Carmina Burana

A work that many have, at least heard a piece, of is Carmina Burana. Carl Orff composed this piece of music in 1936. A German, he was one of few composers that continued work during the Anti-Semitic rule of the country. Orff based his work off of a collection of poems found at the monastery of Benedikbeuren that dates back to the Twelfth Century! Carmina Burana is a set of twenty-five pieces that concern many of things going in everyone’s life today.
Drinking, gambling, love, sex, fate, and fortune are just a few of the topics Orff composed of. 1 In this concert report I will go through the pieces that stood out the most to me. As mentioned, the most famous piece of this work is the opening sequence, “O Fortuna”. This glamorous piece begins with the full orchestra and chorus playing a loud, brave tone that quickly drops off into, what I hear as a loud whisper, sung by the entire chorus. Orff doesn’t let the listener take a break by coming back with same loud tone that the piece began with.
Percussion instruments can be vividly heard throughout this opening piece, seemingly above the rest of the instruments. Early in this work, Orff establishes his theme of a “Wheel of Fortune”. 2 With the boldness of the opening sounds I feel that Orff is setting the tone for the whole work. Although the work is sung entirely in Latin, the translation of the first movement may surprise most people. The opening words “O Fortune” gives the listener an idea what the piece is about. As the piece goes, Orff describes fortune as oppressing and poor, in what I believe he was feeling at the time.

The last words of this movement, in translation “ everyone weep with me “ were the biggest surprise to me because the orchestra ends the piece in carnival like melody. The second movement of Orff’s work is titled “Fortune plango vulnera“. This is personally my favorite piece of the work because of the hit or miss harmony. Different instruments take turns using the high-low rhythms, along with the chorus. The male voice is prominent at the beginning but soon after you can hear the voice of the full orchestra. Before reading the text n translation, this piece gave the idea of a rabbit jumping through to pasture or meadow to a novice listener like myself. This piece picks up from the last movement still pertaining to fortune. In the latter part of this piece Orff actually wrote in his overall theme by mentioning “the wheel of Fortune turns”. The fourth movement, “Omnia sol temperat” is sung in a completely different way. It begins with a male soloist singing, accompanied softly by violins. The way Orff chose to display this movement shows that there is no defined rhythm he is following.
The soloist singing in a profound masculine voice sets the tone for this movement. The next movement discussed stands out as being one of the longest works of the cantata. “In taberna quando sumus” opens with stringed instruments followed by percussion, and then a variety of other instruments join with the chorus. “When we are in the tavern”, the title sets this piece up for what I think would have a been a popular movement when it originated. Orff tells of drinking and gambling at the tavern, then goes on to list thirty names such as “the rich man” and “the poor man” that all drink.
This stood out to me because I didn’t see this coming at all! It is also my least my favorite piece of the work. With the setting what it is, I didn’t particularly like the minor tone heard on and off in this movement. Orff could have been trying to relay a message by this of the tavern as a sometimes dark, bad place. The last movement of the cantata, “O Fortuna” begins just as the piece began with the same instruments and harmony. The last movement mirrors the first in a way that makes the listener understand the true tone of this work.
I compliment Orff for doing this because I feel it is necessary. With a piece as strong and bold as this, I would think most composers would have chose to do this. After going back and re-listening to the first and last piece, there is no difference to my ear. The last movement does not lack any of the strength of the first movement; it’s a repeat that is well deserved. This theme has been used in many American movies, but sadly it is seldom recognized. Carl Orff made his mark in music history with Carmina Burana, namely the first and last movements “O Fortuna”.
There are many more movements in this piece that all have uniqueness and glamour. Even though I am not the most avid Carl Orff fan, this piece surprised me with every movement. The overall performance of this piece was outstanding, with all the different melodies and tones, the use of full orchestra to solo vocalist, and an excellent job of conducting by Jeffery Thomas, I can see how this piece gained as much fame as it did. 1 “ The Enjoyment of Music” Eleventh Edition, Kristine Forney and Joseph Machlis 2 http://classicalmusic. about. com/od/20thcenturymusic/a/carmina_burana. htm

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