Carmina Burana (Orff)

Carmina Burana (Orff)

filename=Carl Orff-Carmina Burana-O Fortuna.ogg
title=O Fortuna
description=From Carmina Burana by Carl Orff

"Carmina Burana" is a scenic cantata composed by Carl Orff between 1935 and 1936. It is based on 24 of the poems found in the medieval collection "Carmina Burana". Its full Latin title is "Carmina Burana: Cantiones profanae cantoribus et choris cantandae comitantibus instrumentis atque imaginibus magicis" ("Songs of Beuern: Secular songs for singers and choruses to be sung together with instruments and magic images.") "Carmina Burana" is part of "Trionfi", the musical triptych that also includes the cantata "Catulli Carmina" and "Trionfo di Afrodite". The best-known movement is "O Fortuna" that opens and closes the piece.


Orff first encountered the text in John Addington Symonds's 1884 publication, "Wine, Women, and Song", which included English translations of 46 poems from the collection. Michel Hofmann, a young law student and Latin and Greek enthusiast, assisted Orff in the selection and organization of 24 of these poems into a libretto, mostly in Latin verse, with a small amount of Middle High German and Old Provençal. The selection covers a wide range of secular topics, as familiar in the 13th century as they are in the 21st century: the fickleness of fortune and wealth, the ephemeral nature of life, the joy of the return of Spring, and the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust.


Carmina Burana is scored for 3 flutes (two doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (one doubling English horn), 3 clarinets in Bmusic|♭ and A (one doubling Emusic|♭ clarinet, one doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns in F, 3 trumpets in Bmusic|♭ and C, 3 trombones, tuba, 2 pianos, celesta, a large percussion section and strings.

The percussion section consists of 8 timpani (one piccolo), 2 snare drums, bass drum, triangle, antique cymbals, crash cymbals, suspended cymbals, ratchet, castanets, sleigh bells, tam-tam, tambourine, tubular bells, 3 bells, 3 glockenspiels and xylophone.

The vocal parts include soprano solo, tenor solo, baritone solo, soli of 3 tenors, baritone, and 2 basses, a large mixed choir (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), a chamber choir (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) and a children's choir ("ragazzi").

A reduced version for soloists, mixed choir, children's choir, 2 pianos and percussion was prepared by Orff's disciple Wilhelm Killmayer in 1956 and authorised by Orff himself, to afford smaller ensembles the opportunity of performing the piece.

An arrangement for wind ensemble was prepared by Juan Vicente Mas Quiles (b. 1921), who wanted to both to give wind bands a chance to perform the work and to facilitate performances in cities that have a high quality choral union and wind band but lack a symphony orchestra. A performance of this arrangement was recorded by the North Texas Wind Symphony under Eugene Corporon. In writing this transcription, Quiles maintained the original chorus, percussion, and piano parts. [ [ Juan Vicente Mas Quiles - Carmina Burana - Schott - ] ]


"Carmina Burana" is structured into five major sections, containing thirteen movements total. Orff indicates "attacca" markings between all the movements within each scene.

* "Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi" ("Fortuna, Empress of the World")
* "Primo vere" ("Spring") - includes the internal scene "Uf dem Anger" ("In the Meadow", "On the Lawn")
* "In Taberna" ("In the Tavern")
* "Cour d'amours" ("Court of Love")
* "Blanziflor et Helena" ("Blanziflor (Blanchefleur) and Helena (Helen of Troy)")

Much of the compositional structure is based on the idea of the turning Fortuna Wheel. The drawing of the wheel found on the first page of the "Burana Codex" includes four phrases around the outside of the wheel:

:"Regnabo (I shall reign), Regno (I reign/I am reigning), Regnavi (I have reigned), Sum sine regno (I am without a kingdom)".

Within each scene, and sometimes within a single movement, the wheel of fortune turns, joy turning to bitterness, and hope turning to grief. "O Fortuna", the first poem in the Schmeller edition, completes this circle, forming a compositional frame for the work through being both the opening and closing movements.

Musical style

Orff's style demonstrates a desire for directness of speech and of access. "Carmina Burana" contains little or no development in the classical sense, and polyphony is also conspicuously absent. "Carmina Burana" avoids overt harmonic complexities, a fact which many musicians and critics have pointed out, such as Ann Powers of the New York Times [ [ New York Times. Not Medieval but Eternal; In Its Sixth Decade, 'Carmina Burana' Still Echoes] ] . Considering the complicated compositional techniques favored by almost all other renowned composers of the day, such as Edgard Varèse, the work may be considered in this respect extremely bold.

Orff was influenced melodically by late Renaissance and early Baroque models including William Byrd and Claudio Monteverdi.Fact|date=March 2008 It is a common misconception that Orff based the melodies of "Carmina Burana" on neumeatic melodies: while many of the lyrics in the "Burana Codex" are enhanced with neumes, almost none of these melodies had been deciphered at the time of Orff's composition, and none of them had served Orff as a melodic model. [cite book |title=Orff. Idee und Werk |last=Liess|first=Andreas|authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1980|publisher=Goldmann|location=Munich|language=German|isbn=3-442-33038-6|pages=pp. 82-83|quote=Orff waren also zur Zeit der Schöpfung der "Carmina" originale Melodien nicht bekannt.] [cite book |title=Carmina Burana |last=Bernt |first=Günter |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1979 |publisher=dtv |location=Munich |language=German|isbn=3-7608-0361-X |pages=p. 862|quote=Die "Carmina Burana" Carl Orffs versuchen nicht, die überlieferten Melodien zu verwenden. ] His shimmering orchestration shows a deference to Stravinsky. In particular, Orff's music is very reminiscent of Stravinsky's earlier work, "Les Noces" ("The Wedding").

