Trionfo di Afrodite

Last updated
Trionfo di Afrodite
Scenic cantata by Carl Orff
Carl Orff.jpg
The composer, aquatint etching
Descriptionconcerto scenico
TranslationTriumph of Aphrodite
  • Latin
  • Greek
Based onwedding poems by Catullus, Sappho and Euripides
14 February 1953 (1953-02-14)
La Scala, Milan

Trionfo di Afrodite (Italian for Triumph of Aphrodite) is a cantata written in 1951 by the German composer Carl Orff. It is the third and final installment in the Trionfi musical trilogy, which also includes Carmina Burana (1937) and Catulli Carmina (1943).



Described by the composer himself as a concerto scenico (scenic concert), the Trionfo is a representation of a ritual for a Greco-Roman wedding, in a similar fashion to Igor Stravinsky's Les noces . In this case, Trionfo refers to the Roman and Renaissance trionfo , meaning "procession" or "festival". By using the word trionfo, Orff specifically intended to identify the work as a successor to the Renaissance and baroque tradition of the masque and pageant, not as a formal borrowing but as a rather refreshed and extended look on it. [1] [ clarification needed ]

Orff began working on the Trionfo as early as 1947, but could not fully concentrate on the piece until he completed his Antigonae in March 1949. The score was finally completed in 1951 and premiered some time later, on February 14, 1953, at La Scala in Milan, with Herbert von Karajan conducting. Originally published in 1952 by B. Schott's Söhne, it was reprinted by the original publisher in 1980 and again in 1990 by Ernst Eulenburg. [1]


The texts are based on Latin wedding poems by Catullus, as well as Greek poems by Sappho and a small part by Euripides. [2] In fact, Catullus is Orff's primary source of inspiration and guide in using both classical Latin and Greek text. Orff had already explored this in Catulli Carmina with Catullus's Carmen 51, which is, in turn, an adaption of Sappho's famous love poem 31. It is likely that it was the last call in Catulli Carmina 's Exodium, "Accendite faces!" (Light the torches!),[ clarification needed ] that gave Orff the idea of using bridal torches in his new work and bringing the trionfo d'amore to its concluding climax, with a representation of a nuptial feast, as found in classical literature. [1] Consequently, Orff decided to opt for Catullus's 61 and 62, which mainly focuses on the topic of the nuptial feast. Both of these poems were originally written as an offering on the occasion of a patrician Roman couple. However, these poems were not intended to be sung, but should rather act as depictions of the event of marriage as such. [3] As a matter of fact, Orff's intentions with the text were not to offer an ad hoc reconstruction of an antique rite, but rather to present the union of an "archetypal couple as the work of the Goddess of Love, as a hieros gamos " (holy marriage). [1] In this sense, the subtitle of the work, Concerto scenico, implies that there is a deliberate absence of plot, as opposed to the two preceding parts of the triptych. [1]

The challenge that faced me was to fuse these fragments into a new whole – the tiny particles, short stanzas or individual lines which are all that remain to us of Sappho's poems, preserved in literature or protected by desert sands against the worms of time – and to use Catullus' nuptial poems as framework for it.

Carl Orff [4]

Despite the large orchestra, the instrumentation is often sparse, especially in the Greek verses, and the music is strongly influenced by the rhythms and melodies of the spoken word, [2] though little importance is actually given to both tonic and prosodic accent. The piece closes with a triumphant apparition of Aphrodite herself, a rare instance when the full choral and orchestral forces are actually used.


