Orff's "Trionfo di Aphrodite"

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Friday, February 14, 2020

Happy Saint Valentine's Day!

On today's date in 1953, a new choral work by the German composer Carl Orff received its premiere performance at the La Scala opera house in Milan, Germany. "Trionfo di Afrodite" was the title of the new work, intended to be the final panel in a triptych of choral works celebrating life and love, a tryptich that included Orff's famous "Carmina Burana," based on medieval texts, and "Catulli Carmina," based on love lyrics by the Roman poet Catullus.

All three pieces were given lavish, semi-staged performances at La Scala, led by the Austrian maestro Herbert von Karajan, and with German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda as the star soloists. For the world premiere performance of "Trionfo di Afrodite," Schwarzkopf and Gedda portrayed a bride and groom on their wedding night: the texts they sang were pretty hot stuff—if you understand Latin, that is!

"Triofi di Afrodite" shows Orff's indebtedness to Stravinsky, and his repetitive rhythmic patterns seem to anticipate the "mimimalist" movement by several decades. At the 1953 premiere, Schwarzkopf's husband, record producer Walter Legge, gently suggested to Orff that he might consider a few cuts to the new work. Orff's response? "Oh, I know very well the effect of my rubber-stamp music!"

In any case, Legge decided not make a recording of the new work—which seems a shame, considering the all-star cast assembled at La Scala for its premiere!