Abstracts of issue 5-6 (1987)

Polyxene Mathey-Roussopoulou

Carl Orff and Ancient Greece

Carl Orff (1895-1982) has been a genuine theater personality. Most of his compositions had been conceived for stage performances, while simultaneously he was a profound connoisseur and worshipper of classical antiquity.
Ancient Greece and the Greek language shared a significant role in his work. Already in the Catulli Carmina, a musical, dramatic and dancing ensemble (Première: Leipzig, 1943), we can trace a small Greek linguistic cell. In the Latin tui sum, sung by young men and girls being in love, Orff added the Greek eis aiona, and this we hear the couples repeat in ecstasy eis aiona tui sum. A wonderful example, how a cell from the Greek language, may emphasize the Latin text.
In the Easter drama Comoedia di Christi Resurrectione (Première: Stuttgart, 1957), a choir of women mourns over Jesus grave in Greek, with the very words of the Epitaphios of Bion from Smyrna (2nd century B.C.). At the end of the play, the choir of angels above and the choir of women below chant triumphantly Christos anesti of the orthodox liturgy.
In Trionfo di Afrodite (Première: Milano, 1953) poems of Catullus and quotations of Sappho and Euripides accompany a nuptial celebration and the worship of Aphrodite and Hymeneos.
Orff approached the ancient tragedy, setting to music the Antigone and Oedipus Tyrannos of Sophocles, as translated by Hölderlin (Premières, correspondingly, in Salzburg, 1949, and Stuttgart, 1959). The third Greek ancient drama that aroused Orffs creative power was Prometheus Desmotes of Aeschylus. However, since there were no German translations worthy of the original text, Orff accomplished an enormous daring act: he set to music the very text of Aeschylus. The Ancient Greek language does not perform as a carrier of understanding facts or ideas, but as a musical element, closely bound with the completely original sound spectrum of the orchestra: wind and percussion instruments as well as musical instruments of foreign civilizations.
The last composition of Orff, De temporum fine comoedia (Première: Salzburg, 1967), is a monumental piece of work with an eschatological content, based on Origenes doctrine: Omnium rerum fine erit vitiorum abolitio. Nine Sibyls predict to the desperate humanity the end of the world with Greek texts, taken from the so-called Sibylic Prophesies. Nine Anachorites reject the prediction feverishly with Greek, Latin and German texts, drafted by the composer himself and an invocation to the god Oneiros, taken from the relevant Orphic Hymn. Eventually, Lucifer appears on the upper part of the stage, who, by repeating three times Pater peccavi, looses gradually its satanic appearance and becomes the Angel of Light he was originally. Thus, the fallen creation returns to its Creator through the repentance of the one who provoked the fall. And then are heard, in order to emphasize the spirituality of the universe, from the distant Voces celestes the words of Anaxagoras: Ta panta nous. That was the last word in the creative work of Orff, and this was a Greek word.

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