The work is divided into seven tableaux:

Structure of Trionfo di Afrodite
Tableau no.TitleIncipitText sourceLanguageRehearsal numbers
ICanto amebeo di vergini e giovani a Vespero in attesa della sposa e dello sposo
(Antiphon of virgins and young men to Hesperus waiting for the bride and groom)
"Vesper adest, iuvenes, consurgite..." Catullus 62 Latin Beginning to 17
IICorteo nuziale ed arrivo della sposa e dello sposo
(Wedding procession and arrival of the bride and groom)
"Ἴψοι δὴ τὸ μέλαθρον,⁠᾽Υμήναον..."
(Ipsoi de to melathron, Hymenaon)
Sappho Fragments Ancient Greek 17 to 25
IIISposa e sposo
(Bride and groom)
"Ζὰ δ᾽ἐλεξάμαν ὄναρ, Κυπρογενήᾳ..."
(Za telexaman onar, Kyprogenea)
Sappho Fragments / Carl Orff [lower-alpha 1] Ancient Greek25 to 47
IVInvocazione dell' Imeneo
(Invocation of Hymenaios)
"Collis, o Heliconii cultor..." Catullus 61 Latin47 to 69
VLudi e canti nuziale
davanti al talamo

(Games and wedding songs
in front of the wedding chamber)
a) La sposa viene accolta
(The bride is welcomed)
"Claustra pandite ianuae..."Catullus 61Latin69 to 80
b) La sposa viene condotta alla camera nuziale
(The bride is led to the wedding chamber)
"Tollit', o pueri, faces: flammeum video venir'..."Catullus 61Latin80 to 94
c) Epitalamo
"Iam licet venias, marit'..."Catullus 61Latin94 to one bar before 106
VICanto di novelli sposi dal talamo
(Song of the newlyweds from the wedding chamber)
"Γάλακτος λευκοτέρα..."
(Galaktos leukotera)
Sappho FragmentsAncient GreekOne bar before 106 to 108
VIIApparizione di Afrodite
(Apparition of Afrodite)
"Σὺ τὰν θεῶν ἄκαμπτον φρένα..."
(Su tan theon akampton phrena)
Euripides's Hippolytus Ancient Greek108 to end

While texts are blended into the composition so that the sources seems homogeneous and transitions from one text to the other are not easy to spot, the music is different when different languages are used. Orff wanted to exploit the phonetic qualities of each language individually. Consequently, fragments in Latin are generally more rhythmical and serve as a stable background, while fragments in Ancient Greek form inlays with flexible and elaborate tessitura . The finale, taken from a different text, would be a combination of these two. [1]

Description of the movements

The first tableau, with a tempo indication " Figure rythmique noire hampe haut.svg = ca. 84", is a self contained unit where Catullus 62 is presented as an exposition of the wedding scene. It represents a singing contest between the young men and maidens, both separated in groups on stage but in full view of each other. The movement begins with the "Vesper adest" sung by the male coryphaeus, a short prelude that precedes the contest (verses 1–19), in which both groups of young men and maidens rehearse the song one last time. At verse 20 (and rehearsal number 4), an antiphonal song begins where the male ("Hespere, quis caelo fertur crudelior ignis?") and female ("Hespere, quis caelō lūcet iūcundior ignis?") coryphaeus in each group lead their respective groups. This continues until the shared finale in the last eight lines in the text (and rehearsal number 14) gives the victory to the men. The gleam of the Evening Star is represented both by the harp and piano glissandos at the beginning of the piece, at rehearsal numbers 4 and 6 (before the corifei entries) and the melisma sung by the corifea at rehearsal number 8. [1]

The second and third tableaux are the two main Greek sections where the bridal procession takes place, culminating with the arrival of the bride and groom. They are both based on Sappho's poems. However, since most of Sappho's literary work is now lost, the individual fragments (see The Poems of Sappho/Chapter 3) used in this composition are not laid in any particular order. Tableau II is marked " Figure rythmique noire hampe haut.svg = 112" and features many time signature changes. It largely presents static heterogeneous sounds. Tableau 3, on the other hand, is marked by a much more expressive and cantabile style. With the indication "Quasi lento" in the score, it features various recitations from the bride and groom. Since the fragments are generally unrelated to one another, in the sense that they have been extracted from different places within the original text, the sequence of musical phrases do not represent a dialogue. Interlocutors never speak to each other in a direct sense, but rather recite their lines. The next subsection within the third tableau comes at rehearsal number 32, where the chorus is introduced ("Ἔσπερε, πάντα φέρεις" – Espere, panta phereis). This is followed by another subsection at number 34 performed by the bride and chorus ("Παρθενία, παρθενία, ποῖ με λίποισ᾽ ἀποίχῃ" – Parthenia, Parthenia, poi me lipois' apoichae), followed by another dialogue at number 36 ("Κατθάνην δ᾽ἴμερος τις ἔχει με" – Katthanaen d'imeros echei me), and finished by the last subsection at number 45 with the "Εἰς ὰεί" (Eis aei). [1]

