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Carl Orff - "Carmina Burana"

Carl Orff

Carmina Burana (Cantiones Profanae)

  1. O Fortuna, velut Luna (O Fortune, variable as the moon)

  2. Fortune plango vulnera (I lament fortune’s blows)

  3. Ecce gratum (Behold the spring)

  4. Tanz – Uf dem anger (Dance – On the lawn)

  5. Floret silva (The noble forest)

  6. Were diu werlt alle min (Were the world all mine)

  7. Amor volat undique (The God of Love flies everywhere)

  8. Ego sum abbas (I am the Abbot)

  9. In taberna quando sumus (When we are in the tavern)

  10. In trutina (I am suspended between love and chastity)

  11. Dulcissime (Sweetest boy)

  12. Ave formosissima (Hail to thee, most beautiful)

  13. O Fortuna, velut Luna (O Fortune, variable as the moon) Reprise

Carl Orff

Born: July 10, 1895, Munich, Germany

Died: March 29, 1982, Munich, Germany

Original Instrumentation: Orchestra, Vocal Soloists, and Three Choirs

Composed: 1936

Arranged: 1967, John Krance

Duration: 20 minutes

At first glance, Carl Orff's Carmina Burana is a straightforward, somewhat repetitive, setting of a medieval manuscript, complete with drinking songs and bawdy lyrics. Orff's choice to set this while living in mid-1930s Germany potentially provides the opportunity for investigation of the subtext under Orff's music, much like that of his Russian contemporary Dmitri Shostakovich. Carmina Burana can potentially be seen as Orff's rebuke of the increasingly tense German state.

The arranger, John Krance, writes in the conductor's score:

Fortune roto volvitur:

descend minoratus;

alter in altum tollitur;

nimis exaltus.

(At the turn of Fortune’s wheel

one leader is deposed,

another is lifted on high

to enjoy a brief felicity.)

The Wheel of Fortune, inscribed with this legend on a thirteenth-century manuscript collection, acts as a motto for one of the monumental musical works of our time: Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, subtitled “Profane songs for singers and vocal chorus with instruments and magical pictures.”

Orff derived the inspiration and texts for his score from this anthology of songs and poems written medieval Latin, German, and French by the “goliards” – the vagrant scholars, vagabond poets, and wandering monks of seven hundred years ago. The original manuscript collection was rediscovered in the old monastery, Benedictbeuern, in the Bavarian Alps, by Johann Andreas Schmeller, who published it in 1847 under the name Carmina Burana (Songs of Beuren). Containing approximately two hundred songs and poems – both sacred and secular – the manuscript ranged in style and content from earthly simplicity to sophisticated symbolism and mysticism, from devotional religious contemplation to unabashed, almost cynical, worldliness.

The origin of the poems – some of which were definitely intended for singing – is obscure. However, since the goliards tempered their Christianity with secular beliefs, the subjects which the poems deal are as evident today as they were when the poems were written. They are frank avowals of the earthly pleasures: eating, drinking, gambling, love-making; the beauty of life and springtime; the irony and cruelty of fortune (then referred to as “Empress of the World,” the ancestor of our own “Lady Luck”!).

It has been suggested that the goliards often inflated their feelings past credibility, like boastful storytellers. But when they touched on tenderness, they judged their means of expression with the most sophisticated subtlety. They whole range that reflects the goliards’ way of life – its immense gusto and color, its unaffectedness – has likewise been depicted in musical terms by Carl Orff. He exhilarates us with throbbing rhythms and battering-ram tunes, and moves us with chaste tenderness and heartfelt simplicity. This is music which mirrors the timeless qualities of human aspiration and foible; music unique in substance and impact, resplendent with the color and imagination of a truly creative mind.

The work begins and ends depicting the crushing anguish of the victims of Fortune’s ruthless wheel (O Fortuna; Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi); the remaining sections are devoted to the joys of spring and nature, the pleasures of tavern and the gaming table, the delights of love, the irony of Fate.

Carl Orff was a German composer active throughout the twentieth century, as well as the co-creator, with Gunild Keetman, of Schulwerk, a developmental music training program for young children. Orff's methods, featuring rudimentary musical techniques and classroom percussion instruments, are still utilized in many elementary schools across the United States.

As noted earlier, like many mid-century German composers, including Richard Strauss, it would be impossible to discuss Orff, or his music without taking stock of his involvement in the World War II German state. The website, Music and the Holocaust, has an informative and objective description of how Orff, like many artists and musicians that decided to remain in Nazi Germany, managed to be simultaneously both appreciated and detested by Hitler's art critics. The composer was eventually "denazified" in the years after the war, and remained an active composer and music education proponent until his death in 1982.

Additional Orff Resources:

Carl Orff, Carmina Burana (Cantiones Profanae), arr. John Krance

Peabody Conservatory Wind Ensemble, Harlan Parker, conductor

Carl Orff, Carmina Burana (Cantiones Profanae)

UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, the University Chorus and Alumni Chorus, and the Pacific Boychoir

Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

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