Friday, November 12, 2010

ORFF 's De temporum fine comoedia by Karajan

Karajan did not leave any records of Orff (apart from this one) so for some people it will come as a surprise to be informed that he was the one who gave the world premiere of Trionfi (the trilogy Carmina Burana/Catulli Carmina/Trionofo d'Afrodite) at La Scala with Schwarzkopf and Gedda among the cast. Two decades later, he gave this Orff premiere (the composer's last major work), in Salzburg.

(Original LP coverart)

CARL ORFF (1895-1982)

De temporum fine comoedia
Play for the End of Time

Cast of the Salzburg Festival première 1973

Production: August Everding
Sets: Günther Schneider-Siemssen
Musical preparation: Gerhard Lenssen

»Heis theós estin anarchos, hypermegéthaes, agénaetos«
A god is, without beginning, immense, unformed

»Opse theú g'aleúsi myloi«
The mills of God are late to grind

»Pasin homú nyx estin isae tois plúton echusin kai ptochois«
The same night awaits all, rich and poor

»Choneusó gar hapanta kai eis katharón dialéxo«
I will melt everything down and purify it

»Vae! Ibunt impii in gehennam ignis eterni«
Woe! The impious shall enter the hell of the eternal fire

»Úpote, maepote, maepu, maedépote ... ignis eterni immensatormenta«
Never, never, in no place, at no time the measureless torment of the eternal fire

»Unus solus Deus ab aeterno in aeternum«
God is One alone from eternity to eternity

»Nicht Satanas ... nicht Lucifer... damnatus nunquam condemnatus in aeternum«
Not Satan ... not Lucifer... the damned are not condemned for eternity

»Mundus terrenus volvitur«
The terrestrial world revolves

»Wann endet die Zeit?«
When will time end?

»Gott, schenk uns Wahrsagung, Weissagung, Hellsicht im Traum. Gott, schenk uns den Traum«
God, grant us the gifts of prophecy, sagacity, clairvoyance in dreaming. God, grant us the dream

»Wo irren wir hin, verloren, verlassen«
Whither do we stray, lost, abandoned

»Kyrie!" "Serva nos, salva nos, eripe nos!«
Help us, save us, take us away!

»Angor, timor, horror, terror ac pavor invadit omnes«
Dread, fear, horror, terror and dismay seize us all

»Omne genus daemoniorum caecorum, claudorum sive confusorum, attendite iussum meorum et vocationem verborum«
Every type of demon, blind, lame or mad, mark the command and the call of my words

»Vae, Portae Inferi oculus aspicit nos tenebrarius tenebris«
Woe, the eye, the dark eye looks upon us, with darkness, at the gates of the underworld

»Pater peccavi«

Con sublima spiritualité

Nine Sibyls:
Colette Lorand • Jane Marsh • Kay Griffel
Sylvia Anderson • Gwendolyn Killebrew • Kari Lövaas
Anna Tomowa-Sintow • Heljä Angervo • Glenys Loulis

Nine Anchorites:
Erik Geisen • Hans Wegmann • Hans Helm
Wolfgang Anheisser • Siegfried Rudolf Frese • Hermann Patzalt
Hannes Jokel • Anton Diakow • Boris Carmeli

The last beings:
Josef Greindl (The Chorus leader)
Kölner Rundfunkchor (Chorus master: Herbert Schernus)
RIAS-Kammerchor (Einstudierung: Uwe Gronostay)
Tölzer Knabenchor (Einstudierung: Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden)
Rolf Boysen (Lucifer - Speaker)
Christa Ludwig (Contralto solo)
Peter Schreier (Tenor solo)
Viola quartet: Sigiswald Kuijken • Wieland Kuijken • Adelheid Glatt • Sara E. Cunningham

Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester

Directed for the recording by Karl O.Koch
Co-production with West German Radio, Cologne

Karajan and Orff around the time of the premiere


How the world came into existence, and how it might end, are questions that have been considered over and over again, and continue to be asked: in religions, in myths and prophecies, in scientific and philosophical speculation, in literature, in visions expressed in music and the visual arts. Carl Orff devoted years of thought to his idea of a drama about the end of time, as part of his ambition to create a "theatrum mundi". His earliest approach to the subject was a setting of Franz Werfel's poem Des Turmes Auferstehung (The Rising of the Tower) in 1920-21. This piece, which has not been performed to date, marks the young composer's decision to renounce late Romanticism and turn to large-scale architectonic forms. A passage at the end of the score adumbrates the viola canon which, at the end of De temporum fine comoedia, symbolizes the path leading to eternity.

