Tuesday 26 April 2005

Falling off the radar

I've just been listening to Carl Orff's Prometheus. This dates from 1968 (30 years after Carmina Burana) and is a setting of ancient Greek text taken from Aeschylus's play. The result is remarkably dramatic though it hovers between play and opera, much of the text is declaimed rather than sung and the instrumental accompaniment serves more as punctuation than real accompaniment. Orff uses melody sparingly but the result it still remarkable

Orff's centenary was way back in 2005 (a bare 23 years after his death), but in the English speaking-world his reputation does not seem to have recovered, Carmina Burana apart. This is strange, considering what a curiously fascinating composer he was, in addition to his extensive work as an educationalist. Though this latter, of course, is better known in Germany than in England.

There are two factors which affect his reputation. The one which drifts around just out of view, is the possibility that he might have been a Nazi. A speculation which is fuelled by his residence in Bavaria. This is one of those miasmas which no amount of concrete evidence will dispel.

The other, more serious problem, is that much of Orff's later work is not really like Carmina Burana. Orff's concerns were with rhythm and text and in many of his later works he brought his considerable melodic gifts to bear only intermittently. But there is much to enjoy and we can only dream about a concert scene in London which would enable promoters to put on such risky works as Prometheus.

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