Ein Sommernachtstraum – play by William Shakespeare

Adapted from the German translation by August Wilhelm Schlegel with musical settings by Carl Orff (1917/1962)

»Today, in 1963, I pride myself on the fact that I could not have created better music for the ›Sommernachtstraum‹. I have spent decades working towards this objective.«[1]

None of the theatre plots which Orff selected as subjects for his own stage works held such a fascination for him as Shakespeare’s ›A Midsummer Night’s Dream‹. The composer devoted over half a lifetime wrestling with a »musicalisation« of the work between 1917 and 1962.

During six phases which were frequently interrupted by long intervals of time, one of Orff’s most significant works was finally created. [...] There can be no doubt that this music is not only typologically related to ›Die Kluge‹ and ›Die Bernauerin‹, but can also hold its own artistically in comparison with these two works.[2]


(Stage model by Franz Mertz, Darmstadt 1952)
(A Midsummer Night’s Dreame)
(Stage photo Landestheater Darmstadt 1953)


»No dramatic works of the Western world have exerted such a great influence on me as the Greek tragedies and Shakespeare. They have both accompanied me my whole life and have stimulated me in my artistic exploration. My periodically repeated study of Shakespeare has had an influence on most of my other compositions.[...]

I was particularly attracted by ›Sommernachtstraum‹. Up until then, I had only been familiar with ›A Midsummer Night’s Dream‹ in conjunction with Mendelssohn’s music, but it soon became clear to me how foreign this music was to Shakespeare.[...]

In 1917, I began to compose the – in my opinion »unoperatic« – music for ›Sommernachtstraum‹. That was my first attempt. Stylistically, I was placed somewhere between Richard Strauss' ›Ariadne‹ and Debussy’s ›Pelléas et Mélisande‹. Although I did not compose an overture, I did write an utterly superfluous prelude; instead of the Wedding March which is definitely un-Shakespearian, I composed a small-scale festive piece; otherwise, I interspersed music at different points than Mendelssohn, in particular for the accompaniment of all magical and love scenes. In total, there was far too much music.«[3]


CO-Dok V,233; [2] Franz Willnauer in CO-Dok V,233; [3] CO-Dok V,219/221
Abb.: 1 Theatre Museum Cologne; 2 OZM; 3 Pit Ludwig

First performance