Carl Orff (10 July 1895, Munich, German – 29 March 1982, Munich) was a 20th-century German composer, best known for his cantata Carmina Burana (1937). In addition to his career as a composer, Orff developed an influential approach toward music education for children.
Orff's family was Bavarian and was active in the Army of the German Empire. His paternal grandfather was a Jew who converted to Catholicism.
Orff started studying the piano at the age of five, and he also took organ and cello lessons. He soon found that he was more interested in composing original music than in studying to be a performer. Orff wrote and staged puppet shows for his family, composing music for piano, violin, zither, and glockenspiel to accompany them. He had a short story published in a children's magazine in 1905 and started to write a book about nature. In his spare time he enjoyed collecting insects.
By the time he was a teenager, having studied neither harmony nor composition, Orff was writing songs; his mother helped him set down his first works in musical notation. Orff wrote his own texts and, without a teacher, learned the art of composing by studying classical masterworks on his own.
In 1911, at age 16, some of Orff's music was published. Many of his youthful works were songs, often settings of German poetry. They fell into the style of Richard Strauss and other German composers of the day, but with hints of what would become Orff's distinctive musical language.
In 1911/12, Orff wrote Zarathustra, Op. 14, an unfinished large work for baritone voice, three male choruses and orchestra, based on a passage from Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical novel Thus Spake Zarathustra. The following year, he composed an opera, Gisei, das Opfer (Gisei, the Sacrifice). Influenced by the French Impressionist composer Claude Debussy, he began to use colorful, unusual combinations of instruments in his orchestration.
Moser's Musik-Lexikon states that Orff studied at the Munich Academy of Music until 1914. He then served in the German Army during World War I, when he was severely injured and nearly killed when a trench caved in. Afterwards, he held various positions at opera houses in Mannheim and Darmstadt, later returning to Munich to pursue his music studies. He devoted himself to studying the music of the 16th and 17th centuries. For the next fifteen years, he studied Renaissance music, Bavarian folk songs, and ancient languages while developing his concept of elementary music education. In 1924, Orff opened the Guntherschule in Munich, an educational center for rhythmic movement, gymnastics, music and dance. It was here that his concept — known as the Orff Method - evolved into a synthesis of gesture, poetic language, and music. Music teachers worldwide recognize Carl Orff as one of the two most important music educators in history (the other being Zoltán Koclály).
Orff is most known for Carmina Burana (1936), a "scenic cantata". It is the first part of a trilogy that also includes Catulli Carmina and Trionfo di Afrodite. Carmina Burana reflected his interest in medieval German poetry. The trilogy as a whole is called Trionfi, or "Triumphs". The composer described it as the celebration of the triumph of the human spirit through sexual and holistic balance. The work was based on thirteenth-century poetry found in a manuscript dubbed the Codex latinus monacensis found in the Benedictine monastery of Benediktbeuern in 1803 and written by the Goliards; this collection is also known as Carmina Burana. With the success of Carmina Burana, Orff disowned all of his previous works except for Catulli Carmina and the Entrata (an orchestration of "The Bells" by William Byrd (1539–1623)), which were rewritten until acceptable by Orff. Later on, however, many of these earlier works were released (some even with Orff's approval).
In 1924, Orff opened the Guntherschule in Munich, an educational center for rhythmic movement, gymnastics, music and dance. It was here that his concept — known as the Orff Method - evolved into a synthesis of gesture, poetic language, and music. Music teachers worldwide recognize Carl Orff as one of the two most important music educators in history (the other being Zoltán Koclály). He is probably best remembered for his Schulwerk ("School Work"). Originally a set of pieces composed and published for the Güntherschule (which had students ranging from 12 to 22), this title was also used for his books based on radio broadcasts in Bavaria in 1949. These pieces are collectively called Musik für Kinder (Music for Children), and also use the term Schulwerk.
Works for Winds
- Carmina Burana (arr. Krance) (1937/1967)
- Carmina Burana (arr. Mas Quiles) (1937)
- Carmina Burana (arr. Wanek) (1937)
- Catulli Carmina
- Der Mond
- Entrata (Orff)
- Four Burlesque Scenes (arr. Regner) (1938/1997)
- Stetit Puela