What is the ecstatic state of life

■ From the cult staging of fate to advertising for Michael Jackson: For Carl Orff's 100th birthday

“Be smart and love - no one in this world can do that.” The final sentence of his fairy tale opera “Die Kluge” is also the program of Carl Orff's music: protest against the regulated modern reality and the search for a magical state of life torn from everyday life. Yes, irony of history: the protest against the modern world has long been absorbed by it. Advertising clips that shape Orff's hated modern life today have rediscovered him for a larger audience in recent years - and at the same time made “serious” music suitable for advertising and interesting for pop culture. His “Carmina Burana” sound carpet has long turned chocolate advertising into an “experience for the senses”, and they spice up Michael Jackson's concert tours with music.

An involuntary mediator role between E and pop music, which Orff got posthumously into. His biography is typical of the educated bourgeois unworldliness that has shaped the e-music scene well into our days: Born in Munich as the son of a family of officers and scholars, Orff was literally put into his ear - after all, the rehearsal room was across from his parents' house a regimental orchestra practicing daily. This permanent sound was supplemented by the family's "constant house music". No wonder that Carl Orff became such a musical boy wonder. At the age of sixteen he dropped out of high school in order to attend the Munich Academy of Music. "The doctor h. c. I'll get it anyway ”- a prophecy that was to be fulfilled in 1957 when the University of Tübingen was awarded a doctorate.

Orff lived in the midst of the fragmentation of modern music. With their main currents - twelve-tone music and the abandonment of tonality - he had nothing in mind. Although there was no recognizable musical connection to Schönberg, Berg or von Webern, Orff was involved in the music scene of his time. The Munich Bach Association and the “Association for Contemporary Music” offered him a platform for his scenic-musical experiments. While he was still performing with Béla Bartók, Igor Stravinsky or Paul Hindemith in this context, they soon parted ways. While the music of most members of his generation was slandered as "degenerate art" and their compositions were burned, Orff became a pet (if not undisputed) of the Nazi era. A “round dance” for the opening ceremonies of the 1936 Olympic Games was followed on June 8, 1937 by a triumphant premiere of his “Carmina Burana” under the musical direction of Herbert von Karajan in Frankfurt.

It is no coincidence that their ecstatic, fateful message, which calls for self-forgetfulness, met with a great response at the time. Her irrepressible temperament, the “cult” staging, the mass roster of singers - all of this was obviously a protest against the intellectualization of New Music, which the Nazis also disparaged as “degenerate”. More important than Orff's personal failure towards the brown rulers is the return from the modern world to the supposedly intact origins in tradition, to which Martin Heidegger also fell victim to philosophy.

With his compositions Orff fled his whole life shuddering from modernity into the world of the Greeks or that of fairy tales: their intellectually hostile naivety and their pathos are at the center of his work. In Orff's music theater, the good guys are still good and the bad guys are just bad. Overtones and the morally undecidable are of no interest. Orff, who also set poems by Bert Brecht, was certainly not a Nazi, but his rejection of the modern world and the naive, intellectually hostile belief in the past, in the elementary and in the simple primitive as what is actually good, are close to totalitarian thoughts.

Orff, as he himself said, was never modern. But he is always dependent on the modern world, because only the contrast to it gives his music the pathos on which it thrives.

Orff's music needs the image and the crowd scene in which word, sound and movement unite. He consistently relied on the spoken word. In his music theater, the divisional boundaries of the cultural business are blurring - here opera, there spoken theater. Language and music stand side by side on an equal footing in order to reveal the cultic dimension they share. Accordingly, pieces such as Orff's version of “Oedipus the Tyrann” were panned by the music critics of the 1950s and 1960s as “operas without music”.

Orff's transfiguration of the past also saw in the ancient languages ​​a primeval force, a passionate violence and an authenticity that modern languages ​​are supposedly no longer capable of. Latin returns to the music theater of our day with the “Carmina Burana” written in Latin and Middle High German or the “Catulli Carmina”, a musical play based on texts by the Roman poet Catullus. Likewise the ancient Greek, for example with the ambitious version of "Prometheus". This and the excursions into the Bavarian dialect in pieces such as “Die Bernauerin” or “Astutuli” are not just outflows of an unfamiliar educational humanism and intellectual provinciality, but are an expression of Orff's worldview.

Orff is known - and feared by many - to this day for his “Schulwerk”, an early musical education for children. In the sixties hardly anyone thought it was possible that the zeitgeist would rediscover him as a composer. But history runs in waves, and as is well known, so does advertising. Compositions such as the “Trionfo di Afrodite” or the “Game from the End of Times”, which was only completed shortly before his death in 1982, are as yet unused treasure troves for advertising moments of extreme passion. Harry Kunz