Antigonae

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Der Mond (1939)
Die Kluge (1943)
Antigonae (1949)
De Temporum Fine Comoedia (1973)

Antigonae (Antigone), written by Carl Orff, was first presented on 9 August 1949 under the direction of Ferenc Fricsay in the Felsenreitschule, Salzburg, Austria. Antigonae is in Orff's words a "musical setting" for the Greek tragedy by Sophocles of the same name. However, it functions as an opera.

Orff used the German translation of Sophocles' play by Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843). The original play was written in 442 BC and the German translation copies faithfully the mood and movement of Greek tragedy.

Contents

The music

With this work Orff drew a line in his musical output, setting up a demarcation between pre-Antigonae and post-Antigonae style. Hölderlin's translation into lines of ecstatic German inspired the declamatory technique Orff uses for the first time in much of Antigonae. It pre-dates a similar style of the minimalist school by about 50 years. In this way Orff creates unusual sound effects that captures both the dramatic and psychological setting of the original Greek tragedy with emotional color ranging from the ecstatic to the orgiastic. Much of the singing is performed a cappella.

Frequently an ostinato in the orchestra builds up an almost unbearable tension which is resolved only in the final bars of the piece. Orff frequently uses the technique called Singstimmen, which is half way between singing and speaking, somewhat like Schönberg's Sprechgesang, but still within the tonal language of work.

The sense of antiquity is often enhanced when the text is treated psalmodically in a manner resembling Gregorian Chant. Another early device found in Antigone is the melisma, where many notes are assigned to a single syllable, which is found as well in the music of other ancient and modern cultures.

The structure of the work, its heavy emotional content, its novel fabrics of sound, all demand more of the listener than required in the usual opera performance. While Antigone has never been as popular as, say, Rigoletto, it has set new standards for the orchestra, the singers and the committed listener.

Roles

Synopsis

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