Orff's thoughts took their final shape in the 1960s. His versions of Classical Greek drama, Antigonae and Prometheus, lay behind him as stations on the way towards his last work for the stage, the apocalyptic vision De temporum fine comoedia. For Orff the word 'comoedia' retains its medieval sense, embracing all stage actions that are not tragedies but end well or at least not catastrophically. The end of the "comoedia" of the end of the world constitutes a reversion, the transformation of Lucifer back into an archangel, the spiritualization of the world of the senses into a new earth in which all is spirit, and thus divine. Guilt is forgotten, not forgiven with a magnanimous gesture. Ideas of Christian eschatology mingle with concepts from late Classical Greece, from gnosis, from ideas explored by the early Christian theologian Origen in the first half of the third century.

The score was composed essentially between 1960 and 1971, but before the Munich premiere in 1979 it was tautened, and the texture lightened to enhance the text. The world premiere was given at the Salzburg Festival on 20 August 1973, in the Grosses Festspielhaus. The production was. directed by August Everding and designed by Günther Schneider-Siemssen. It was performed by the Cologne Radio Chorus, augmented by the Tölz Boys' Choir and RIAS Chamber Choir, with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra. Carl Orff was by then 78 years old, though age sat lightly on him: he was serene and happy in the consciousness of having brought his life's work to an ordered conclusion. De temporum fine comoedia was to be his last large-scale work.

The experience gained in writing for chorus and orchestra between Carmina Burana and Prometheus is evident in the score. The percussion is pre-eminent, augmented by Japanese temple bells and numerous other exotic instruments, which Orff collected and tried out in his house beside the Ammersee in Upper Bavaria. As so often, the lighter strings are omitted, leaving a quartet of violas and eight double basses to make up the string complement. In addition to normal woodwind and brass, there are also harps, three pianos, two organs, wind-machine and a tape (the wind-machine is also on tape in this performance). Apart from Lucifer, who appears shortly before the end, there are no named solo roles; the solos sung by sibyls and anchorites are motivated by the textual context, and are intended to be representative, not individualistic. What has been called Orff's "magical sonority" is the outcome of the affective part-writing, the suggestive power of uncommonly refined orchestral writing which always relates to the text, the skilful deployment of the ensemble and the choruses (including boys' voices), and the formal structure of the scenes. The concluding canon for the violas, disappearing to infinity, remains one of Orff's few pieces of wordless music: a reminiscence of an archaic world, of the 'awakening' caused by the study of Monteverdi, Byrd and other masters who, around 1920 and 1930, still lay shrouded in the mists of history. The idea of the "restoration of all things" brings Lucifer to the stage: he becomes once more what he was originally, the Bearer of Light. In the closing scene the music, previously highly affective and intense, reverts to basic, 'primeval' intervals. The vox mundana and vox caelestis are heard in the cosmos, in choral polyphony. Gradually the music of earth, vox mundana, subsides and is absorbed into the music of heaven, which is symbolized by the pure fifth, the fundamental interval. Chromaticism, accidentals and key signatures vanish from the score. The fifth conveys the ultimate knowledge, that all is spirit. This spiritualization governs everything, harmony and orchestration alike, in the closing scene. Four violas, the most discreet members of the string family, intone a four-part texture above a pedal point, bringing medieval Organum to mind. The melody is Bach's chorale "Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit" in a disguised form. A four-part canon emerges, rotates about its own axis, and returns symbolically to its starting-point in retrograde motion. The circle, universally acknowledged as the most complete symbolic figure, is closed.

Carl Orff's De temporum fine comoedia is a work full of symbolism. Every line in the text and every figure in the music has a symbolic significance. The score represents the summation of Orff's lifelong striving to depict the two foundations of the spirit of the Western world - Greco-Roman antiquity and Christianity - together in the one "theatrum mundi". The two worlds permeate each other, bringing the recognition that all is spirit, and thus divine. "Ta panta nus" is the last, all-embracing principle. The symbolism of the "play of the end of time" is explained in the fullest detail by Werner Thomas in Theatrum mundi, volume VIII of Carl Orff und sein Werk.   Dokumentation (Hans Schneider Verlag, Tutzing, 1983). This brief introduction acknowledges its debt to that exhaustive discussion.

What is seen on the stage are symbols, apocalyptic visions, ruminations about how the end of the world might be. The concepts are drawn from late Classical prophecy (the Roman Oracula Sibyllina from the second century B.C.), the hymn to the god of dreams from the Orphic Hymns of Classical Greece, the conjuration of demons from the medieval Carmina Burana (songs from manuscripts in the Benedictine abbey of Beuron in Baden-Württemberg), and ideas expressed by the early Christian theologian Origen, from his major work, De principiis, from the first half of the third century. Origen's theses form the centre of the work, and give an interpretation of the end of the world. Orff included the appearance of Satan and his transformation back into Lucifer in order to exemplify Origen's apocalyptic speculations. The symbolic action divides into three parts: The Sibyls, The Anchorites, and "Dies ilia". The Sibyls and the Anchorites expound opposing aspects of the same vision of the end of the world, "Dies ilia" pronounces an interpretation in the light of an early Christian view, influenced by late Classical Greece, at the centre of which is the idea of the spiritualization of the cosmos.

