Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman: Weihnachtsgeschichte, Weihnachtslieder. Tölzer Knabenchor and others, general direction Carl Orff. EMI/Deutsche Harmonia Mundi Editio Classica CDM 7 69561 2 (1988), BMG/DHM RD77139 (1989), BMG/RCA 74321 30671 2 (1995)

Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman: Weihnachtsgeschichte (Christmas Story), Weihnachtslieder (Christmas Songs). Tölzer Knabenchor, dir. Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden; Salzburger Hirtenbuben, Tobi Reiser;  Kammerchor der staatlichen Hochschule für Musik München, dir. Fritz Schieri; Kölner Kinderchor, dir. Hans-Günter Lenders;  general direction Carl Orff. First CD edition EMI/Deutsche Harmonia Mundi Editio Classica CDM 7 69561 2 (1988), barcode 077776956121







Track listing and credits:

BMG/DHM RD77139 (1989), barcode 0035627713927:





BMG/RCA Carl Orff Collection 74321 30671 2 (1995), barcode 743213067124:




Give back to Gunild Keetman what was Gunild Keetman’s
21 November 2017

Exploring the early CD catalog of Deutsche Harmonia Mundi. This CD, presented as Carl Orff’s Christmas music, was first published by Deutsche Harmonia Mundi in 1988, when the label was still distributed by EMI. When Deutsche Harmonia Mundi was taken over by BMG a year later, it was reissued in Europe on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi RD77139 – I haven’t found trace of an parallel US edition (which were customary in those years), whose barcode would have been 0054727713927. It isn’t entirely surprising: for reasons stated further, the CD was obviously aimed at the German market. It was again reissued by BMG, in 1995, now under the RCA label, in their Carl Orff collection, 74321 30671 2.

The CD may seem simple and obvious, but trying to establish its sources entailed another one of my typical sleuth works, and what I thought again would be a simple, quick and short review turned out to require again many hours of Internet research and unearthing the “dirty little secrets” from under the surface. First, the CD’s credits aren’t clear as to who sings what. One key participant is the famous Tölzer Knabenchor, drilled by its founder and music director Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden, but there is also involved the Salzburger Hirtenbuben led by Tobi Reiser, and two other choirs (Münich Conservatory/Musikhochscule Chamber Choir and Cologne Children’s Choir). We are not told who sings precisely what and are led to think that the four choirs and the instrumental ensemble are united in all the songs, and all under the direction of the composer himself. A clue that they are not is that, while “Weihnachtsgeschichte” (Story of Christmas) was recorded in 1963 (in Benediktbeuern, which Wikipedia (link will open a new tab) tells us is a village in the district of Bad Tölz-Wolfratshausen in Bavaria – Bad Tölz being the home town of the Tölzer Knabenchor), the 14 pieces comprising Weihnachtslieder (Christmas Songs) were not recorded at the same time and places. Recordings took place in 1963 (same sessions as Weihnachtsgeschichte, tracks 21 and 27), 1964 (six songs in two separate sessions, one recorded in  Bad Tölz and the other in Salzburg), 1966 (Lenggries – “Lenggries is the center of the Isarwinkel, the region along the Isar between Bad Tölz and Wallgau” – 2 songs), 1971 (3 songs in Penzberg – “Penzberg is a city in the Weilheim-Schongau district, in Bavaria, Germany. It is located about 50 km south of Munich”) and 1974 (return to Bad Tölz for one song). And nothing near Cologne.

Tracing back the LP releases of the program reissued here, one is sent back to Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 1C 057-99 658 (link will open a new tab to listing on, which had Weihnachtsgeschichte and a selection of 7 of the Weihnachtslieder out of the 14 gathered on the CD, corresponding to tracks  17-23. Further on (or back), my old and serviceable Bielefelder Katalog from 1966 shows that Weihnachtsgeschichte was originally released on a 10” (25cm) LP, Harmonia Mundi 25163 (that was before the label split between French Harmonia Mundi and Deutsche Harmonia Mundi). Forces credited are the Salzburger Hirtenbuben and Tölzer-Knabenchor (whose music director then went only by the name of Gerhard Schmidt, and no –Gaden), + “eine Instrumenalgruppe” under Orff. The entry on permits to date the recording more precisely than does the DHM CD reissue: June 1963. It also gives a number of LP reissues (including the one mentioned by Cesar Alejandro Carrillo in the comments section – addendum 6 Sept. 2019) .

