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Work of the Week – Carl Orff: Der Mond

Nearly 80 years after its world premiere, Carl Orff’s opera fairy tale Der Mond (The Moon) is arriving in Taiwan for the first time.  A staged performance of the work will be presented by the Taipei Symphony Orchestra on August 4.

Orff, who wrote both music and libretto for this single act opera, was inspired by the Grimm brothers’ fairytale of the same title. His choice of a young boy as the narrator led him to describe the Der Mond as “kleines Welttheater” “small world theatre”.

The work delves into a universe split between heaven, earth and the underworld, all overseen by St Peter. The earth is split into two countries, each a mirror image of the other.

Carl Orff’s Der Mond: a parable on the order of the cosmos

At the start of the opera, the moon enlightens one side of the earth. The other remains completely dark. One night, four boys from a village on the dark side discover the moon is tied to a tree.  Without hesitating, they steal it to enlighten their own village.

Years later, as each of them dies, a quarter of the moon is buried with them and sent to the underworld. Eventually, the moon becomes whole again and its light fills the underworld, waking up the dead who continue to live once again.

Alarmed by this chaos in the underworld, St Peter arrives to set things in order. Instead, he gets swept up in the underground revelry until he comes to his senses and takes the moon back to the sky where it shines over the whole world.

The music is modeled on themes from the Orff-Schulwerk (Music for Children) and in scenes in the underworld listeners will be reminded of “In Taberna” from Carmina Burana. The villagers have an array of lively dance music and popular song orchestrated for full romantic orchestra with a large percussion section.

I took this tale, which I found in the ‘Kinder- und Hausmärchen’ ‘Childrens’ and Home fairy tales’, collected and published by Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm, as a model for the piece. It is a thoughtful parable of the futility of people trying to destroy the world order, as well as a parable of the security that this order is meant to create for them. – Carl Orff

Performances of Der Mond continue with the Taipei Symphony Orchestra until 6 August 2017.  For European Carl Orff fans, The Munich Puppetry will present Carmina Burana with puppets on 12 August. Further performances of Carl Orff’s works can be found on his profile on our website.