The fourth tableau is arguably the best known section of this work. Divided into two subsections, it is marked a steady " Figure rythmique noire hampe haut.svg = 132". Orff here returns to Catullus 61, verses 1–15 and 26–75. The second subsection is often named Inno all' Imeneo, though that title is not used in the score; it is, however, divided by a double bar line with the inscription "attacca". It is marked " Figure rythmique noire hampe haut.svg = 120" ("Quis deus magis est amatis petendus amantibus?"). After an initial prelude, the main theme is presented three times, the last one marked "poco a poco più mosso": the first one at number 60 ("Nil potest sine te Venus"), the second at number 63 ("Nulla quit sine te domus"), and the third one at number 66 ("Quae tuis careat sacris"). [1]

The fifth tableau, marked "Un poco pesante", is divided into three sections. The first section depicts games and singing outside the bride's house. It includes text from Catullus 61, verses 76–120, in abridged form. A second subsection within the first section is the one starting at number 73 ("Flere desine, non tib', Aurunculeia"), which is repeated with variations at number 75 ("Prodeas, nova nupta") and number 78 ("O cubile, o cubile"). The second section, from verses 121–190, shows the bride being led to the bridal chamber. Marked "Allegro assai", it features a solo bass coryphaeus, with histrionics and exaggerated gestures, reciting the lines of the poem, with short interludes from the percussion and chorus. The central theme is presented in number 89 ("Transfer omine cum bono limen aureolos pedes"), a melody presented five times and followed by violas and cellos. The third and final section of this tableau, verses 191–210 and 230–235, is devoted to the singing outside the bridal chamber. The bass from the previous section recites a speech, sometimes sung, sometimes spoken, marked "Libero assai" in the score. The second subsection in the third section of this tableau, at number 97 ("Ille pulveris Africi"), is a slow-moving song performed by the percussion, pianos, harp, and some members of the string section, and sung by the whole chorus. Marked "Con larghezza" in the score, it ends with a short sentence by the solo bass, only to be repeated again, at number 102, this time with interjections from the bass throughout the rest of the piece. The piece slowly fades into silence and finishes with the whole choir shouting "Exercete iuventam!". [1]

The sixth tableau, the shortest one in this composition, starts with a glissando by the first piano and harp. Marked "Sempre molto rubato", it features various surviving quotations from Sappho's poems summarized, where the bride and groom are in the bridal chamber. Here, as in tableau III, the bride and groom do not speak directly to each other, but rather recite lines with references to superhuman powers. It ends after a two-octave interval played by the groom and a high-pitched cry by the bride. [1]

The seventh and final tableau, marked "Con ampiezza", is a very rhythmical section that employs the whole orchestra. A second subsection starts at number 109, marked "Più lento, con molta passione" ("θέλγει δ᾽Ἔρως" – Thelgei d'Eros). The piece ends after a very loud climax where most instruments play ff. In fact, the bells are required to be stricken with iron rods, the pianos have to play tone clusters with both open hands pressing white and black keys, and the whole choir is expected to give a "grido altissimo" (very loud cry). Two quick chords close the piece. [1]


The work calls for a large orchestra with an enhanced percussion section, consisting of the following:

3 Flutes (all 3 doubling Piccolos)
3 Oboes (2nd and 3rd doubling English horns)
3 Clarinets in B-flat
3 Bassoons (3rd doubling Contrabassoon)
6 Horns in F
3 Trumpets
3 Trombones
2 Tubas
Percussion (requiring 10–12 players, not counting Timpani)
6 Timpani
4 Standard Cymbals (2 suspended, 1 pair crash)
Tubular bells
2 Snare drums
2 Bass drums
4 Maracas
4 Wood blocks
3 Glockenspiels
Tenor Xylophone
2 Harps
3 Guitars
3 Pianos
Violins I (12–14)
Violins II (12–14)
Violas (12)
Cellos (12)
Double basses (8)

