Friday, September 07, 2012

Medieval Latin and Middle High German noir, or Let's not call the whole thing Orff

I've just picked up a Penguin paperback of the Carmina Burana that was lying around the house. Here are the titles of the first six selections included in this translation: "Bribery and Corruption," "Never Satisfied," "Mouldering Morals," "The World Upside Down," "A Voice in the Wilderness,"  and "Hard Luck."

And here's the beginning of the first of those:
"Hands with handsome gifts to wield
put the `pi' in piety.
Money sees the compact sealed
— buys a court's propriety"
On that basis, I am prepared to call the Carmina Burana the finest collection I have ever seen of 11th-, 12th-, and 13th-century medieval Latin and Middle High German noir.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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11 Comments:

Blogger Philip Amos said...

A very interesting observation, Peter. I might add a tangential aspect to this: Carmina Burana's setting as a cantata by Carl Orff in 1937, a very popular work still today (it was recently performed in NY) was a huge hit in Nazi Germany. So was Carl Orff. I've never liked the work and I detest Orff.

Orff was denazified with the classification 'grey acceptable'. His success in this seems largely to have issued from the Allied interrogators having accepted his claim to have been a founder of the White Rose!!! White Rose was founded by one professor and a group of students. Other young people later joined, and they did receive assistance from anti-Nazi elders. Orff only contribution to it was that one member rounded up by the Nazis, Karl Huber, knew Orff, so much in favour with the Nazis, and asked him for help. Orff refused and Huber was beheaded.

Also, after the massive success or Carmina, the Nazi authorities asked Orff and other composers to write music to replace Mendelssohn's Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night's Dream, Mendelssohn's works, of course, being banned. Orff accepted. Most others refused.

One line of defence put forth for Orff was that he had a Jewish friend. Most leading Nazis had Jewish friends, but in Orff's case it's irrelevant, I think -- Orff wasn't a Nazi. He was, I believe, a prime example of the amoralist, a type often found in crime fiction, and especially noir. He gave as his reason for not intervening for Huber that it would ruin him. He rejected his only child, a daughter, as she explained it years later, because she just didn't fit into his life.
In short, everything Orff did was for Orff, regardless of the consequences for or feelings of others. As I said, a tangential point, but not irrelevant here.

September 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

In that case, (and this will be more effective with an English pronunciation than an American), fuck Orff.

I eventually bought a recording of Orff's setting of the Carmina Burana, but only after I'd been attracted by the original settings found as part of the manuscript. I think that many listeners who come to "classical" music as adults are drawn first to ancient and twentieth-century music before they listen to true Classical (and Romantic) music -- the Mozarts and Beethovens and Brahmses -- the thirst for novelty, and all that.

September 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

P.S.: I did a bit of research before I gave this post the title I did. According to what I can determine from material included in my edition, only one of the six selections whose titles I give is part of Orff's setting of the work.

September 07, 2012  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

It really wouldn't make much difference, Peter. As the literary work is grounded in the concept of 'fortune', each section has its up side and down side. A composer could pick parts from each and all of the sections (I think 24 in all) to write either a Dies Irae or, as in Orff's case, a Jubilate celebrating drinking, sex, nature, spring, etc., in general things to which Nazis were not averse and some things were rather fond of.

September 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've read only from the "complaints" section. (It really is labelled this, I think.) I suppose Orff found that sextion less suitable for his purposes.

September 07, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

I listened to Orff's Carmina Burana once. I had hoped the whole thing would be as terrific as O Fortuna. Boy, was I disappointed. It wasn't bad but nobody need ever worry about the rest of it being used in an advertisement for Carlsberg, or credit cards or Old Spice aftershave.

Orff was not a Nazi. If he had any politics at all, he was left-wing. His early pieces were set to poems by Bertolt Brecht. When Carmina Burana debuted in Frankfurt in 1937, many Nazis considered it pornographic and the Nazi paper, the Völkischer Beobachter, finding elements of jazz in the piece, described it as 'bayerische Niggermusik.' But the popularity of the piece forced the Nazis to change their their tune and claim Orff as one of their own.

