Ten Facts about Carl Orff

German composer and music educator Carl Orff was born on this day, July 10, in 1895.


Carl Orff

Since the beginning of time, children have not liked to study. They would much rather play, and if you have their interests at heart, you will let them learn while they play; they will find that what they have mastered is child's play.

German composer and music educator Carl Orff was born on this day, July 10, in 1895. Here are ten things to know about the man best known for his cantata Carmina Burana.


1. Carl Orff was born into a musical family in Munich. His mother taught him piano from the age of five. Displaying great aptitude, he went on to have lessons in cello from the age of seven and organ from the age of 12. He published his first composition when he was 16. 

2. He studied at Munich’s Academy of Music from 1912 until 1914. He then enlisted in the First World War but returned home in 1917 after a near lethal case of shell shock. 

3. After the war he worked as a conductor in Mannheim and Darmstadt. He returned to Munich in 1919 where he studied composition privately with Heinrich Kaminski whilst working as a music teacher. 

4. In 1924 he founded the Güntherschule for music and dance with Dorothee Günther, which aimed to make musical performance accessible to children. Orff’s system of music education for children, largely based on developing a sense of rhythm through group exercise and performance with percussion instruments, has been widely adopted.  

5. Orffi s responsible for the recorder being taught in schools as a way to introduce children to music. He saw it as a useful instrument to initiate children as it relies on rhythm rather than memorisation. 

First page of the autograph Passio secundum Joannem
Image of a JS Bach, who wrote St John Passion

6.   In the late 20s he became part of the League of Contemporary Music in Munich which presented works by Bartók, Hindemith, Schoenberg and Stravinsky. Around this time he also collaborated with Bertolt Brecht and participated in the new Bach Music Club, activities which placed him firmly outside the mainstream and in avant garde circles. 

7. Orff’s relationship with the Nazi party has been the subject of heated debate. He was in the minority of German composers who responded to the Nazi call to write new music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream after Felix Mendelssohn had been banned. His defenders point out this music had already been composed as early as 1917. Nevertheless, as a music teacher during the Nazi regime he tried to integrate his ideas into the music policies of Hitler Youth.  

8. After the war, along with other composers who had remained active during the Nazi era, he was placed on a blacklist, as someone in potential need of denazification. He helped clear his name with the help of an American friend and by citing his involvement with the Munich resistance group, The White Roses. 

9. His most successful work, Carmina Burana was composed in 1935 and 1936 and was one of the most successful pieces of music of the Nazi era. It is a scenic cantata based on 24 poems from the medieval collection Carmina Burana. The texts date back as far as the 11th century and are irreverent and satirical in nature. 

10. ‘O Fortuna’ from Carmina Burana features extensively in film, television and popular music. It has been used in such films as Excalibur, Speed and The Doors, on television in Only Fools and Horses and The Simpsons and has been covered or sampled by musicians such as Michael Jackson, Charlotte Church and John Williams