The four 1964 / Bad Tölz Weihnachtslieder (tracks 18-20 and 22) were on a 7” (10cm) Harmonia Mundi 17055, together with a setting of Still Nacht, not on the CD reissue. Gratitude again to for documenting it. Here, only the Tölzer-Knabenchoir under Gerhardt Schmidt and an instrumental ensemble are involved – and NOT under the general direction of Orff.

The two songs recorded in Benediktbeuern in 1963 (Ein Wahrheitslied track 21, Zaunkönigs Winterklage track 27) and the two from Salzburg 1964 (Mater et Filia track 25 and “Hajo hajo wären wir do” track 26) were scattered on Harmonia Mundi 30652, 30653, 30654 and 30655, all 12” – 30cm, vols. 3 to 6 of a collection titled “Musica poetica Orff –Schulwerk”. More gratitude to Discogs for documenting them all. Besides the ubiquitous Tölzer Knabenchor, the Chamber choir of the Münich Hochschule is credited in vol. 3, 4 and 6, and the Kölner Kinderchor in vols. 5 and 6.

Jump to my 1971 Bielefelder Katalog and the 1966 / Lenggries recordings, tracks 17 (“Am Weynachtsabend”) and 23 (“Es sungen drey Engel”), are on vol. 7, HM 30 906 X. By 1970, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi was distributed by BASF.

The two tracks credited to Penzberg 1971, “Sankt Martine” and “Sankt Martin war ein milder Mann” (tracks 15 and 16) also appear in the same October 1971 Bielefelder on volume 2, Harmonia Mundi CRB 346. This implies that vol. 2 was released after volumes 3-6. Compatible with the indications of my Bielefelder Katalogs: vols. 1 & 2 are not listed in the 1966 catalog, but they are in my 1971 copy.  Bielefelder credits Tölzer Knabenchor and instrumental ensemble under Gerhard Schmidt – still missing his “Gaden” and with no Orff conducting.

I haven’t found cover photos of that LP, but there is a website of the “Orff-Schulwerk-forum-Salzburg” which documents a magazine, Orff-Schulwerk Informationen No. 9 (with the indication “Spring 1970” added in manuscript – link will open new tab with a .pdf document). On .pdf page 22, , the release of that volume 2 is announced as “Neuerscheinung” (new release), but under catalog number 20 20 346-8. There, finally, Bielefelder’s Schmidt is credited as Schmidt-Gaden, and Orff as general director. Incidentally, if the magazine was really published in the Spring of 1970 as the manuscript indication has it, it appears to contradict the possibility of a recording made in 1971. 1970 would be more credible (unless the manuscript indication is false). There is an entry on Discogs that conflates BASF 20 203346-8, Harmonia Mundi  HM 30 651 and HM 30 901, but the images are for the BASF release.

Finally, the 1974 recording of track 24, von der Geburt des Herrn, appeared on vol. 8 of the series, HM 30 657 or BASF ‎– 20 21028-6 (1975). Tölzer Knabenchor under Schmidt-Gaden and Orff for Gesamtleitung get the credits.

So, conclusion: these 14 selections are only the tip of the iceberg from that 10-volume Orff-Schulwerk collection. Those 10 volumes were LP reissued in two box-sets, referenced again on Discogs, here and here.

But what the heck is the “Orff-Schulwerk”? The CD’s liner notes (of the original DHM reissue, which is the edition I have) are so scanty as to be useless, consisting of only one biographical paragraph and ending with the phrases “The Orff instruments in connection with his world-famous teaching method Musica Poetica are considered the foundation of early music education. Orff’s elementary forms of musical and linguistic communication also contribute decisively to the charm of his Christmas Story and the Christmas Songs”.

