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Carmina Burana

Carmina Burana

Selected Composition

 

Carl Orff, Carmina Burana

 

 

Program Notes

 

I have hesitated in my posts ever to write: "If you listen to nothing else, listen to this." I won't use up that capital on today's piece, but I considered it. Carmina Burana is a joy to hear! 

 

Carl Orff (Germany, 1895 - 1982) finished Carmina Burana in 1936. It is a secular cantata for orchestra, chorus, and vocal soloists. It is based on a 13th-century manuscript of poems written by a priest in Latin and Medieval German. The poems are about fate and life, drinking and love. The Encyclopedia Britannica calls "O Fortuna," the first piece in this cantata, "among the grandest statements in all choral literature." It serves as both prologue and epilogue, and it frames the joyful middle sections.

 

Here is a link to Andre Rieu conducting "O Fortuna" in a public square in Maastricht, Holland. Rieu tours the world with his Johann Strauss Orchestra, apparently playing more than just waltzes:

 

O Fortuna


 

The exuberance of this performance is in keeping with the original manuscript, which called for the songs to be sung with "magical embellishments." The fireworks and the lighting in this concert are certainly magical. It amazes me to see some in the audience mouthing the Latin words (or perhaps they were singing along!). And it is moving to see the many people in tears at the end. I can attest that hearing this is a powerful experience.

 

Here is a link to an astounding recording of the entire Carmina Burana. It features Nvram Kamaenov conducting the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bulgarian choir cappella, with Svetoslav Obretenov, Peter Yanukov, and Roumyana Bareva as soloists:

 

Carmina Burana


 

This is not a perfect recording, but it is vast: and even, at times—glorious.

 

 

Coda

 

Hearing Latin sung is, to me, a moving experience. There is something about Latin—it seems authoritative, elevated, powerful.

 

Latin never died, of course: it became French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Italian. Eighty percent of English words trace back to Latin. The ancient Latin written and spoken in Rome also continues to exist; it was for 1800 years the language of the church, of diplomacy and science. It became, as the centuries rolled by, Medieval Latin and now Modern Latin. Tens of thousands speak and write it, though as a second language.

 

I intend to study Latin. I would like to be one of those tens of thousands, and at least attempt to read Virgil in the original.

 

 

 

 

I photographed the petroglyphs, above, in Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, in the early 1990s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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