As a man who was almost perpetually skint, Orff was disinclined to refuse Nazi commissions, so when the Nazi Mayor of Frankfurt called on him to replace a piece by the Jew Mendelssohn, he accepted. He did so with full knowledge of the racist ideology behind the commission. That makes him look bad, heck, it was bad, but on the other hand, he earned a few marks and he wasn't hurting Mendelssohn, who was long dead by that time.

The real irony here, of course, is that under the Nazi racial laws, Orff was himself Jewish. His grandmother, Fanny Kraft, was Jewish. That made Orff quarter Jewish, a fact he managed to keep hidden from the Nazis, who, if they had known about it would have marked him for extermination. No wonder the man was frightened and didn't want to upset the Nazis.

In the liberal democracies of the west, to protest is considered a good thing. At worst, one will be tear-gassed, water-cannoned, knocked on the head with a truncheon or spend a couple of days in jail. But in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia, to protest was an entirely different kettle of fish. The downside of protest in those societies was months of torture and eventually extermination. In the circumstances, it's not surprising that protest was rare and that Orff kept his mouth shut.

Orff's compromise with Nazi Germany was a compromise he shared with tens of millions of other Germans. The worst one can say about him was that he wasn't a hero.

I've never lived under such life-threatening conditions, and I'd be slow to condemn a man who did live under such conditions for any choices he made.

September 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I shall make "O, Fortuna" as well as a selection Satires, Desires, and Excesses from the original music the accompaniment to the evening's work. The department where I am working this evening makes this highly appropriaTE.

September 08, 2012  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

I don't customarily respond to anonymous contributors, but I'll reply to Solo on a few points. First, Orff chose a fiercely independent path in composition and did, indeed, earn little from his works until 1937. However, he was a department head at the Gunther School from 1925 until his death in 1982, so if he wasn't rich in his early years, he wasn't going to starve. He didn't NEED to compose the Midsummer Night's Dream music.

The attacks of some Nazis on Carmina were inevitable. Rosenberg had always had a dislike of Orff and wanted his music banned in 1933. The infighting in the hierarchy of Nazis responsible for cultual matters was vicious and unending. But it must be noted the Klemens Krauss, who as a conductor was to Hitler what Elly Ney was as a pianist, conducted a performance of Orff's Der Mond, also in 1937, something you may sure he wouldn't have done if he thought it would end the largesse he received from Hitler.

With Carmina, Orff found increasing wealth and national recognition. And the latter brings us to the White Rose and Peter Huber. Huber was a friend and musical collaborator of Orff's, and Orff by the time of the trials could have tried to help him without the slightest danger. From 1933 on, Wilhelm Furtwangler's letters to newspapers and Nazi leaders and meetings with the latter were so outspoken in opposition to Nazi musical policies and banning of Jewish composers and performers that I've always been a little surprised that even his eminence saved him, but the infighting mentioned above plus Nazi pragmatism would have ensured protection. Winifred Wagner, even after she ceased to be one of Hitler's favourites, wrote scathing letters in defence of artists, some Jewish, of whom she was personally fond, her deep-seated anti-semitism notwithstanding. As another national figure, she was safe from the Nazis, but not from the denazification hearings, though she got off relatively lightly.

By the time of the White Rose trials, Orff was in a position nationally to do exactly the same on behalf of Huber, but he didn't. I said earlier that Orff was not a Nazi but rather an Orffist. And a coward, plainly. But what I find particularly despicable was his claim during his denazification hearings that he cofounded the White Rose, among whom the self-sacrifice of many in order to protect fellow members was astonishing. Huber's wife said Orff was not in the White Rose. Gertrud Orff, his wife at that time, said the same. Orff's lie was simply part of his determination to be in on the reconstruction of post-war Germany, and he succeeded. I hold no brief for Winifred Wagner, but I certainly do for Furtwangler, who was banned from conducting for five years after the War, in spite of the horde of people who testified on his behalf and the written evidence.

