De temporum fine comoedia

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De temporum fine comoedia
mystery play by Carl Orff
Carl Orff.jpg
The composer
TranslationA Play on the End of Time
  • Greek
  • German
  • Latin
20 August 1973 (1973-08-20)

De temporum fine comoedia (Latin for A Play on the End of Time) is an opera or musical play by 20th-century German composer Carl Orff. It was his last work and took ten years to compose (1962 to 1972, revised in 1979). Its premiere was at the Salzburg Music Festival on 20 August 1973 by Herbert von Karajan, the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra and RIAS Kammerchor, staged by August Everding. In this highly personal work, Orff presented a mystery play in which he summarized his view of the end of time, sung in Ancient Greek, Latin, and German (translation by Wolfgang Schadewaldt).[1][2]


Role Voice type Premiere cast,
20 August 1973[3]
(Conductor: Herbert von Karajan)
1st Sibyl soprano Anna Tomowa-Sintow
2nd Sibyl soprano Colette Lorand
3rd Sibyl soprano Jane Marsh
4th Sibyl soprano Kay Griffel
5th Sibyl soprano Gwendolyn Killebrew
6th Sibyl soprano Kari Løvaas
7th Sibyl mezzo-soprano Heljä Angervo [fi]
8th Sibyl mezzo-soprano Sylvia Anderson
9th Sibyl mezzo-soprano Glenys Loulis
1st Anachoret tenor Erik Geisen
2nd Anachoret tenor Hans Wegmann
3rd Anachoret baritone Hans Helm
4th Anachoret baritone Wolfgang Anheisser [de]
5th Anachoret baritone Siegfried Rudolf Frese
6th Anachoret baritone Hermann Patzalt
7th Anachoret baritone Hannes Jokel
8th Anachoret bass Anton Diakov [de]
9th Anachoret bass Boris Carmeli
Stimme mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig
Stimme tenor Peter Schreier
Luzifer spoken Hartmut Forche
Prolog spoken Rolf Boysen [de]
Prolog/Choir leader bass Josef Greindl
Choir RIAS Kammerchor, Tölzer Knabenchor


Summary/Dramatis Personae[edit]

The opera is in 3 parts, with each part having its own characters. Part I involves 9 Sibyls, represented by female singers.

Part II involves 9 Anchorites, represented by male singers

There is also a children's choir, along with a tenor section that is heard on a magnetic tape.

Part III involves the following people.

  • The last beings; represented by three large mixed choirs
  • The choral leader, a speaking part
  • Lucifer, who appears near the end, a speaking role

There is also a double chorus of sopranos and altos used near the end, as well as two soloists, tenor and contralto, to represent the "Vox Mundana". A children's choir is also used to represent the "Voces caelestes".

I. Die Sibyllen (The Sibyls)[edit]

  1. "Heis theós estin anarchos, hypermegéthaes, agénaetos" (A god is, without beginning, immense, unformed)
  2. "Opse theü g’aléüsi myloi" (The mills of God are late to grind)
  3. "Pasin homü nyx estin isae tois plüton echusin kai ptochois" (The same night awaits all, rich and poor)
  4. "Choneusó gar hapanta kai eis katharón dialexó" (I will melt everything down and purify it)
  5. "Vae! Ibunt impii in gehennam ignis eterni" (Woe! The impious shall enter the hell of the eternal fire)

II. Die Anachoreten (The Anchorites)[edit]

  1. "Upote, maepote, maepu, maedépote… ignis eterni immensa tormenta" (Never, never, in no place, at no time the measureless torment of the eternal fire)
  2. "Unus solus Deus ab aeterno in aeternum" (God is One alone from eternity to eternity)
  3. "Nicht Satanas... nicht Lucifer... damnatus nunquam condemnatus in aeternum" (Not Satan... not Lucifer... the damned are not condemned for eternity)
  4. "Mundus terrenus volvitur" (The terrestrial world revolves)
  5. "Wann endet die Zeit?" (When will time end?)
  6. "Gott, schenk uns Wahrsagung, Weissagung, Hellsicht im Traum. Gott, schenk uns den Traum" (God, grant us the gifts of prophecy, sagacity, clairvoyance in dreaming. God, grant us the dream.)