Rhythm for Orff, as for Stravinsky, is often the primary musical element. Overall, it sounds rhythmically straightforward and simple, but the metre will change freely from one measure to the next. While the rhythmic arc in a section is taken as a whole, a measure of five may be followed by one of seven, to one of four, and so on, often with caesura marked between them. These constant rhythmic changes combined with the caesura create a very "conversational" feel — so much so that the rhythmic complexities of the piece are often overlooked.

Some of the solo arias pose bold challenges for singers: the only solo tenor aria, Olim lacus colueram, must be sung almost completely in falsetto to demonstrate the suffering of the character (in this case, a burning swan). The baritone arias often demand high notes not commonly found in baritone repertoire, and parts of the baritone aria Dies nox et omnia must be sung in falsetto: a unique example in baritone repertoire. Also noted is the solo soprano aria, Dulcissime which demands extremely high notes. Orff intended this aria for a regular soprano, not a coloratura one, so that the musical strain would be obvious.


Orff developed a dramatic concept he called "Theatrum Mundi" in which music, movement, and speech were inseparable. Babcock writes that "Orff's artistic formula limited the music in that every musical moment was to be connected with an action on stage. It is here that modern performances of "Carmina Burana" fall short of Orff's intentions." Although "Carmina Burana" was intended as a staged work involving dance, choreography, visual design and other stage action, the piece is now usually performed in concert halls as a cantata.


"Carmina Burana" was first staged in Frankfurt by the Frankfurt Opera on June 8 1937 (Conductor: Bertil Wetzelsberger, Choir Cäcilienchor, staging by Otto Wälterlin and sets and costumes by Ludwig Sievert). Shortly after the greatly successful premiere, Orff wrote the following letter to his publisher, Schott Music:

:"Everything I have written to date, and which you have, unfortunately, printed, can be destroyed. With Carmina Burana my collected works begin." [Orff, vol. IV, 66.]

Several performances were repeated elsewhere in Germany, and though the Nazi bureaucracy was at first nervous about the erotic tone of some of the poems, [Kater, 123.] they eventually embraced it and it became the most famous piece of music composed in Nazi Germany. [Taruskin, 764.] The popularity of the work continued to rise after the war, and by the 1960s "Carmina Burana" was well established as part of the international classic repertory.

Alex Ross writes: " [Although Orff had collaborated with the Nazis] the music itself commits no sins simply by being and remaining popular. That 'Carmina Burana' has appeared in hundreds of films and television commercials is proof that it contains no diabolical message, indeed that it contains no message whatsoever." []

In retrospect the desire he expressed in the letter to his publisher has by and large been fulfilled: No other composition of his approaches its renown, as evidenced in both pop culture's appropriation of "O Fortuna" and the classical world's persistent programming and recording of the work. In the United States, "Carmina Burana" represents one of the few box office certainties in 20th-century music.

Notable recordings

* Eugen Jochum with the Chor und Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin and Gundula Janowitz, Gerhard Stolze, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Recorded October 1967 in Berlin's Ufa-Studio, released 1968 (Deutsche Grammophon). This version was endorsed by Carl Orff himself and was the first choice of the BBC Radio 3 CD Review "Building a Library" review in 1995 [] .
* Riccardo Muti with Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus and Arleen Auger, John van Kesteren, and Jonathan Summers. Recorded 1979 (EMI), featured in the top three of BBC Radio 3's review and is also recommended by Classics Today []
* Leonard Slatkin with Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, RCA 09026 61673-2, featured in the top three of BBC Radio 3's review
* James Levine with Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and June Anderson, Phillip Creech, and Bernd Weikl. Recorded 1984 (Deutsche Grammophon). This version won the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance.
* Christian Thielemann with Chor und Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin and Knabenchor Berlin. Released 2003 by Deutsche Grammophon GmbH, Hamburg. Named "Editor's Choice" by Gramophone (magazine).



* Babcock, Jonathan. "Carl Orff's Carmina Burana: A Fresh Approach to the Work's Performance Practice." "Choral Journal" 45, no. 11 (May 2006): 26-40.
* Kater, Michael H.: "Carl Orff: Man of Legend." "Composers of the Nazi Era: Eight Portraits." New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, 111-143. ISBN 0195099249
* Orff, Carl. "Carl Orff und sein Werk: Dokumentation." Tutzing: Schneider, 1975-1983. ISBN 3795201543
* Steinberg, Michael. "Carl Orff: Carmina Burana." "Choral Masterworks: A Listener's Guide." Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, 230-242.
* Taruskin, Richard: "The Oxford History of Western Music." Vol. 4 "The Early Twentieth Century." Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, 754-765.

External links

* [ Carmina Burana Web] Comprehensive site about Carl Orff's Carmina Burana
* [ Text, Original and Translated in English, as it appears in Orff's libretto]
* [ Carmina Burana lyrics with English translation]
* [ The complete Carl Orff setting of Carmina Burana] in MIDI format
* [ Notes on "Carmina Burana"]
* [ "The Lasting Appeal of Orff's "Carmina Burana" (sound files at NPR)]
* [ Full lyrics to "Carmina Burana"]

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