Carl Orff

Carmina Burana, scenic cantata for soloists, choruses & orchestra

    Description by Roger Dettmer

    Already 38 when he began composing Carmina Burana -- Songs from Benediktbeuern -- Orff was nearly 42 when it finally was produced. Despite the co-title "Secular Songs," he designed the work as a theater piece, a "scenic cantata" to be danced as well as sung and played. In addition to soprano, tenor, and baritone soloists, large, small, and boys' choruses, Carmina Burana is scored for triple winds and brass, five timpani, percussion for six players, celesta, two pianos, and strings. Bertil Wetzelsberger conducted the premiere on June 8, 1937, at Frankfurt am Main.

    The texts were written mostly by goliards, itinerant scholars, and lapsed clerics during the Middle Ages -- medieval hippies, as it were, with skinheads mixed in. Preserved in a thirteenth century manuscript, these were discovered at a Bavarian monastery near the Passion Play town of Oberammergau in 1803 (Burana is a Latin neologism for Beuern, later Bayern: Bavaria in English). Written in low Latin, old German, and medieval French, most of the texts -- variously bawdy, sensuous, comic, mock-tragic, but usually erotic -- mock government and the church.

    Carmina Burana is comprised of 26 sections in mostly major keys. A two-song choral Prolog, "Fortuna imperatrix mundi" (Fortune, Empress of the World), is about the ever-turning Wheel of Fortune that lifts man up only to cast him down. The next 22 sections are divided into three unequal parts.

    First comes "Primo vere" (In springtime), nine frolicsome numbers that begin with small choir, then baritone solo, then full chorus. The concluding six are subtitled "Uf dem Anger" (On the lawn), commencing with a dance for orchestra; then a languorous waltz in for large and small choruses; another amatory adventure for both choruses to the accompaniment of sleigh bells and plucked violas; an ABA round dance that becomes Allegro molto midway, and finally a brief Allegro introduced by brass fanfares.

    Next the music moves indoors -- "In taberna" (In the tavern) -- for a quartet of secular songs in praise of gluttony and drunkenness. A besotted goliard enumerates his amatory history, followed by a swan bewailing its mortality (in the person of a high tenor) while roasting on a spit. A tipsy abbot comes forward next, leading to a seditious melee for tipsy male choristers.

    The concluding third is "Cour d'amours" (The court of love), whose ten parts tend to brevity; yet even when the music seems chaste, texts or subtexts are sexual, beginning with boys' chorus and a lovelorn soprano. After them, the solo baritone voices a courtier's despair. The soprano follows with "Stetit puella," about a pretty girl in a red tunic. The baritone sings a tale of planned seduction with choral punctuation, setting up the comedic encounter of male choristers and a maiden, a cappella. A lovestruck double chorus follows with piano/percussion accompaniment. The soprano's "In trutina" is torn between love and modesty, only to be overwhelmed by an erotic concatenation of everyone (excepting roasted solo tenor), pierced by the soprano's stratospheric "Dulcissime" (most sweet one, I give my all to you). The culmination of "Cour d'amours" is "Banziflor et Helena," another paean to Venus triumphant over virtue. Finally there's the repetition of "Fortuna, imperatrix mundi."

    Parts/Movements

    1. O Fortuna
    2. Fortune plango vulnera
    3. Veris leta facies
    4. Omnia Sol temperal
    5. Ecce gratium
    6. Tanz
    7. Floret silva
    8. Chramer, gip die varwe mir
    9. Reie
    10. Swaz hie gat umbe - Chume, chum geselle min
    11. Were diu werit alle min
    12. Estuans interius
    13. Olim lacus colueram
    14. Ego sum abbas
    15. In taberna quando sumus
    16. Amor volat undique
    17. Dies, nox et omnia
    18. Stetit puella
    19. Circa mea pectora
    20. Si puer cum puellula
    21. Veni, veni, venias
    22. In trutina
    23. Tempus est iocundum
    24. Dulcissime
    25. Ave formosissima
    26. O Fortuna

