Although his fame rests on the success of a single work, the famous and frequently commercially mutilated Carmina Burana, Carl Orff was in fact a multi-faceted musician and prolific composer who wrote in many styles before developing the primal, driving language which informs his most famous work. In addition to his fame as the creator of Carmina burana, Orff enjoyed international renown as the world’s pre-eminent authority on children’s music education, his life’s work in that area represented by Musik für Kinder, five eclectic collections of music to be performed by children, eventually developing into a more extensive series known as Orff Schulwerk.
Born in 1895 to an old Bavarian family, Orff studied piano and cello while still a young boy. He later studied at the Munich Academy of Music, graduating in 1914. The music that he composed during this period shows the influence of several composers, including Debussy and Richard Strauss. In 1914, Orff was appointed Kapellmeister at the Munich Kammerspiele, where he remained until joining the military in 1917.
Discharged from service the following year, Orff continued to work as a conductor, accepting further positions in Mannheim and Darmstadt during the 1918-1919 seasons. Returning to Munich in 1919, Orff studied composition privately with Heinrich Kaminski while supporting himself as a teacher. In 1924, he founded the Güntherschule for music and dance with Dorothee Günther, dedicating himself to making musical performance accessible to children. Under his guidance, an entire orchestra of special “Orff instruments” was designed, enabling children to play music without formal training. The following year, Orff made three stage adaptations of works by Monteverdi. Continuing his work in the area of Baroque music, Orff became conductor of the Munich Bach society in 1930, a position he held until 1933. The experience of performing Baroque music, particularly sacred works for the stage, convinced Orff that an effective musical performance must fuse music, words and movement, a goal no doubt partly inspired by his work with the Güntherschule. Orff embodied his conception of music in the fabulously successful Carmina Burana (1937), which in many ways defined him as a composer.
Based on an important collection of Latin and German Goliard poems found in the monastery of Benediktbeuren, this work exemplifies Orff’s search for an idiom that would reveal the elemental power of music, allowing the listener to experience music as an overwhelming, primitive force. Goliard poetry, which not only celebrates love and wine, but also pokes fun at the clergy, perfectly suited Orff’s desire to create a musical work appealing to a fundamental musicality that, as he believed, every human being possesses. Eschewing melodic development and harmonic complexity, and articulating his musical ideas through basic sonorities and easily discernible rhythmic patterns, Orff created an idiom which many found irresistible. The perceived “primitivism” of Carmina burana notwithstanding, Orff believed that the profound appeal of music is not merely physical.
This belief is reflected by many other works, including musical dramas based on Greek tragedies, namely, Antigonae (1949), Oedipus der Tyrann (1959), and Prometheus (1966). These works, as well as some compositions on Christian themes, followed the composer’s established dramatic and compositional techniques, but failed to repeat the tremendous success of Carmina burana. His last work, De temporum fine comoedia (A Comedy About the End of Time) premiered at the 1973 Salzburg Festival. Nine years later, Carl Orff died in Munich, where he had spent his entire life. (allmusic.com)
Carmina Burana is a cantata composed in 1935 and 1936 by Carl Orff, based on 24 poems from 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 magical images”). It was first performed by the Oper Frankfurt on 8 June 1937. It is part of Trionfi, a musical triptych that also includes Catulli Carmina and Trionfo di Afrodite. The first and last sections of the piece are called “Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi” (“Fortune, Empress of the World”) and start with “O Fortuna”.
“The Wheel of Fortune” from the Codex Buranus:
In 1934, Orff encountered the 1847 edition of the Carmina Burana by Johann Andreas Schmeller, the original text dating mostly from the 11th or 12th century, including some from the 13th century. Michel Hofmann [de] was a young law student and an enthusiast of Latin and Greek; he assisted Orff in the selection and organization of 24 of these poems into a libretto, mostly in secular Latin verse, with a small amount of Middle High German and Old French. The selection covers a wide range of 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 structured into five major sections, containing 25 movements in total. Orff indicates attacca markings between all the movements within each scene.
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, Regno, Regnavi, Sum sine regno.
(I shall reign, I reign, I have reigned, I am without a realm).
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.
Orff subscribed to a dramatic concept 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.” Orff subtitled Carmina Burana a “scenic cantata” in his intention to stage the work with dance, choreography, visual design and other stage action; the piece is now usually performed in concert halls as a cantata.
A danced version of Carmina Burana was choreographed by Loyce Houlton for the Minnesota Dance Theatre in 1978. In honour of Orff’s 80th birthday, an acted and choreographed film version was filmed, directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle for the German broadcaster ZDF; Orff collaborated in its production.
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.
Orff was influenced melodically by late Renaissance and early Baroque models including William Byrd and Claudio Monteverdi. 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. 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 it was for Stravinsky, is often the primary musical element. Over all, 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, is often sung almost completely in falsetto to demonstrate the suffering of the character (in this case, a roasting swan). The baritone arias often demand high notes not commonly found in baritone repertoire, and parts of the baritone aria Dies nox et omnia are often 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 lyric soprano, not a coloratura, so that the musical tensions would be more obvious. (wikipedia)
Enjoy this masterpiece of modern classic music, based on poems from the Middle Age … just wonderful !
Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra condictedd by Kurt Prestel
Richard Brunner (tenor)
Gerda Hartmann (sopran)
Rudolfo Knoll (baritone)
Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi:
01. O Fortuna 2.46
02. Fortune Plango Vulnera 2.50
03. Veris Leta Facies 3.37
04. Omnia Sol Temperat 2.08
05. Ecce Gratum 2.57
Uf dem Anger:
06. Tanz 1.48
07. Floret Silva Noblis 3.50
08. Chramer, gip die Varwe mir 3.43
09. Reie – Swaz Hie Gat Umbe 1.03
10. Were Diu Werltalle Min 1.37
11. Estuans Interius 1.55
12. Olim Lacus Colueram 0.39
13. Ego Sum Abbas 1.01
14. In Taberna Quando Sumus 2.59
15. Amor Volat Undique 3.20
16. Dies, Nox Et Omnia 1.28
17. Stetit Puella 3.24
18. Circa Mea Pectora 3.29
19. Si Puer Cum Puellula 2.24
20. Veni, Veni, Venias 2.28
21. In Trutina 2.28
22. Tempus Est Iocundum 1.00
23. Dulcissime 1.03
Blanziflor And Helena:
24. Ave Formosissima 2.18
Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi:
25. O Fortuna 2.47
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