Carmina Burana

OK, show of hands for the people who recognize the words “O Fortuna, velunt luna, statu variabilis.”

That makes five people, all of whom have sung this. If you can recite “In Taberna” at tempo, you are a tenor or bass and should probably put the beer down now. 🙂

Because of what survived, and what is performed in formal concert settings, we tend to think of medieval music as all church music. You have to go digging, even now, to find troubadour songs, and stuff like this? Written by (soon-to-be, it was assumed) clergy? Surprise!

I was listening to this (the entire thing) the other day as I was writing a scene or two. The problem is that I know the lyrics, so I tended to follow along. I sang it from memory at the concert. No “oohs” or “ahs”, please. The women have a very easy and limited number of pieces compared to the guys. Plus most of it is in Latin (medieval) or German (modernized Middle High German) so right there I had another advantage.

On the other hand, knowing what the words mean makes some movements a bit tricky to sing with a straight face.

The baritone is getting waaaaay too into the text. Ahem, moving to something a bit tamer . . .

Your basic medieval grad student drinking song. The settings are closer to how the Carmina Burana would have sung when they were composed. These are worldly songs composed in Latin and in a German dialect as well as a French dialect in the early 1200s, mostly about wine, women, song, and the ups and downs of life (the turning of Fortune’s wheel). There are a lot more songs in the collection, and a number of medieval music groups have recorded or are recording them. Orff picked a few of the punchier ones for his setting, focusing on fortune, lust, and the drinking bits. It is a pretty representative sample. When I performed this, the countertenor in the “Taberna” had much too much fun, including brandishing a bottle of Shiner Bock (pre-emptied and rinsed out). The boys’ choir was not told the translation of the lyrics. The rest of us didn’t worry about it, or kept our giggles to ourselves.

“O Fortuna” is probably one of the most often borrowed pieces of classical music around. I recall it from the original Connections TV series, and the breaking of the machines. It even has its own Wiki page.’s_O_Fortuna_in_popular_culture

Carmina Burana is not that easy to sing, because of the rhythms and timing. Also, there is a strong temptation to try to out-sing the orchestra. It cannot be done. It is like trying to out-sing the orchestra on Beethoven’s 9th. The symphony always wins.

Oh, “In Taberna?” Fast forward to 40:25. I’ve heard a few attempts to take it faster.


2 thoughts on “Carmina Burana

  1. Recognize? yes. Know the correct translation? Not without looking it up. Know that is is about as religious as “Whiskey in the Jar”? Yep. -grin-

    • *Grin* “O Fortuna” could pass for a Dies Irae (“Day of wrath, day of judgment, calamity and misery . . .”) but past that it’s pretty clear we’re not singing sacred music (unless you are a Bacchante).

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