Born: 1895

Died: 1982

Carl Orff

Carl Orff: a biography

Coming from a musical family in Munich with strong army associations, the young Orff had his first works published when he was 16 and in just six months of 1911 wrote over 50 songs; he flirted with the ideas of Schoenberg and the works of Richard Strauss but by the early 1920s he still hadn’t found his own voice.

It was, of all things, a school for gymnastic dancing which opened the door. He met Dorothee Günther in 1924 and they founded the Günther Schule with the aim of ‘reviving the natural unity of music and movement’ to children. The Orff methods were widely adopted in schools all over Germany, England, Russia and America. From his teaching, his interest in primitive rhythms and simple, monodic melodies led him to stage presentations of Monteverdi and Bach and from there sprang his masterpiece.

Carmina Burana was first performed in June 1937. Orff described it as a ‘scenic cantata’, for the orchestra, chorus and soloists should be accompanied by dance and mime. The words, in Latin and German, are from 13th-century student poems found in the monastery of Benediktbeuern in Bavaria, bawdy celebrations of drinking, love-making and other earthly delights. Its wide appeal comes from its rhythmic vivacity, its raw, direct energy and its fusion of traditional, jazz and modern compositional techniques. 

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