Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Carl Orff: the controversy, for once, isn't the selling point

 O Fortuna from Carmina Burana, by Carl Orff
Play it while you read - it will make everything so much more interesting!

Carl Orff was a famous German composer - you probably know him from such pieces as the one above, O Fortuna, which was the beginning and the end of his most famous work, Carmina Burana. I daresay if you click play you'll recognize the piece instantly - it's an earworm, and a powerful one, which has been used to great effect over the years in everything from movies to advertising to propaganda. (You can watch the full Carmina Burana on YouTube, courtesy of UCTV.)

And the U.S. is hardly the only place that did so! In fact, most of the controversy with Carl Orff arises from the fact that he lived, worked, and composed in Nazi Germany, without outright declaring himself to be against the Nazi regime, and the Nazis enjoyed and used his music. This has earned him and his music (rather unfair) condemnations, including several absolutely scathing newspaper articles (the most recent of which was written in May 2001) and even a complete refusal of reviews on an Israeli performance, simply because his works had been performed by the Nazis.

However, while these controversies are what show up under his name in the news, it is his music education system that earned him his place in Marshall McLuhan's book the Medium is the Massage. Orff developed a system which he spread with the publication Schulewerk, designed to help young children learn musical abilities through focus on rhythm, spoken word, dance, and simple melodies.

He specifically wanted to teach younger children who had not yet been taught the 'rules' of music because they were, he believed, naturally more innovative before their ideas are narrowed by what is considered acceptable and right in music. Even Orff himself was mainly self-taught; though he did study for a time under some musical masters, he published a number of works before ever taking so much as a musical theory course, and those teachers he did study under never supported the innovative style of music he wished to pursue. In developing his musical education methods, he wanted to help children to follow their own musical innovations before they get so locked into the 'normal' style of music that they no longer can.

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