Unterschrift Carl Orff

Prometheus - tragedy by Aeschylus (1968)

»It is indeed the Greek language which like no other fuses both music and gesture.«[1]

Following a triadic-cyclical concept, Orff searched for a tragedy to complement ›Antigone‹ and ›Oedipus the Tyrant‹ which would enable an even closer relationship with the tonal representation of the original version. Right from the start, the composer had resolved to adhere as closely as possible to the Greek language. Consultation with philologists and Greek actors and directors produced widely diverging versions of text declamation which ultimately led Orff to an individual interpretation which was exclusively shaped by the musical-gestural flow of the language.

The musical setting of the Ancient Greek language threw up two problems which had to be surmounted: the semantic incomprehensibility of the text and the verse adherence of the language which could not be assimilated in the music. Orff virtually liberates the language from the long and short syllables of word structures and from the observance of word and verse accentuation. This produces a type of stylised »paralanguage« without a rational-logical communication of meaning, but charged with monumental original effects in the manner of a myth.
The first performance was almost unanimously evaluated as a »historical theatrical event«.[2]


(Stage photo of the first performance, stage sketch by Teo Otto, Stuttgart 1968)
(Carl Orff 1968)
(Carlos Alexander in the title role, first performance 1968)

Press reactions to the first performance:

The passion of an ancient god – in exotic alienation
Orff’s ›Prometheus‹, with which the passionate humanist and the lord privy seal of the concept of a culturally creative unity in Europe has once again proved himself as a vital productive force irrevocably demanding intellectual preoccupation, is the exceptional event of mythical theatre which still remains possible in our day. (K.H. Ruppel in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, 23.6.1968)
This latest Orffian ur-spectacle is the equivalent of a premiere for ecstatic classical scholars: the gods onstage adhere loyally to the original text and speak oracles and lament together with the choir of Oceanides for two-and-a-half hours in Ancient Greek – and thereby strive towards a music originating out of the spirit of tragedy. (Der Spiegel, 25.3.1968)
Extensive, enthusiastic applause is confirmation for an evening of elemental music theatre which is remote from the arena of modernity: a celebration of ancient poetry renewed by Carl Orff and the scenic protagonists who succeed in disassociating the tragic experience in its mysterious, pristine image from the depths of time and placing it on the contemporary stage. (Werner Oehlmann in Der Tagesspiegel, 26.3.1968)


[1] CO-Dok VIII,10; [2] Werner Thomas in: Pipers Enzyklopädie des Musiktheaters, Vol. 4, Munich 1991, p.581 ff.
Images: 1+3 Foto: Werner Schloske; 2 Foto: Klaus Redenbacher
Audio: Ferdinand Leitner - Acanta 44 2099-2; Video: Media Programm/Werner Lütje, 1990

Carl Orff working with Kieth Engen on the role of Oceanos.

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Heiliger Aether

First performance