Antigonæ - a tragedy by Sophocles in the translation by Friedrich Hölderlin (1949)

»I had to discover new ground and start afresh.«[1]

Orff’s concepts of discovering a new path towards Greek tragedy go as far back as 1914. Hölderlin’s ›Antigone‹ translation which Orff saw in a production in Vienna in 1940 ultimately brought home to him that a performance as dramatic theatre is per se destined to remain deficient and falsified. Orff saw a possible future path in the radical extraction of the tragedy from the Classical-Romantic tradition; this implied a decisive rejection of the drama of conflict in dramatic theatre simultaneously to the dominance of music in the medium of opera.

Orff saw Hölderlin’s translation neither as a libretto for a composition in operatic style nor as a model for a transformation within the continuous worldwide history of reception since the Renaissance; his exclusive objective was the regaining of sensuous physicality and ritual presence of the tragic word for music theatre of the 20th century.[2]



From the elements and techniques of his fully developed personal style, Orff creates a style of tragedy which has no model or comparability. The musical transformation of the tragic language is not a duplicate of or background for the text, but instead produces a gestured, physical-plastic »enthusiastic« manner of speaking in which the short-phased, shifting nuances illuminate and display the inner emotions of the tragic figure.

In the transformation into an appropriate body language, Orff does not consider dance in its literal sense, but more a pacing out of the musical structure. Despite its unorthodox style, the first performance was a resounding success.

Orff’s new approach was conceived as being a »re-transformation« of the tragedy in the consciousness of the present day and perceived in academic humanist circles as an »epic caesura« in the history of reception of Greek tragedy.[2]


[1] CO-Dok VII,9; [2] Werner Thomas in: Pipers Enzyklopädie des Musiktheaters, Vol. 4, Munich 1991, p.581 ff.
Images : 1 Madeline Winkler-Betzendahl, Deutsches Theatermuseum; 2 OZM; 3 Rudolf Betz, Munich (CO-Dok IV/XX) German Theatre Museum Munich
Video: Media Programm/Werner Lütje, 1990

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