Notes and references


  1. The line "Εἰς ὰεί" was inserted freely by the composer.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Orff, Carl (1990). Trionfo di Afrodite: concerto scenico for 5 solo voices, chorus, and orchestra (in Latin). London: E. Eulenburg. Retrieved 10 August 2021.
  2. 1 2 "Trionfo di Afrodite: Orff".
  3. Schmidt, Ernst A. (1985). Catull. Heidelberg: Universitaetsverlag Winte. ISBN   3825334325.
  4. Carl Orff und sein Werk : Dokumentation. Tutzing: Schneider. 1975. ISBN   9783795201548.

Related Research Articles

Catullus Latin poet of the late Roman Republic (c. 84–c. 54 BC)

Gaius Valerius Catullus, often referred to simply as Catullus, was a Latin poet of the late Roman Republic who wrote chiefly in the neoteric style of poetry, focusing on personal life rather than classical heroes. His surviving works are still read widely and continue to influence poetry and other forms of art.

Sappho Ancient Greek lyric poet from Lesbos

Sappho was an Archaic Greek poet from Eresos or Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. Sappho is known for her lyric poetry, written to be sung while accompanied by music. In ancient times, Sappho was widely regarded as one of the greatest lyric poets and was given names such as the "Tenth Muse" and "The Poetess". Most of Sappho's poetry is now lost, and what is extant has mostly survived in fragmentary form; only the "Ode to Aphrodite" is certainly complete. As well as lyric poetry, ancient commentators claimed that Sappho wrote elegiac and iambic poetry. Three epigrams attributed to Sappho are extant, but these are actually Hellenistic imitations of Sappho's style.

Carl Orff 20th century German composer

Carl Orff was a German composer and music educator, best known for his cantata Carmina Burana (1937). The concepts of his Schulwerk were influential for children's music education.

<i>Carmina Burana</i> Medieval manuscript of poems and dramatic texts

Carmina Burana is a manuscript of 254 poems and dramatic texts mostly from the 11th or 12th century, although some are from the 13th century. The pieces are mostly bawdy, irreverent, and satirical. They were written principally in Medieval Latin, a few in Middle High German and old Arpitan. Some are macaronic, a mixture of Latin and German or French vernacular.

Hymen (god) Ancient Greek god of marriage

Hymen, Hymenaios or Hymenaeus, in Hellenistic religion, is a god of marriage ceremonies, inspiring feasts and song. Related to the god's name, a hymenaios is a genre of Greek lyric poetry sung during the procession of the bride to the groom's house in which the god is addressed, in contrast to the Epithalamium, which is sung at the nuptial threshold. He is one of the winged love gods, the Erotes.

<i>Catulli Carmina</i> Cantata by Carl Orff

Catulli Carmina is a cantata by Carl Orff dating from 1940–1943. He described it as ludi scaenici. The work mostly sets poems of the Latin poet Catullus to music, with some text by the composer. Catulli Carmina is part of Trionfi, the musical trilogy that also includes the Carmina Burana and Trionfo di Afrodite. It is scored for a full mixed choir, soprano and tenor soloists, and an entirely percussive orchestra – possibly inspired by Stravinsky's Les noces – consisting of four pianos, timpani, bass drum, 3 tambourines, triangle, castanets, maracas, suspended and crash cymbals, antique cymbal, tam-tam, lithophone, metallophone, 2 glockenspiels, wood block, xylophone, and tenor xylophone.

Poetry took numerous forms in medieval Europe, for example, lyric and epic poetry. The troubadours and the minnesänger are known for their lyric poetry about courtly love.

The Sapphic stanza, named after Sappho, is an Aeolic verse form of four lines. Originally composed in quantitative verse and unrhymed, since the Middle Ages imitations of the form typically feature rhyme and accentual prosody. It is "the longest lived of the Classical lyric strophes in the West".