While Yehudi Menuhin was vehemently and openly defending Furtwangler from 1947 on, it's striking that Ira Hirschmann, in memoirs published in 1994, was still rejoicing in his success in stopping Furtwangler succeeding Toscanini at the NY Philharmonic years after his labours on behalf of Jewish musicians was well-established. I laugh at this sort of thing, because people such as Hirshmann were surely ignorant of the German musicians, bearers of Nazi membership cards such as Karl Bohm and Karajan, who performed in the U.S. after the war and with whom I'm sure Hirshmann, vice president of Saks and Bloomingdale's and a major force on the NY music scene, cheerfully broke bread. Furtwangler refused to join the Party.

I think Orff's position through all was so neatly put in a nutshell by his daughter, born in 1921, when she was interviewed for a documentary about Orff not long after his death at, if I remember, 93: "He had his life." Just so, and neither Peter Huber nor his daughter were going to disrupt it, though I have no reason to think they would even if he'd written a letter for Huber and given his daughter a hug.

September 09, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I suspect you’d find this account congenial.
This one, too.

September 09, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, that Guardian article you linked to is a review of a 90 minute 2008 BBC documentary, one that's well worth watching if you're interested in Orff, and it's on YouTube.

The documentary has contributions from Orff's daughter and three of his wives. Apart from one of the wives, who seems bitter because the extremely ugly-looking old man she married didn't turn out to be the catch she thought he was, the contributions are fair-minded, acknowledging the man's strengths as well as his weaknesses.

Any source I use here and the same source the documentary uses is the German-born Canadian historian Michael Hans Kater who has almost made a career from examining musicians who lived under the third reich.

It was an article he wrote, Carl Orff im dritten Reich
, that links Orff to die Weiße Rose, but in the article he says this:

hatte er nämlich erklärt, er habe zusammen mit dem Münchener Musikwissenschaftler Professor
Kurt Huber eine Jugendgruppe gegen das Dritte Reich gegründet

Eine Jugengruppe (a youth group) he called it. He never mentioned die Weiße Rose, although he was almost certainly intending that the youth group would be thought of as die Weiße Rose, but, nevertheless, Orff did not mention die Weiße Rose by name

The same article also says:

Laut Clara Huber intervenierte Orff zugunsten Hubers bei Gauleiter von Schirach in Wien

This contradicts a claim in the Wikipedia entry on Orff that Huber's wife said he made no intervention on Huber's behalf.

Philip says that 'Orff's lie was simply part of his determination to be in on the reconstruction of post-war Germany'. That's harsh. If Orff hadn't lied, he wouldn't have been allowed to produce new works or claim royalties from old ones. Professional death, in other words. A man would have to lack balls or brains not to lie in such circumstances.

The Nazis and the Communists brought out the worst in artists. The only artists who saved their reputations were the ones that fled. But some were too old, or had too many family ties or just didn't have enough sense to flee.

Herbert von Karajan and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf were Nazi Party members and in Russia what can one say about the compromises of Shostakovich or Prokofiev? Never having lived under such circumstances, I wouldn't dream of condemning them. But why do these guys generally get a pass, while poor old Orff keeps getting condemned as a Nazi?

Two reasons, I think. He was a minor composer, so it's okay to insult him. And worst of all, O Fortuna is and always has been massivly popular. And for musical critics, popularity is like a red rag to a bull.

Off topic, Peter, but I've finally come across a piece of Brazillian music I like, this aria by Villa-Lobos. Of course, you probably know it already.


September 10, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, I know that Villa-Lobos piece, and I like it. And, knowing not much about the careers of the artists involved, I suspect you're right that Karajan's and Shostakovich's stature insulated them from criticism. Or rather, they have massive artistic achievements to weight against their accommodations with dreadful regimes.

September 10, 2012  

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