III. Dies illa (That Day)[edit]

  1. "Wo irren wir ihn, verloren, verlassen" (Whither do we stray, lost, abandoned)
  2. "Kyrie! Serva nos, salva nos, eripe nos!" (Lord! Help us, save us, take us away!)
  3. "Angor, timor, horror, terror ac pavor invadit omnes" (Dread, fear, horror, terror and dismay seize us all)
  4. "Omne genus daemoniorum caecorum, claudorum sive confusorum, attendite iussum meorum et vocationem verborum" (Every type of demon, blind, lame or mad, mark the command and the call of my words.)
  5. "Vae, Portae Inferi oculus aspicit nos tenebrarius tenebris" (Woe, the eye, the dark eye looks upon us, with darkness, at the gates of the underworld)
  6. "Pater peccavi" (Father, I have sinned)
  7. "Con sublima spiritualita" (With highest spirituality)


The music requires a very unusual, and possibly symmetrical orchestra:

  • In an intermediary revision of the work, Orff had all six clarinets in B.

The percussion section, requiring about 25 to 30 players, consists of:

  • The hyoshigi are used only on the inside of the piano at the climax of Part III, where they are struck hard on the piano strings by a percussionist. In the original score, they were used in one other passage as well.

The total forces used for the taped sections are

There is also one spoken part, an echo of one of the sibyls' spoken dialogue, accompanied by wind machine.

Tape sections[edit]

The music on the magnetic tape is used in four different places, most notably at the end when Lucifer appears.

The first section is used in Part I, and requires the following instruments:

The second section, also used in Part I utilizes the following:

  • Wind machine, accompanying an echo of one of the Sibyl's dialogue.

The third section is used in Part II:

The fourth and final section is used towards the end of Part III. In Orff's final revision in 1981, this taped section was omitted and instead given to players in the orchestra:

  • 8 Flutes
  • 10 Trumpets in C, intoning a fanfare to heaven
  • 4 Trombones
  • A female chorus (SSAA)
  • Tenor and contralto soloists
  • A children's choir

1979 revision[edit]

Orff later made extensive revisions to De temporum fine comoedia with many changes in orchestration. In his 1981 revision the following instruments were added:

  • 1 snare drum, bringing the total number to 3
  • 7 water glasses, bringing the total to 11
  • Grand church organ, in return omitting it on tape

The following instruments were eliminated:

  • Triangle
  • 3 timpanetti, leaving only 1 (alto)
  • All 3 copper tam-tams
  • 2 church ratchets, leaving only 1
  • 2 suspended cymbals, bringing the number down to 3

The modifications to the pre-recorded music consist of the addition of the following:

  • 1 piano, bringing the total up to 3
  • 3 contrabasses

The omissions consisted of:

  • All 8 flutes
  • 8 trumpets, leaving only 2
  • All 4 trombones
  • Grand church organ, instead brought into the orchestra
  • The double-chorus of sopranos and altos, replaced by a small chorus in the orchestra pit
  • The tenor and alto soloists, whose parts are reduced and sung live

In addition to loud percussive passages, there are also as periods of calm piano and straight dialogue. In this culmination of his stage works, Orff almost abandons his diatonicism to chromaticism, which enriches and thickens the musical texture, and octatonicism.

As the play is about to finish, after the destruction of all worldly material, Satan asks for forgiveness and is restored to Angel Lucifer, thus forgiven. The unsettling chromaticism here ends and Bach's Before Thy Throne (Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit, BWV 668) strikes up in a canon from the four viols. This canon is pandiatonic and upon its completion, its mirror image is stated (that is the identical material played backward).



  1. ^ Boyer (1994) p. 10
  2. ^ De temporum fine comoedia at Schott Music
  3. ^ Casaglia (2005)


  • Boyer, Paul S. (1994), When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-95129-8
  • Casaglia, Gherardo (2005). "De temporum fine comoedia". L'Almanacco di Gherardo Casaglia (in Italian).
  • Rockwell, John (December 5, 2003). "Gong Beyond Carmina Burana, and Beyond Orff's Stigma". The New York Times

External links[edit]