An epithalamium is a poem written specifically for the bride on the way to her marital chamber. This form continued in popularity through the history of the classical world; the Roman poet Catullus wrote a famous epithalamium, which was translated from or at least inspired by a now-lost work of Sappho. According to Origen, the Song of Songs might be an epithalamium on the marriage of Solomon with Pharaoh's daughter.

Lesbia Lover of Catullus

Lesbia was the literary pseudonym used by the Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus to refer to his lover. Lesbia is traditionally identified with Clodia, the wife of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer and sister of Publius Clodius Pulcher; her conduct and motives are maligned in Cicero's extant speech Pro Caelio, delivered in 56 BC.

Catullus 51 is a poem by Roman love poet Gaius Valerius Catullus. It is an adaptation of one of Sappho's fragmentary lyric poems, Sappho 31. Catullus replaces Sappho's beloved with his own beloved Lesbia. Unlike the majority of Catullus' poems, the meter of this poem is the sapphic meter. This meter is more musical, seeing as Sappho mainly sang her poetry.

O Fortuna Medieval Latin poem, part of the Carmina Burana

"O Fortuna" is a medieval Latin Goliardic poem which is part of the collection known as the Carmina Burana, written early in the 13th century. It is a complaint about Fortuna, the inexorable fate that rules both gods and mortals in Roman and Greek mythology.

<i>Carmina Burana</i> (Orff) 1937 cantata composed by Carl Orff

Carmina Burana is a cantata composed in 1935 and 1936 by Carl Orff, based on 24 poems from the medieval collection Carmina Burana. Its full Latin title is Carmina Burana: Cantiones profanae cantoribus et choris cantandae comitantibus instrumentis atque imaginibus magicis. It was first performed by the Oper Frankfurt on 8 June 1937. It is part of Trionfi, a musical triptych that also includes Catulli Carmina and Trionfo di Afrodite. The first and last sections of the piece are called "Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi" and start with "O Fortuna".

Poetry of Catullus Poetry of Gaius Valerius Catullus was written towards the end of the Roman Republic

The poetry of Gaius Valerius Catullus was written towards the end of the Roman Republic. It describes the lifestyle of the poet and his friends, as well as, most famously, his love for the woman he calls Lesbia.

Aeolic verse is a classification of Ancient Greek lyric poetry referring to the distinct verse forms characteristic of the two great poets of Archaic Lesbos, Sappho and Alcaeus, who composed in their native Aeolic dialect. These verse forms were taken up and developed by later Greek and Roman poets and some modern European poets.

Sappho 31 is an archaic Greek lyric poem by the ancient Greek poet Sappho of the island of Lesbos. The poem is also known as phainetai moi after the opening words of its first line. It is one of Sappho's most famous poems, describing her love for a young woman.

Armand D'Angour is a British classical scholar and classical musician, Professor of Classics at Oxford University and Fellow and Tutor in Classics at Jesus College, Oxford. His research embraces a wide range of areas across ancient Greek culture, and has resulted in publications that contribute to scholarship on ancient Greek music and metre, innovation in ancient Greece, Latin and Greek lyric poetry, the biography of Socrates and the status of Aspasia of Miletus. He writes poetry in ancient Greek and Latin, and was commissioned to compose odes in ancient Greek verse for the 2004 and 2012 Olympic Games.

O Fortuna (Orff) Movement from Carl Orffs Carmina Burana

"O Fortuna" is a movement in Carl Orff's 1935–36 cantata Carmina Burana. It begins the opening and closing sections, both titled "Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi". The cantata is based on a medieval Goliardic poetry collection of the same name, from which the poem "O Fortuna" provides the words sung in the movement. It was well-received during its time, and entered popular culture through use in other musical works, advertisements, and soundtracks beginning in the late 20th century.

Sappho 96

Sappho 96 is a poem by the archaic Greek lyric poet Sappho. 37 lines of the fragment are preserved. The first twenty lines describe an imaginary scene in which an unnamed woman is struck by grief remembering an absent companion, Atthis; the remaining 17 lines, possibly originally a separate poem, reflects more generally on the foolishness of trying to compare human and divine beauty.