Fortunately, we are now in the era of the Internet and of Wikipedia, ever-(I hope)-rippling source of universal knowledge two clicks away, and you’ll find all I need to know for the purposes of this review on the Orff-Schulwerk. So, Orff-Schulwerk was Orff’s method of music teaching. It “uses very rudimentary forms of everyday activity for the purpose of music creation by music students. The Orff Approach is a ‘child-centered way of learning’ music education that treats music as a basic system like language and believes that just as every child can learn language without formal instruction so can every child learn music by a gentle and friendly approach”. Rather than by the literal “Orff’s Schoolwork”, it could be translated then by “Orff’s pedagogical works”.

But where all this becomes really interesting is when you realize that Orff wasn’t the sole composer at all of the works published under his name. HM 17 055, the 7” with the 1964 Bad Tölz recordings, indicated “in arrangements by Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman”. Both appear again as composers the Orff-Schulwerk series, but from what I can read on Discogs, nothing is said of their respective contribution. Maybe the process of improvised composition made in undistinguishable.

But in the 1963, 10” LP of Weihnachtsgeschichte, the only indication about composer is “Musik: Gunild Keetman” – with Orff only in charge of “Gesamtleitung”, general direction. Still, the LP was titled “Orff: Weihnachtsgeschichte”. So if Orff didn’t write the music, what was his contribution? Apparently that of a librettist. From the liner notes of the original LP, very legible on discogs: “Carl Orff… has also turned his attention to the Nativity play. With his ‘Christmas Story’, which he wrote within the framework of [a less literal but better translation of the German “im Rahmen” would be “in the context of” or “as part of”] his scholastic work for children and for performance by children, he created a play in which all the components of the early Nativity and Crib plays have sprung into newness of life. The music for it was written by Gunild Keetman, who is also his permanent collaborator in his school work.” Well, isn’t that a little like “Lorenzo Da Ponte’s Don Giovanni” or “Emanuel Schickaneder’s Zauberflöte (music by W.A. Mozart)”? That BTW is indeed how Zauberflöte was originally billed – but it didn’t last very long.

And by the way, who indeed was Keetman? Jump to Wikipedia again: a former student of Orff in the Orff-Schulwerk method, become indeed, after the war, his collaborator, spreading the word and the method to the education of even younger children than those initially targeted by Orff.

Well, you won’t really know all that from the credits of the CD reissue. They only indicate Gunild Keetman as author of the music in Christmas songs, which seems to suggest that she was sole composer there, and Orff sole composer of the Christmas Story. That – if the indications on the LPs are to be trusted – would be doubly false: Keetman was sole author of the music in Christmas Story, and Orff seems to have been at least co-composer in the Christmas Songs. I’ve put “blatant sexism” in my title with a question mark. I wouldn’t want to jump to extreme conclusions, it may be in great part a matter for the publishers and labels of giving top billing to who was famous – Orff, not Keetman – independent of gender. The claim to authorship is not just a matter of sex. There have been many cases in recent music using computers and electronic of composers staunchly denying co-authorship to their electronics assistants, male to male, one famous example being Barry Anderson’s collaboration with Harrison Birtwistle.

In the style of Orff

Okay, so, a lot of time at establishing WHAT exactly you are hearing on this CD and who composed it. I’m the curious type: I like to scratch until I know. I realize that it will be of little importance to most listeners. Their only concern is likely to be: “who cares who composed it! How does it sound?” And, sure, I agree: “who cares who wrote Hamlet, be it a guy called Shakespeare or some nobility in disguise: that’s anecdotic. What matters is Hamlet” But if in the end it turned out that it was Mrs Shakespeare who had written the plays signed by her husband, I think it would be simple courtesy and justice to give her the full credit and recognition she deserves.

