Carl Orff

written on 03/12/2020
by Heidrun Strobl

Carl Orff was born in 1895 in Munich where he also later died in 1982. He was one of the most important tonal music composers and music educators of the 20th century.

Since  childhood he was surrounded by music. In school he was not very successful. At the age of 16 he left school in order to study music. The music of Richard Wagner fascinated him. 

Not only was he spellbound by dramatic operas, the music of Claude Debussy equally inspired him. Debussy was interested in foreign instruments.

Orff also looked for exotic instruments in the Völkerkunde Museum in Munich. There he discovered the sound of the Asian gong which he would later use in many of his works.

Carl Orff is also the first composer to write pieces in the Bavarian dialect. He was in love with the rhythm of this language.

Already during his student days he was interested in music education but it would be years before he could fully devote himself to it.

After graduating he worked as a bandmaster for the Münchner Kammerspiele for several years. This drove him further towards Mannheim and  Darmstadt. In 1920 he returned to Munich.

In 1924, after additional studies with Kaminski, and together with Dorothee Guenther, he founded a school for gymnastics, dance and music  which propagated a combination of those three elements.

He developed the masterpiece called ‘Schulwerk for children’ consisting of 5 volumes which is still a cornerstone in music education in schools today.

Based on his awareness of sound and rhythm he created the idea of the so-called Orff percussion instruments.

Together with an instrument maker he produced the now well-known instruments such as the xylophone, metallophone and chimes. Tonewoods, drums, kettledrums, bells, castagnettes and many others also count as Orff instruments.

The Orff instruments make music education accessible to all kids.

For many years he was professionally engaged as a conductor of the Münchner Bachverein. He also headed the masterclass at the Munich conservatorium for 10 years.

In 1961 he took on the management of the Orff institute at the Mozarteum in Salzburg.

As a composer he achieved world fame for his work ‘Carmina Burana’, a musical version of a collection of medieval songs and drama texts in middle-Latin and middle-high German.

He also set works from Shakespeare, Hoelderlin, Sophokeles and others to music. What all pieces had in common was the unison of singing, dancing, speaking and powerful rhythms. 

The next video is the full Carmina Burana experience: