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"Tunes for Tyrants" (BBC 4) and "Carmina Burana"


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Author Topic: "Tunes for Tyrants" (BBC 4) and "Carmina Burana"  (Read 295 times)
Dundonnell
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« on: October 11, 2017, 01:43:23 am »

I have just watched the second programme in a series on BBC Four entitled "Tunes for Tyrants". The presenter, Suzy Klein, discussed sensibly the situation facing composers in Nazi Germany and Stalin's Russia. She recognised the difficulties experienced by Richard Strauss, Prokofiev and Shostakovich and their accommodations with the regimes of their countries. She was sensitive to Richard Strauss in particular (in contrast to some commentators).

However, what really struck me was that, having at the very beginning of the programme made the assertion that music could be "dangerous", she then turned in the last minutes of the programme to Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana". This work, she claimed, embodies "the toxic spirit" of its time. By implication she clearly believes it to be essentially "evil" since it appeals (she asserted) to our basest instincts. Through its very "emptiness" it is a "Fascist" composition. I am not sure whether she thinks it should be banned from performance but she appears to think that listening to it demeans us spiritually and morally.

Ouch! I have always enjoyed the work. Is my soul now at risk or am I a lost cause??
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Toby Esterhase
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« Reply #1 on: October 11, 2017, 02:17:11 am »

Dear Dundonnell
It seems a zhdanovian statement
Best
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Gerard
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« Reply #2 on: October 11, 2017, 07:16:41 am »

. . . Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana". This work, she claimed, embodies "the toxic spirit" of its time. By implication she clearly believes it to be essentially "evil" since it appeals (she asserted) to our basest instincts. . . .

It would be more apt to say that of the Rite of Spring ballet.

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Appreciative, or investigatory, that is the question . . .
Jeff
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« Reply #3 on: October 11, 2017, 11:04:34 am »

My uncle, Curt Prerauer,(by marriage),left Germany in the 30's after persecution for being Jewish.
He lost employment,even though he was very well regarded for his playing,piano and organ, and voice coaching.
Winifred Wagner was personally involved in terminating his time at Bayreuth.

He was friends with Strauss before leaving Germany,and emigrating to Australia.
After the war,he continued to correspond with Strauss,and had no problems with Strauss  politically or
with his decision to stay in Germany.

There is a problem with the link.But if you click on it,and enter Curt Prerauer in Search,you'll find the information.

adb.anu.edu.au/biography/prerauer-kurt-curt
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Amphissa
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« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2017, 01:55:21 am »

. . . Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana". This work, she claimed, embodies "the toxic spirit" of its time. By implication she clearly believes it to be essentially "evil" since it appeals (she asserted) to our basest instincts. . . .

It would be more apt to say that of the Rite of Spring ballet.


Indeed! Rite of Spring has created endless opportunities for [evil? gratuitous? rebellious? creative? liberating?] nudity. Truly shameless - uh - shameful - uh - artistic - uh - Eurotrashy - uh - well, whatever.


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Gauk
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« Reply #5 on: October 13, 2017, 08:03:34 am »

History has been kinder to Carl Orff than he perhaps deserves, compared to some other composers. As for emptiness, have a listen to some of his other music besides Carmina Burana.
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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #6 on: October 13, 2017, 03:35:09 pm »

History has been kinder to Carl Orff than he perhaps deserves

Bread & circuses have always lured the mob   Roll Eyes  As for the rest of his music - it's just the bread, without the circuses  Wink
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shamus
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« Reply #7 on: October 13, 2017, 04:33:29 pm »

I enjoy "Carmina Burana" but agree that nothing else of his even begins to interest me, also not sure what I would do, but hope I would help Madame Huber who begged him to intercede with his nazi friends for her Jewish husband Kurt Huber who was supposedly one of Orff's best friends and he refused to do so. But again, what will I do when I am tested? "First they came for the socialists, but I said nothing.....then they came for me..." probably misquoted. Anyway I will still probably like "O, fortuna".
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Elroel
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« Reply #8 on: October 14, 2017, 02:16:51 pm »

I certainly will continue to love the Carmina Burana. Better even, later this year it wil be performed in a few places here in my country, and I have a ticket for one of the perofrmances.

Whatever Orff did, this is one of the great vocal-orchestral works of the last century in my view.
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #9 on: October 14, 2017, 05:39:19 pm »

One wonders why, if the work is not just "empty" but "detestable", "dangerous" and "evil", it has attracted the attention of so many great conductors. Performers, including conductors, have a vital, indeed an essential, role in all this. The popular acclaim for the work is something which some may deplore but its continuing popularity does depend on folk actually hearing it. Are we to condemn those musicians who perform the work? Are they too (as Orff himself is accused of doing) pandering to our "basest instincts"?

I wonder......

