Latin for 'Songs from Beuern', Carmina Burana (CB), remains one of the greatest pieces of classical music collection today. Composed by legendary German composer, Carl Orff, its 25 tracks have something for everyone and satisfy every musical taste, even today. The subject matter of CB is primitive yet relevant; lust, drinking, love and joyous moods associated with springtime. Some of the poems have erotic tones as well. These primitive instincts are so brilliantly written in old German and Latin that today’s listener could enjoy them while staying completely oblivious to its actual meaning.
Carmina Burana, is essentially a name given to a collection of dramatic texts and 254 poems, primarily from the 11th, 12th and the 13th centuries. Written by clergymen and students to satirize the Catholic Church, the CB was penned in Latin, as it was the lingua franca of the time. However, these manuscripts have also been found to be written in Middle High German, Old French and mixture of all these languages. This collection of historic importance also preserves the works of poets like, Walter of Chatillon, Peter of Blois and an anonymous poet, Archpoet. These centuries’ old manuscripts were found at a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria, Germany, in 1803. They could presently be viewed in a Bavarian State Library in Munich, Germany.
Orff, the man who immortalized these historic manuscripts, first came across them in John Symonds’s Wine, Women and Song. This publication from 1884 contained English translation of 46 poems from Carmina Burana. Out of these 46 poems, Orff, along with an assistant, selected and organized 24 poems. These poems which were originally written in Latin, German and French, covered a wide variety of subjects.
Orff’s CB made its debut on June 8, 1937, in Frankfurt by the Frankfurt Opera. It was an instant success. So impressed was Orff by the richness of this experience that he wrote to his publisher that whatever he had written thus far was nothing and could be destroyed and that CB was the only real deal. Soon after it was performed all over Germany and even during the War. After the end of the Second World War, Carmina Burana became a work of international repute and secured its position in the international classic repertory of great music, permanently. The fact, that this composition of Orff’s, from the years 1935 and 1936 is still relevant today, is due to CB’s crossover ability. Excerpts from it have been used sparingly in Hollywood movie trailers and television commercials, not just in the US but all over the world. The music of CB is such that it suits films of all genres like horror, action, adventure and fantasy. One could hear portions of it in movies like Natural Born Killers, Excalibur and Jackass. A legend of music and film industry, Oscar Award winning Barbara Streisand, has sung from it. Charlotte Church, too, has sung from it on her album, Voice of an Angel. World figure skaters like Nancy Kerrigan, Dean and Torvil have skated on its rhythmic tunes. A pop group, immensely popular amongst the teenagers, 98 Degrees and a German rock group, Einsturzende Neubauten, have opened their shows with CB.
Sometimes the graphic nature of CB’s message often has critics questioning its relevance in today’s world. Alex Ross, a music critic with The New Yorker magazine, while speaking his mind on the music of Carmina Burana stated: “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.”
Marin Alsop, a conductor herself, had this to say on CB: “From a conductor’s point of view, Carmina is an absolute blast – so many people, so many textures, so much variety. And, contrary to what conductors might tell you, when 300-plus performers are involved, size does matter.” So buy your Carmina Burana Tickets now and have a blast!
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