Can We Give Poor Orff a Pass at Last?

Richard Taruskin

in The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays

Published by University of California Press

Published in print December 2008 | ISBN: 9780520249776
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520942790 | DOI:
Can We Give Poor Orff a Pass at Last?

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This chapter argues Carl Orff's right to compose music and highlights the criticism made to his work. Orff's rhythms are uniformly foursquare, his melodies catchy, his moods ingratiating and even after half a century or more Orff's music remains “as adept as ever at rousing primitive, unreflective enthusiasm.” Orffs music is still regarded as toxic, whether it does its animalizing work at Nazi rallies, in school auditoriums, at rock concerts, in films, in the sound tracks that accompany commercials, or in Avery Fisher Hall. The worst Orff can be accused of is opportunism. He accepted a 1938 commission from the mayor of Frankfurt to compose incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream to replace Mendelssohn's racially banned score. But even here, an extenuating case can be argued. Shakespeare's play had long attracted Orff. He had composed music for it as early as 1917, and he added more in 1927, before there was any Nazi government to curry favor with.

Keywords: Avery Fisher Hall; Mendelssohn; Carl Orff; Nazi government; Germany

Chapter.  3242 words. 

Subjects: Music Theory and Analysis

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