It is certainly food for thought and I will admit that I shall not be able to listen to the work again without pondering...
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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #10 on: October 14, 2017, 10:28:36 pm »

If we try to step back from the dialectic, and instead approach this on a factual and rational basis...

.... the Latin texts of Carmina Burana were compiled by monks (often alleged to be novices or initiates, but this remains speculation) at the Benediktbeuern monastery, in today's Bavaria. The manuscript itself can be reliably dated to the 1230s, but it is, of course, a compilation of pre-existing material.  Scholars have attempted, with some success, to attribute the individual numbers in the manuscript to monasteries all over Europe, from the 10th century onwards.

In short - there is nothing whatsoever in the texts which can be attributed to any kinds of political movement in Germany (or anywhere else) from the 20th century. They may have been considered debauched or depraved at the time of their composition (and a group of them are also certainly heretical, in the view of the Roman Catholic Church), but they do not have any other reasons for being prohibited. It is suggested that they were the literary doodles of young monks with long days in the scriptorium ahead of them. Some of them display great erudition and wide scriptural knowledge in the lampoons and scatalogical satires they present. There are, moreover, recordings and concerts of some of the verses which have extant medieval musical settings or melodies (either in the MS itself, or compiled from other medieval sources). I see no sign of any attempt to ban these medieval songs?  (Frankly the popularity of such material is so extremely spotty that it would be laughable to try to ban them. A few Early Music buffs, and a couple of musicologists? Ehem!)  Moreover, the MS also contains (fairly) complete versions of two substantial medieval musical 'Mystery' dramas, whose impeccable moral credentials stand in no doubt whatsoever.

[Present-day Germany & Austria - and some other European countries - have specific laws which enable the prohibition of all material and activities which specifically promote the theories or activities of the Third Reich.
 In other words, a link to the Reich would have be proven in these texts, to justify a ban under this legislation. The anti-clerical doodlings of 11th-century monks cannot reasonably be pressed into service here - no matter if modern churchmen may find the texts obscene or irreligious.
]

This really means that any objections to Carmina Burana must stem from one of two possibilties - (a) musical material so pernicious in itself that it would merit a ban  (hard to see how this could be proven or enforced?) (b)or[/b] the career and political activities of its composer.

Since (a) is really an impossibility, we are left with the conclusion that the dim view taken of the piece must stem entirely from Orff's personal biography and activities.

Personally, I don't like the work very much - I don't like tub-thumping music in general. I take offence at Imperialist claptrap, too - although I would never suggest banning its performance, far less destroying the sheet music. Avoiding it is as simple as the 'OFF' button - or not going to its performances.  But extrapolating detail from Orff's (unsavoury) personal biography as a reason to forbid or restrict the work would be on the same basis as banning music by Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Muradeli, Lawes (fought on the Royalist side in the English Civil War), or Gesualdo (just part of a very long and infinitely flexible list). 

Merely my own approach to this topic. May all admirers of Orff's music continue to enjoy his output - no matter if I don't!  Roll Eyes
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #11 on: October 15, 2017, 01:13:56 am »

Well said, Neil What you have written seems to me both eminently sensible and totally irrefutable.
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Gauk
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« Reply #12 on: October 15, 2017, 05:06:37 pm »

But extrapolating detail from Orff's (unsavoury) personal biography as a reason to forbid or restrict the work would be on the same basis as banning music by Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Muradeli, Lawes (fought on the Royalist side in the English Civil War), or Gesualdo (just part of a very long and infinitely flexible list).

One could hardly accuse Shostakovich or Prokofiev of having unsavoury biographies. And I don't think anyone is suggesting Orff's music should be banned, any more than Gerhard Frommel's music is banned. It just isn't played, and no-one is much interested in reviving the music of composers who were complicit with the NDSP regime. Which is why I said Orff has got off rather lightly by comparison.

I recall reading that Orff actually had a political philosophy behind his use of extreme simplicity (proto-minimalism?). Carmina Burana is really the only work of his that has much appeal today, and then largely because of the stirring opening/closing number.

Try this instead:

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Elroel
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« Reply #13 on: October 16, 2017, 12:17:33 am »

Orff is also known for his Schulwerk. He created hundreds of pieces, some together with his wife, for school education. She also wrote pieces for this project on her own.
His opera 'Der Mond' has some funny moments. Here as in most of his works simplicity reigns.

He never reached the level of Çarmina Burana with his other works. The cantatas that were meant to create a triple together with the Carmina, were of another (IMHO, lower) level. History will prove if he is to be one of the composers remembered by one composition only.
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Gauk
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« Reply #14 on: October 16, 2017, 10:01:34 am »

More than that, one tune only. Aside from "O Fortuna" and the second number, Carmina Burana is pretty dull stuff. But then "O Fortuna" returns at the end and sends you out of the concert hall on a high. I recollect also its use in the film "Excalibur" to accompany shots of knights in armour charging through an orchard full of apple blossom.
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