»Vae! Ibunt impii in gehennam ignis eterni. Vae!«
Woe! The godless will enter the hell of eternal fire. Woe!
(Chorus of Sibyls)
It can no longer be established when Orff first had a vision of a play set at the end of time, but this plan and the underlying religious and spiritual background certainly took several decades to evolve. The first sketch of the text in 1970 was followed by the compilation of the full score which was completed on 20 February 1971.
»Thus, the end of the world is near and the final days.«
Against the background of the historical genre of the mystery play, Orff provides an extremely personal answer to the crucial question of the end of time and the world in which the question of the origin of evil finds its opposite number in the question: where is evil going?
In the final scene of the work, the degree of abstraction extends to the limits of musical theatre. Orff’s search for a dematerialised spatial sound leads to a reduction of the original double choir on tape to a small chorus in the orchestra and boys’ voices and also a series of experiments with organ mixtures, glass harp, synthesiser and tape recorder to produce a tonal fissure similar to the sound of a glass harp with eleven rubbed glasses.
The first performance conducted by Herbert von Karajan had been rehearsed under the musical direction of Gerhard Lenssen. Production and stage design had exploited the spatial and technical possibilities of the festival hall in Salzburg to the full. This up until now only production of the work was a resounding theatrical success as far as the audiences were concerned; in contrast, the critics displayed ambivalence.
 CO-Dok VIII,254;  CO-Dok VIII,206;  Werner Thomas in: Pipers Enzyklopädie des Musiktheaters, Vol. 4, Munich 1991, p.581 ff.
Audio: Herbert von Karajan - DGG 429 859-2