(b. Munich, 10 July 1895; d. Munich, 29 March 1982), German composer. He studied at the Munich Academy and later, in 1920, with Kaminski. In 1924, with Dorothee Günther, he founded a school for gymnastics, music and dance, and out of this came his later activity in providing materials for young children to make music, using their voices and simple percussion instruments. His adult works also seek to make contact with primitive kinds of musical behaviour, as represented by ostinato, pulsation and direct vocal expression of emotion; in this he was influenced by Stravinsky (Oedipus rex, The Wedding), though the models are coarsened to produce music of a powerful pagan sensual appeal and physical excitement. All his major works, including the phenomenally successful Carmina burana (1937), were designed as pageants for the stage; they include several versions of Greek tragedies and Bavarian comedies.
Dramatic music Carmina burana (1937)
Der Mond (1939)
Catulli carmine (1943)
Die Bernauerin (1947)
Trionfo di Afrodite (1953)
Comoedia de Christi resurrectione (1957)
Oedipus de Tyrann (1959)
Ludus de nato infante mirificus (1960)
Ein Sommernachtstraum (1964); Prometheus (1966)
De temporum fine comoedia (1973)
Carmina Burana is a modern, 20th century work but is simple in harmony, unlike a lot of music composed this century. The driving rhythm and fundamental musical instincts allow listeners to respond immediately. In some ways, the work is barbaric and pagan and very potent.
Orff first encountered the text in John Addington Symonds's 1884 publication, Wine, Women, and Song, which included English translations of 46 poems from the collection. Michel Hofmann, a young law student and Latin and Greek enthusiast, assisted Orff in the selection and organization of 24 of these poems into a libretto, mostly in Latin verse, with a small amount of Middle High German and Old Provençal. The selection covers a wide range of secular topics, as familiar in the 13th century as they are in the 21st century: the fickleness of fortune and wealth, the ephemeral nature of life, the joy of the return of Spring, and the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust.
Carmina Burana was first staged in Frankfurt by the Frankfurt Opera on June 8, 1937 (Conductor: Bertil Wetzelsberger, Choir Cäcilienchor, staging by Otto Wälterlin and sets and costumes by Ludwig Sievert). Shortly after the greatly successful premiere, Orff wrote the following letter to his publisher, Schott Music:
"Everything I have written to date, and which you have,
unfortunately, printed, can be destroyed. With Carmina
Burana my collected works begin."
Several performances were repeated elsewhere in Germany, and though the Nazi bureaucracy was at first nervous about the erotic tone of some of the poems, they eventually embraced it and it became the most famous piece of music composed in Nazi Germany. The popularity of the work continued to rise after the war, and by the 1960s Carmina Burana was well established as part of the international classic repertory.
Alex Ross writes: "[Although Orff had collaborated with the Nazis] the music itself commits no sins simply by being and remaining popular. That 'Carmina Burana' has appeared in hundreds of films and television commercials is proof that it contains no diabolical message, indeed that it contains no message whatsoever."
In retrospect the desire he expressed in the letter to his publisher has by and large been fulfilled: No other composition of his approaches its renown as evidenced in both pop culture's appropriation of O Fortuna and the classical world's persistent programming and recording of the work. In the United States, Carmina Burana represents one of the few box office certainties in 20th-century music.
Carmina Burana is scored for 3 flutes (two doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (one doubling English horn/cor anglais), 3 clarinets in Bb and A (one doubling Eb clarinet, one doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns in F, 3 trumpets in Bb and C, 3 trombones, tuba, 2 pianos, celesta, a large percussion section and strings.
The vocal parts include soprano solo, tenor solo, baritone solo, soli of 3 tenors, baritone, and 2 basses, a large mixed choir (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), a chamber choir (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) and a children's choir (ragazzi).
A reduced version for soloists, mixed choir, children's choir, 2 pianos and percussion was prepared by Orff's disciple Wilhelm Killmayer in 1956 and authorised by Orff himself, to afford smaller ensembles the opportunity of performing the piece.
Carmina Burana is structured into five major sections, containing thirteen movements total. Orff indicates attacca markings between all the movements within each scene.
Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi [Fortuna, Empress of the World]
Primo vere [Spring] - includes the internal scene Uf dem Anger [In the Meadow]
In Taberna [In the Tavern]
Cour d'amours [Court of Love]
Blanziflor et Helena [Blanziflor and Helena]
Much of the compositional structure is based on the idea of the turning Fortuna Wheel. The drawing of the wheel found on the first page of the Burana Codex includes four phrases around the outside of the wheel:
"Regnabo (I shall reign), Regno (I reign/I am reigning), Regnavi (I have reigned), Sum sine regno (I am without a kingdom)".
Within each scene, and sometimes within a single movement, the wheel of fortune turns, joy turning to bitterness, and hope turning to grief. O Fortuna, the first poem in the Schmeller edition, completes this circle, forming a compositional frame for the work by consisting of both the opening and closing movements.
Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi (Fortune, Empress of the World)
01. O Fortuna
02. Fortune plango vulnera
I. Primo vere (In Springtime)
03. Veris leta facies (No strings and only a small chorus)
04. Omnia sol temperat
05. Ecce gratum Uf dem anger (On the Lawn)
07. Floret silva nobilis (Small and large choruses)
08. Chramer, gip die varwe mir (Small and large choruses) [German]
09. Reie [German]
10. Were diu werlt alle min [German]
II. In Taberna (In the Tavern)
11. Estuans interius
12. Olim lacus colueram (No violins used)
13. Ego sum abbas (Only percussion and brass with chorus)
14. In taberna quando sumus
III. Cour d'amours (The Court of Love)
15. Amor volat undique (Boys chorus with soprano)
16. Dies, nox et omnia
17. Stetit puella
18. Circa mea pectora
19. Si puer cum puellula
20. Veni, veni, venias (Double chorus with 2 pianos & 6 Percussionists)
21. In truitina
22. Tempus est iocundum (2 pianos, percussion and all vocalists except tenor)
IV. Blanziflor et Helena (Blanziflor and Helena)
24. Ave formosissima (Three glockenspiels with independent parts)
V. Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi (Fortune, Empress of the World)
25. O Fortuna (Fortune, Empress of the World)