The Origins of Carl Orff's Schulwerk: An Historical and Cultural Investigation

April 28, 2011 / By: Beth Ann Hepburn

The intent of this study was to examine the origins of the development of Carl Orff’s Schulwerk pedagogy and philosophy through his elemental music and movement lessons at the Güntherschule, from 1924 to 1932. The study further investigated the influence of Dorothee Günther, and other key individuals on the development of Orff’s educational philosophy. The study addresses the cultural milieu that effected the dance and music education at the school, with a comprehensive investigation and correlation to The German Body Culture Movement, Austruckstanz, Primitivism, and the individuals important to the work in each of these areas. How the music lessons and exercises developed for the Güntherschule are pedagogically linked to modern day Orff Schulwerk process teaching practice.

Historical research was collected and analyzed from a vast number of primary and secondary documents. Published primary sources included articles, books, speeches, symposium presentations, photographs, interviews, and programs. Unpublished primary sources included an interview conducted by the researcher, private collections of translated publications and memoires, and unpublished translations done by the researcher, and Margaret Murray, from original German resources.

The researcher concludes that Carl Orff’s Schulwerk origins were a direct result of his experiences teaching young adult women at the Güntherschule in Munich. Dorothee Günther’s philosophy and vision for her movement school employing multiple movement approaches, innovative for its time would directly impact Orff’s approach to music exercises for the school’s students in both the dance and music education branches. The German open-mindedness to the body as a spiritual center during the Body Culture Movement, the work of Rudolph Laban and Mary Wigman, and Primitivism would directly inspire Orff’s quest to develop elemental music, as a vehicle to awakening the spirit of the individual.