How does the music sound? The Christmas Story is a strange work. It is, indeed, a Nativity play, with the three shepherds being announced by an angel the coming of Jesus and going to find him: not sung by the kids, but spoken, with instrumental introduction and a few interludes, and interspersed with a few short movements that are sung by the children’s choir,  a Gloria (tracks 4 and 14) and Benedicamus (track 9) to greet the coming of Jesus, two cradles songs (track 10 and 13), the march of the Three Kings in the background (track 11). In fact, hearing the music, it becomes clear that those Sazlburger Hirtenbuben credited on LP and CD are not a children’s choir but the actors (“kid-shepherds from Salzburg”), and the Tölzer Knabenchor does the singing.

What’s funny and entertaining, if you are German-speaking or at least -understanding, is that the dialogs between the shepherds are spoken is some German dialect, which I suppose is from Salzburg. It’s like when Mozart’s Papageno is sung and spoken by an “echt”-Viennese singer, with the accent that comes with it: it adds a lot of salt and even pepper to the character. The angel on the other hands speaks in Hochdeutsch. Yeah, well, sure, coming from high above, they’d speak in high language. Very condescending (con-descending indeed), but there’s a long tradition for it (predating Zauberflöte by much), and the dialect IS funny. The three kids playing the sheppherds act surprisingly well, they are great, I’m impressed, and it’s a true shame that they aren’t individually credited. But really, as no translations are provided in this first CD edition, only the German-speaking/understanding will really enjoy the salt (and pepper) of it all. For the others, it risks sounding like just long spans of spoken text that, for all they know, could be spoken in Chinese, to little musical reward.

The little music that there is, in the overture and interludes, alternates between the gently pastoral (flutes) and neo-Renaissance style, with moments of Orff’s typical writing for percussion instruments, tinker bells/Glockenspiel or more rhythmic and pounding (in track 12). The Gloria is jubilant, the march of the shepherds to Jesus is merry. The music is always simple and apparently naïve, perfectly suited for Christmas.

The Christmas songs on the other hand offer more musical fodder. Whoever their composer is, Orff or Keetman, the style is distinctly Orff’s, the early and more melodic Orff of Carmina Burana rather than the later and more lean, percussive and aggressive Orff of Antigonae, but not either the Orff of the pounding ostinatos that have made Carmina Burana so popular, but of the gentler moments sung by children, and still with Orff’s trademark percussion. Again the music is apparently simple and naïve, perfectly suited for Christmas celebrations among German-speaking audiences.

Sound is okay, with slightly varying sonic perspectives and more or less tape hiss from track to track, but never intrusive. TT 60 minutes. But remember: this is only the tip of the iceberg from Orff and Keetman’s 10-LP Orff-Schulwerk. Large selections (but not the complete collection apparently) were reissued by RCA on a 6-CD set, barcode 090266803125 (1994), and re-released by Sony in 2014 (with no libretto), barcode 888430641921. Keetman is both times duly credited.


3 thoughts on “Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman: Weihnachtsgeschichte, Weihnachtslieder. Tölzer Knabenchor and others, general direction Carl Orff. EMI/Deutsche Harmonia Mundi Editio Classica CDM 7 69561 2 (1988), BMG/DHM RD77139 (1989), BMG/RCA 74321 30671 2 (1995)”

  1. Excellent analysis! During the cataloging process of my LP collection, I came to this page looking for information about this album (BASF / Harmonia Mundi 15 0301/8) because I had the same question: Who composed the music, Keetman or Orff? I am inclined to believe that it was Keetman and that the credit in large letters for Orff is given by the fame of his name. Nothing else. Unfortunately, the edition I have has no date or appears on Discogs. Either way, very grateful for your analysis.

    1. Hi Cesar, thanks for your kind comment. BTW, your LP IS indeed referenced on Discogs, see here. Photos show that it bears the indication “Musik Gunild Keetman”. I can’t see a copyright date however that would give indication of publication, but your 33cm appears to be a reissue of the 10″ (25cm) Harmonia Mundi 25163 that I mention in the review, so recording date would be June 1963.

Comments are welcome