Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana

The setting of some of these to music by Carl Orff (see last post) seems to be best known by the first song—the lively and discordant lament to Fortune. This, and most of the other songs, demonstrate how far European music has progressed since the 13th century, to become an edifice that would have astonished those earlier composers, both in medieval times and in the ancient world. It might well have dazzled and enthralled them. European music seems a great achievement of the human race—and it has been warmly embraced by people of other continents.

In 1987 the Boston Camerata produced a performance that attempted to reconstruct the original melodies, based on what little can be found in the simple notations of the Benediktbeuern manuscript, and other fragments of notation contemporary with it, about which scholars disagree. It is beautiful to listen to and may be very like what the 13thcentury listeners heard. But Carl Orff’s music is more likely to appeal to the modern listener: it is lively, beautiful, and powerful enough to thrill an audience in any performance, professional or amateur.

There are many performances to be found in the media. With music of such quality, they are all worth listening to, but one is notable for both vigour and intimacy: it demonstrates how effectively the work can be done with a relatively small ensemble.

The performance is by the Munich Percussion Ensemble, conducted by Adel Shalaby, and here are links to three items from it. The camera work is discreetly done, and so the experience is not unlike being present at the performance.

The words can be found here:

Floret silva nobilis

In taberna quando sumus

Tempus est jocundum