Astutuli - Eine bairische Komödie (1953)

»Astutuli, that’s the name of the game, Astutuli, as many as you wish.«[1]

It is no easy task to classify Orff’s ›Astutuli‹ within the series of his musical-dramatic works, and indeed even within his group of works known as ›Bavarian world theatre‹.

Is this Bavarian ›Kumedi‹ a carnival joke, a secondary work, a jovial offshoot of the tragic parable of ›Die Bernauerin‹ or a brief intake of breath before undertaking the monumental task of setting the Ancient Greek dramas of Sophocles and Aeschylus to music?

Whoever wishes to enter the world of this ›Bavarian comedy‹, must first come to grips with its Latin title. An extract from a Latin dictionary should provide a bit of help: astutulus = pretty clever and cunning, astute. 

›Astutuli‹ are therefore those who are clever, cunning, the smart-alecs and the know-alls – all those who believe that they are particularly astute.


What particularly attracted Orff to this story was not merely the satirical and parable-like content, but also elements of mime and theatre. For Orff, the juggler’s show is not merely about content; the fundamental subject of the work is play in its ambiguousness as both a theatre play and a play on fantasy. This dictates the choice of artistic media utilised by Orff in this composition. The dramatic agent of ›Astutuli‹ is pure language itself – a language which is thoroughly characterised by drama, gesture and mime.

›Astutuli‹ is a work for actors rather than singers. The renunciation of singing corresponds to the renunciation of melody – extended passages of the work are shaped by rhythmic recitation originating from acting and expressive gestures which Orff had employed for the first time in the witches’ scene in ›Die Bernauerin‹.

Orchestral moments are also reduced to a skeleton-like texture: the instrumentation consisting exclusively of percussion instruments provides a background and accompaniment for the spoken or rhythmically declaimed text.

›Astutuli‹ with its theatrical exuberance and its satirical-symbolic underlying meaning can be considered as the centrepiece of Carl Orff’s ›Bavarian world theatre‹. The success which has accompanied the work since its first performance on 20 October 1953 has been eloquently confirmed by numerous reviews [...].[2]


[1] CO-Dok VI,235; [2] Franz Willnauer in CO-Dok VI,231ff.
Image: Broadcast by South West German Radio, February 1958
Audio: Carl Orff reading - WER 3007-4

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