Carl Orff: his life and music. Andreas Liess. Calder. 35s.

Carl Orff (born 1895) reduces music to the barest form of 20th century primitivism: obsessive repetition of a few notes or phrases, declamation of a text against percussion background, virtual elimination of counterpoint and harmony. Sheer monotony generates a ritual force in his dramatic presentation of ‘eternal’ subjects (Antigone, Oedipus) but music as such is greatly impoverished.

Orff’s theatre like Brecht’s is didactic and demonstrative, not psychological, but unlike Brecht he is not concerned with man’s changing historical reality. The rudimentary rhythmic and melodic framework which remain in his music is intended to express man’s ‘timeless, atavistic nature.’

It is more in his educational work that Orff’s real value lies. His music for children encourages improvisation beginning from simple rhythms, groups of notes and scales. His emphasis on spontaneous creativity has shown how children’s music can be freed from the sterile class-singing with piano type of teaching, still unfortunately common in England. Orff’s schoolwork ought to be more widely known in primary schools.

This book is a descriptive survey rather than a detailed critical study.