Saturday, October 23, 2010

Carl Orff & Brahms ...

Whenever I can, I listen to music on Saturdays. Today, my musical experiences were under the spell of German composers. I started with Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. This cantata was written in 1937. On the textual level it is based on secular German poems, embracing the nature of life, joy of nature, common pleasures and perils. „Wine, Women and Song” was the title of 1884 publication of the most of the poems contained in the cantata.

This is beautiful music, no question about that. However, always after I listen to the great German music, particularly of the early XX century music, I cannot avoid deep question how this highest emanation of culture could live with the silent acceptance of all Nazis atrocities committed at that time. What is the value of culture, music and literature, if it cannot help people to resist the blatant crime?

How can we listen to beautiful tunes and chords of great musical works when we know that their authors, openly supported the regime that coldbloodedly killed millions of people?

How can we enjoy it when:

„...German music, which had sought sublimity, transcendence, disengagement from the ordinary world, must bear responsibility for what happened down below as it roamed through higher realms. Mann hinted further that this very “musicality of soul” was the key to Germany's fall; the aesthetic had triumphed over the merely human. In Nazi Germany, music became either a weapon of hate or an opiate of indifference.” (Alex Ross: World War II Music)
So, while I enjoyed it, I had the feelings that spoiled my experience....
It is hard to forget that Orff, accepted Nazis' commission to write a replacement score for Mendelssohn's “Midsummer Night's Dream” — what certainly was one of the darkest deeds in all musical history.

Later today, I switched to older German music. Johannes Brahms and his symphonies. Dramatically different world — warm and great. Melodious and architectural. And listening it under the baton of Leonard Bernstein — is always a great experience....

Why? Is it because Brahms lived long BEFORE the dark times? Is he better than Orff and Strauss who openly collaborated with the Nazis? If so — what to think about Wagner?

I think, that the deep reflection on the German culture, its music, its literature, in all its highs and lows has been, and still is, the very important part of our intellectual life...

In this context, it is worth to read the entire Alex Ross article: "In Music, Though, There Were No Victories". You can find it here....


  1. you forgot to mention that you like to immerse yourself in music on saturdays...especially on my birthdays! haha! should seem like an additional pleasure, no? ;)

    you can't always avoid the context in which a piece of art is set in. that's because art is not objective and this is the price you have to pay - to choose whether you value the overall effect over the influences. maybe one day i'll take up history of art course at the university, then we'll be able to discuss it seriously!

  2. Jolus, that listening yesterday was mostly on my earphones, with my new Sansa player, on my recreational walk...

    You are just right - art is not objective nor lives in a vacuum, this exactly why I do have problems with Orff, with Karajan, with Strauss - who openly supportd Nazism.

    I do have problem with Heidegger as well, so this is not only about music.

    I suggest that you read Alex Ross article I linked to at the end. Alex Ross wrote fanatastic book about history of music: "The rest is noise" where he addresses the issue of great musicians being involved in brutal and criminal regiemes of XX century ...

  3. Anonymous11:18 AM

    I prefer SWAN LAKE..

  4. :-) I like it too ...