Carl Orff

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Orff, Carl

(ôrf), 1895–1982, German composer and educator. After studying at the Academy of Music at Munich, he helped to found the Günter School there in 1924. As a composer Orff wished to simplify music, to return to its primitive components. He attempted to adapt old monodic forms to modern tastes, employing dissonant counterpoint and vigorous rhythms. His most famous work is the Carmina Burana (1937), a scenic oratorio derived from a group of medieval poems in German and Latin (see also Goliardic songsGoliardic songs
, Late Latin poetry of the "wandering scholars," or Goliards. The Goliards included university students who went from one European university to another, scholars who had completed their studies but were unable to buy benefices (ecclesiastical offices), unfrocked
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). This oratorio forms part of a trilogy that includes Catulli Carmina (1943), a scenic cantata based on the works of Catullus; and Trionfo di Afrodite (1953). Orff's other works include the operas Der Mond [the moon] (1939) and Die Kluge [the wise woman] (1943). From 1960 he was head of the Orff School for Music in Munich. His work in music education has attracted a considerable following in the United States.

Orff, Carl


Born July 10, 1895, in Munich. German composer, teacher, theater figure, and playwright (Federal Republic of Germany).

In 1913–14, Orff studied composition at the Munich Academy of Music; he continued his studies under H. Kaminski. He worked as a conductor at the Munich Drama Theater, later appearing as a concert conductor. In 1924 he helped found the Günter Schule, a school for gymnastics, music, and dance, in Munich.

By the mid-1930’s, Orff had shown himself to be an original composer for the musical theater. He became widely known for his full-length stage works that combined drama, singing, recitation, choreography, pantomime, and a unique orchestra consisting primarily of percussion instruments. Orff composed works based on plays by Sophocles (Antigonae, 1947–48; Oedipus Rex, 1957–58), Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1962), and Aeschylus (Prometheus, 1963–67). He also wrote musical works whose themes were taken from folktales (The Moon, 1937–38; The Prudent Woman, 1941—42; The Cunning Ones, 1945–52), historical chronicles, and mystery plays (more than 15).

As a teacher, Orff developed a system of musical instruction based on the group training of children. He compiled a collection of studies (vols. 1–5, 1951–55; with G. Keetman) that includes choruses, instrumental pieces for various ensembles, and short theater pieces. In 1962 the Orff Institute opened in Salzburg. A division of the Mozarteum, a higher school of music and theater, it is directed by the Austrian teachers W. Keller and H. Regner. The institute works with children and trains teachers from all over the world.

Orff’s system has become popular in many countries. In the USSR his methods are being tried on an experimental basis. Orff is a member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts (1950) and the Academy of St. Cecilia (Rome, 1957). In 1949 he received the National Prize of the German Democratic Republic.


Leont’eva, O. “Karl Orf—dlia detei.” Sovetskaia muzyka, 1963, no. 7.
Leont’eva, O. Karl Orf. Moscow, 1964.
Sistema detskogo muzykal’nogo vospitaniia Karla Orfa. [Edited by L. A. Barenboim.] Leningrad, 1970. (Translated from German.)
Vanagaitė, G. Mes ir žaislai: Pjesès barŝkuči u orkestrui [Edited and with systematic notes by V. Krakauskaitè.] Vilnius, 1967.
Carl Orff: Ein Bericht in Wort und Bild, 2nd ed. Mainz, 1960.
Liess, A. Carl Orff. London, 1966.
Keetman, G. Elementaria: Erster Umgang mit dem Orff-Schulwerk. Stuttgart, 1970.
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