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Carmina Burana

posted Mar 17, 2012, 8:16 AM by Steven Vaughan
Orff’s cantata Carmina Burana still remains the most popular secular choral work of the 21st century.  The original Latin, German and French manuscript, dubbed the Codex latinus monacensis, is a collection of several hundred poems with primitive topics still relevant today: the fickleness of fortune and wealth; the heightened moods springtime evokes; and the pleasure and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust.  It was written in the 11th – 13th centuries by goliards; traveling students and ex-monks that had left their studies to pursue life’s pleasures, and remained undiscovered in a Bavarian Benedictine monastery until 1803.  Reflecting an “international” European movement of its time, it is considered the most important collection of vagabond songs.

In the mid-1930’s, German composer Carl Orff set 24 of these poems to music for chorus, soloists, orchestra or two pianos, and 21 percussion instruments!  It toggles between huge walls of sound and a single voice, juxtaposing majesty and intimacy with ease, creating a piece of music for every mood imaginable.  Its style is equally inclusive, ranging from simple chant to rock-inspired rhythmic sections, while capturing the spirit of the medieval period with its infectious rhythms and easy tonalities.

The movement that opens and closes the piece, Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi (“O Fortuna”) has been widely used in films such as Excalibur; Speed; Natural Born Killers; The Hunt for Red October and The Doors; in television shows like Glee; South Park; The X Factor; Friends; Survivor and Late Night with Conan O’Brien; as well as commercials for Gatorade and Old Spice.  Numerous sports teams also use it, including the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Pirates.  It’s been rearranged and recorded by more than fifty bands!

I’ll be performing Carmina Burana in Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall this Friday evening, March 23 with the National Chorale.  For ticket information, call (212) 333-5333 or visit nationalchorale.org.
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