There are nine of them, that is, three times three, a reference to the magic significance of the number three in myth, magic spells etc. The sibyls are the women soothsayers of antiquity. Orff draws on the Sibylline Oracles, the 14 books containing prophecies about the end of the world and the coming of the Messiah. Night. Fantastic Landscape, the Nine Sibyls singly and in groups. Sopranos, mezzo-sopranos and contraltos. The soothsayers foretell the terrifying end of life and the cosmos and the eternal damnation of the godless and wicked. In Greek, the sibyls sing the praises of the one God and Creator, who will come to end time. The same night awaits all, rich and poor. All life has reached the end of its span. Images of the end of the world are invoked: darkness, conflagration, the collapse of the cosmic system. God sits in judgment on mankind's greed and lack of understanding. The godless are consigned to Tartarus. At the end God speaks out of the mouth of a sibyl. An echo from on high confirms her words. The sibyl foretells purgation by fire, the resurrection of the dead, the resolution of fate, and the last judgment on the godly and the godless.

The second part of the work is the antithesis of the first. A landscape of cliffs and ravines. Dispersed about the scene, the Nine Anchorites. (A remote reminiscence of the last scene of Part II of Goethe's Faust) 'Anchorite' derives from the Greek 'anachorètes' and means one who has withdrawn: a hermit. Many early Christian ascetics withdrew to live in solitude, in the belief that the apocalyptic prophecies of their faith would be fulfilled in their lifetimes. They prepared themselves for death and judgment by living a life of strict self-denial, thought to be pleasing to God. Christian doctrine was interpreted eschatologically, as relating above all to an imminent Last Judgment. The language of the text alternates between flexible Greek and lapidary Latin in this section of the work. In form it is a sequence of individually constructed segments, reflecting speech rhythms. After the terrifying visions of the sibyls, the anchorites offer a ray of hope: "Never, never, in no place, at no time the measureless torment of the eternal fire." One declares: "Nothing against God except God Himself." The world is God's creation, and therefore it is all contained within God - even though the Devil roams abroad until the very last. Only God knows when time will end. The spiritual heart of the piece is reached, the door to knowledge is opened. Orff comes to the thesis of the early Christian Greek Origen:

Omnium rerum finis
vitiorum abolitio.
(The end of all things
will be
the oblivion of all guilt.)

The words of Origen, condemned by some Councils of the early church, reflect the influence of late Greek thought, and express belief in the world's becoming spirit with the advent of Christianity. Guilt will be forgotten, wiped away like something written on a wax tablet. The concepts of "sin" and "forgiveness" are not even referred to. Guilt is forgotten, and the guilty transformed back to the state of innocence. Orff made this thesis the central idea of his piece and inscribed it as the motto at the head of the score.

The last of mankind come into view, out of darkness and wisps of mist. The universal catastrophe has taken place. Cries of woe are heard: the sky has fallen in, the sun has been extinguished, and human survivors roam about without any to warn or keep watch. The shadow of the Gregorian sequence "Dies irae, dies ilia" falls across the three-part chorus, led by a 'protagonist' in the Greek sense. "Make an end!" plead the last men. "At the gates of the underworld, the dark eye looks upon us, with darkness ..."

Lucifer, the "Bearer of Light", the archangel who fell from God in his pride and delusion, and became Satanas, Mephistopheles, the Prince of Evil. He appears high up, in the centre of the stage. His clothing and armour are black and glistening. He wears a helmet shaped like a dragon's head, a cloak spread wide, a mask over his face. He stands with outstretched arms, like giant bats' wings. Lucifer confesses his guilt: "Pater peccavi - Father, I have sinned." A ray of light from heaven falls on to the mask, which falls away. A youthful face is seen. A second ray of light causes the cloak and vesper-tilian attributes to drop. Finally Lucifer stands bathed in light, and is again the archangel he once was. From a distance the chorus is heard as vox mundana, the voice of the earth: "I come to Thee, Thou art the Comforter and the last End." From a greater distance, as the light strengthens, a celestial choir replies: "Ta panta nus - All is spirit." All is made spirit - the things of the earth, the senses, the created world. It is a Christian thought, given an interpretation by Origen that rests on late Greek philosophy.

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