The nobleman Matsuo and his wife Chiyo come out of a Japanese temple into the surrounding grove by night. When Matsuo stoically comments that God has accepted their own child as a victim, Chiyo breaks down.
A short time later, Chiyo brings her son Kotaro to the teacher Genzo’s village school and asks the teacher’s wife to enrol her son as a schoolboy. The mother has hardly left the schoolroom when Genzo bursts in in a state of intense distress. As a loyal acolyte of the formerly ruling prince Michizane, he had on the prince’s death hidden Michizane‘s son Kwan Shusai as a pupil in his school. Only a few moments ago, this secret had been betrayed to the new prince Tokihira – a vehement opponent of Michizane – and, what was worse, the prince had already demanded of his henchmen, among them Matsuo himself, that they bring him the head of the former prince’s son. Matsuo had also been an acolyte of Michizane like the loyal Genzo, but due to unfortunate circumstances had also been appointed in the service of the new ruler.
Approaching soldiers can already be heard outside the school. In a state of panic, Genzo, who on his entry had noticed the similarity between the new pupil and Kwan Shusai, resolves to have Kotaro instead of Kwan Shusai beheaded. Matsuo, who must recognize that the head belongs to his own son, lies to the henchmen, asserting that the head belongs to the prince’s son Kwan Shusai.
After Matsuo and Tokihira’s soldiers have retreated, Chiyo bursts in to see her son. In greatest desperation, Genzo draws his sword to kill the mother as well; in a quick reaction, Chiyo succeeds in parrying the stroke of the sword with her son’s desk. A shroud and burial flags fall out of the splintered desk. Genzo realises with horror that Chiyo and Matsuo deliberately brought their son to the village school to sacrifice him in place of the prince’s son.
Matsuo enters, a broken figure, confirms the suspicions and declares that he has once more proved his loyalty to the murdered Michizane through the sacrifice of his own son. Chiyo, devastated by the death of her son, sinks lifelessly to the floor.
In 1912, Orff enrolled as a student at the Akademie der Tonkunst in Munich. The same year, he received a book on Japan by Lafcadio Hearns as a Christmas present. Orff was so taken by the book that only a few weeks later he procured a volume by the German Japanese academic Karl Florenz containing Japanese dramas. Here he encountered the theatre scene Terakoya – Die Dorfschule which fascinated him to such a great degree that he spontaneously resolved to adapt the text for a musical setting. The composition was completed within six months. After consultation with the Japanese scholar, he named his work Gisei – Das Opfer [the victim].
Three months later, he presented the score to the Munich conductor Hermann Abendroth, who however responded with such intense negative criticism that Orff immediately allowed the work to disappear into oblivion. It took almost a hundred years for Gisei to be evaluated as worthy of stage performance and the composition received its first performance in Darmstadt in 2010.
Although influences of Debussy and Wagner are still visible in Orff’s very first work for the stage, original Japanese melodies are incorporated into the composition and we see Orff striding down his own musical path, for example in the utilization of the glass harmonica, a virtually obsolete instrument in his time.
Bühnenmusik (kann eingezogen werden): 2 (2. auch Picc.) · 0 · 0 · 3 - 0 · 3 · 3 · 2 - P. S. (Gong · Donnermasch. · Windmasch.) - Glasharm. · Hfe. - Str. (4 · 0 · 6 · 0 · 0)