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 ABC Classics
    2017 Berlin Classics 0300927 BC
    2017 Marfer / Zebralution
    2017 Alto ALC 1336
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 002894794110
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4795448
    2015 Da Capo Austria 2024
    2015 Brilliant Classics 95116BR
    2014 Zig Zag Territoires ZZT 353
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon 4793432
    2014 LPO LPO 0076
    2013 Lim LIMUHD 073
    2013 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 13038
    2013 Classical Gallery 7033
    2012 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099967870
    2012 Hi. Q HIX 8CD
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099960230621
    2012 EMI Classics
    2012 Rondeau ROP 6030
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 4783376
    2012 Acanta 233584
    2012 EMI Classics
    2011 Haenssler / Haenssler Classic / Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler HAEN 93280
    2011 RCA Red Seal 7840052
    2011 Decca
    2011 RCA Red Seal / Sony Classical 8869768960
    2011 Virgin Classics
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 4778778
    2010 EMI Classics
    2010 Cascavelle VEL3114
    2010 Berlin Classics 0300066
    2010 Sacramento Choral Society & Orchestra
    2010 DA Records / Zebralution
    2010 RPM RPM 28880
    2010 Digital
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 4778167
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099926796
    2009 Berlin Classics 0149572
    2009 Gramola 98849
    2009 Denon Records
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099921750
    2008 YoYo 1501
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    2008 Chandos 5067
    2008 EMI Classics
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 4777523
    2008 Philips 4647252
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 471739
    2007 Doyen 59
    2007 Brilliant 8331
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon 000957302
    2007 Apex
    2007 Naxos 8570033
    2007 Berlin Classics 0186002
    2006 Arts Music 43050
    2006 Berlin Classics 0185572
    2006 EMI Classics 557197
    2006 Universal
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler 5005
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 64237
    2005 Erato
    2005 Erato
    2005 Regis Records 1136
    2005 Virgin Classics 62479
    2005 Warner Classics
    2005 Arte Nova 340480
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243557888
    2004 Sony Classical 93081
    2004 HDC 010
    2004 Sanctuary Records 3021
    2004 Rca Red Seal 59417
    2004 Sony Classical 92602
    2004 Novalis 150712
    2004 Laserlight / Delta Distribution 16411
    2003 RPO 204488201
    2003 Klavier Records 11136
    2003 Rca Red Seal 09026639812
    2003 Warner Classics
    2003 Arts Music 43001
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 1294
    2003 Decca 473842
    2003 BIS 300734
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 474131
    2003 Laserlight / Delta Distribution 40044
    2002 Sony Classical 87735
    2002 Telarc Distribution 60056
    2002 Delta Distribution 14574
    2002 Telarc Distribution 80575
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 575146
    2001 Meridian Records 84427
    2001 Guild 7227
    2001 RCA 53657
    2001 Telarc Distribution 60575
    2001 St. Clair 7331
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 555392
    2001 Decca 467402
    2001 Angel Records 67569
    2000 T-Rax 28
    2000 Sony Music Distribution 6163
    2000 Delta Distribution 24474
    2000 RCA 63590
    2000 Arcobaleno 9423
    1999 EMI Music Distribution 66951
    1999 Decca 460646
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 453587
    1999 Seraphim Classics 7243573573
    1999 Vanguard 8208
    1998 EMI Music Distribution 566899
    1998 Virgin 61510
    1998 Arte Nova 34048
    1998 Intersound 3841
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 55644
    1997 London 455290
    1997 Arte Nova Classics 68913
    1996 Intersound 2530
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 447437
    1996 London 444105
    1996 Supraphon 3160
    1996 Arts Music 47177
    1995 ZYX Music 4107
    1995 Wergo 6275
    1995 Disques Pierre Verany 730044
    1995 EMI Music Distribution 9005
    1995 RCA 68085
    1995 Virgin 61262
    1995 IMP Classics 2024
    1995 Madacy 1602
    1995 BIS 734
    1995 Wergo 6602
    1995 ZYX Music 1001
    1994 EMI Music Distribution 65207
    1994 RCA 902661673
    1994 Deutsche Grammophon 439950
    1994 Deutsche Grammophon
    1994 Supraphon 1103212
    1994 BIS 421/24
    1993 Berlin Classics 0020472
    1993 Teldec 74886
    1993 Decca 417714
    1993 Wergo 6217
    1993 Quintessence 2074
    1993 IMP Classics 855
    1993 Intercord Klassische Diskothek 820545
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 47668
    1992 EMI Music Distribution 64328
    1992 Naxos 550196
    1992 BMG 56533
    1991 Sony Classical 47668
    1991 Laserlight 14020
    1991 Decca / London 430509
    1990 CBS Records 33172
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon 415136
    1990 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 0777754054
    1989 Philips 422363
    1988 Deutsche Grammophon 423886
    1987 CBS Records 37217
    1986 EMI Music Distribution 47411
    1984 Decca 4117022
    1983 Telarc Distribution 80056
    Decca 444591
    Columbia River Entertainment Group 1145
    Mark Custom Recording 1650
    BNS 2001
    EMI Classics 47100
    Forlane 16556
    Verdi Music 5658932
    Foyer Records 2094
    EMI Classics 569868
    Excelsior Recordings 010
    Rca Red Seal 14550
    Apex 0927-41377-2
    Forlane 16726
    Apollo Classics PYCD 343
    Philharmonia of the Nations 55
    RCA 86533
    Musique d'Or 1075
    Newport Classic 60052
    EXL 4253
    Pilz 160149
    Cascavelle 1009
    Calig 50937
    Supraphon 110321
    Calig 50937/38
    EMI Music Distribution 74747
    EMI Classics 698555
    VMK 1053
    Gemini 620
    Carlton 1073
    K-Tel / K-Tel Distribution 3807002
    Cascavelle 3016