Gravesite of Carl Orff Â© Christopher Beschnitt (KNA)
2020 was to be a Carl Orff year with many performances to mark the 125th anniversary of the composer's death. Birthday of the composer. Corona prevented this. The Catholic Academy in Munich belatedly dedicated an evening to him on the subject of faith.
Carl Orff a religious composer? A mass, a requiem, an oratorio or a passion cannot be found in the catalog of works of the artist (1895-1982). Of course, there are his Christmas and Easter plays and also the rarely performed "Game of the End of Times," but otherwise his works seem rather secular, even "antique-pagan," as the director of the Orff Center Munich, Thomas Rosch, admitted on Monday evening in Munich. For the Catholic Academy in Bavaria, he had brought to light some surprising things about the musician's ambivalent relationship to faith and religion from the archive.
A "spiritual roller coaster ride with a few shock elements" promised the expert. And he kept his word: for Orff's works are teeming with witches and devils who embody evil, but also with hopeful, touching moments that reveal a person of faith. It is these contradictions that characterized Orff's closeness to and distance from the faith throughout his life.
Pious Catholic Education
Born in Munich into a Bavarian family of officers and scholars, he was baptized as a Catholic, with the name "Karl Heinrich Maria". Mother Paula, a trained pianist, was responsible for religious education. Even before his first birthday, the little boy learned to pray; at barely three, he knew the sign of the cross, the Lord's Prayer and Hail Marys.
The church services, especially the liturgy on feast days, fascinated him. Playing with music and light awakened his enthusiasm for theater early on. In 1915, when Orff had already completed his studies at the Munich Academy of Music, he wrote a "Ave Maria" for the funeral of his aunt Emmy Giehrl.
A fall from the ladder had made the woman a nursing case at a young age. For more than 50 years she lay in bed, where she successfully wrote stories in a religiously edifying style, becoming an esteemed writer even in the Bavarian royal family.
Problems with the Bible
Her nephew had rather his problems with the Bible. While still at school, he became agitated in religion class over the fact that Abraham was to sacrifice his son Isaac. How can a loving father and ultimately God allow this to happen? Later, when a fellow student took his own life because he couldn't cope with Catholic dogma, the distance grew even greater. The experiences of the First World War did the rest. In 1917, Orff was drafted and sent to the Eastern Front, where he was buried in an attack.
The fear of death he suffered in the process did not let him go; he could not endure darkness and abandonment. When Orff lay traumatized in the military hospital, at times half-paralyzed, he immersed himself in Friedrich Nietzsche's "The Will to Power," as Rosch reported. And he also had something creepy to contribute: What Orff may have been up to, no one knows. But there is evidence that he went to a nearby Episcopal church and took possession of a skull in the crypt there.
Alienation from religion
The alienation from religion continued. The composer did not have his daughter Godela baptized. The ancient world, its heroes and philosophers, were closer to him. He studied Monteverdi and set the "Brecht Cantatas" to music, which, according to some critics, mutated into a kind of "black mass" through his music. When the "Carmina Burana" were premiered in 1937, he deleted a part that had already been composed, which would have exaggerated everything in a Christian-religious way in the end.
Orff created his own theology, Rosch explained, in which Christ does not appear. But God was never dead for him. He does not see him as a punisher, but rather as an ordering, spiritual and loving principle. When the composer received the Romano Guardini Prize in 1974, Cardinal Julius Dopfner of Munich praised him as a man "who, out of the context of faith, cries out in a moving way the call for God and his response". Orff was buried at his own request in the Sorrowful Chapel of Andechs Monastery: "People should see where I am at home."