom, especially soprano Elena Zhidkova as the bereaved mother and mezzo Ulrike Helzel as Genzo’s frantic wife.

Conductor Jacques Lacombe maintains momentum in the evocative score while relishing details of orchestration that include wind machines and some distinctively abrasive interjections from trombones and low strings. Especially forceful moments occur in Genzo’s climactic narrative, in which aggressive rising chord progressions herald the ordained murder, interspersed with marching rhythms, high-pitched instrumental alarms and vocalized reluctance and horror.

Aficionados will be surprised to find in this fledgling effort so little foretaste of Orff’s later style; the experience is like hearing early works by Berg or Schoenberg, before their “brand” emerged. Orff was of course no serialist; his distinctive mature manner, spinning webs of repeated patterns in propulsive rhythms, has been called a forerunner to Minimalism. Here at his start, he was experimental and unpredictable—but also dramatically engaged and almost always connecting with the listener.

—David J. Baker / Source: opera news

“Carmine Burana”

Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is probably the most frequently performed choral work of the 21st century.

The name has Latin roots – ‘Carmina’ means ‘songs’, while ‘Burana’ is the Latinised form of Beuren, the name of the Benedictine monastery of Benediktbeuren in Bavaria.

So, Carmina Burana translates as Songs Of Beuren, and refers to a collection of early 13th-century songs and poems that was discovered in Beuren in 1803 – although it has since been established that the collection originated from Seckau Abbey, Austria – and is now housed in the Bavarian State Library.

The songs (over 1000 of them) were written in a mix of Latin, German and medieval French by the Goliards, a band of poet-musicians comprising scholars and clerical students, who celebrated with earthy humour the joys of the tavern, nature, love and lust. Although Orff set the original texts, he chose not to use the primitive musical notation that accompanied some of the songs.

The collection was first published in Germany in 1847, but it wasn’t until 1934 that Orff came across the texts; a selection had been translated into English and formed part of a publication called Wine, Women And Song.

With the help of Michael Hofmann, a law student and Latin scholar, Orff chose 24 songs and set them to music in what he termed a “scenic cantata”.

Carmina Burana is divided into three sections – Springtime, In the Tavern and The Court Of Love – preceded by and ending with an invocation to Fortune. Written between 1935 and 1936 for soloists, choruses and orchestra, it was originally conceived as a choreographed stage work.

It was in this form that it was first heard on June 8, 1937, in Frankfurt, under its full title Carmina Burana: Cantiones Profanae Cantoribus Et Choris Cantandae Comitantibus Instrumentis Atque Imaginibus Magicis (Songs Of Beuren: Secular Songs For Singers And Choruses To Be Sung Together With Instruments And Magic Images).

After the triumphant premiere of Carmina Burana, Orff, then 41, wrote to his publishers: “Everything I have written to date, and which you have, unfortunately, published, can be destroyed. With Carmina Burana my collected works begin.” However, nothing Orff subsequently wrote ever came close to approaching the popularity of Carmina Burana

Source: classic fm

“Die Kluge” (The Wise)

The plot of the opera is that a poor peasant finds on his land a mortar made out of gold. He decides to take it to the king, thinking that he will be rewarded for being a loyal subject. His wise daughter tells him not to, because the king will throw him in the dungeons thinking that he has stolen the pestle, which in truth he didn’t find.
The daughter’s prediction comes true, and this is the beginning of the opera. When the king learns that the daughter had wisely known what his actions would be he sends for her to come before him. He tells her she has “talked a noose around her neck” and will give her two choices for how to save her life. She can either gamble for it, or answer 3 riddles.
The wise daughter chooses to answer the 3 riddles, and saves her life. The king makes her his queen and all seems happy.
The opera is only half over though. Three scoundrels have stirred up some trouble between the owners of a donkey and of a mule. One morning they found a baby donkey between the two beasts, and the mule owner ridiculously thought it could be his. The king agrees that since the baby was closer to the mule it must belong to it. The queen overhears this and sets up the donkey owner to show the king the error of his foolish judgment. The king realizes that his new wife is mocking him and working against his decision and he sends her away with a large box and tells her to take whatever she wishes and leave. The queen drugs her husband with opiates in his wine, and the opera happily ends with him waking up inside the box, and acknowledging that she truly is a wise woman. She contradicts him and says that no one who loves can be truly wise. Also at the end, the peasant finds the golden pestle which got him sent to the dungeons in the first place.

Source: opera arias

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