Monday, February 21, 2011

"Carmina Burana" and Carl Orff's "Theatrum Mundi," 1936

I have always loved the music of Carl Orff's scenic cantata Carmina Burana, but until I saw the above video clip on the Cosmodromium Blog, I had no idea that the music was only a small part of Orff's overall theatrical conception, or the fascinating story of the source material which inspired the piece.

Carl Orff's Carmina Burana was completed in 1936 and premiered to great acclaim in Nazi-era Frankfurt in 1937; it was based on a manuscript of 254 medieval poems and dramatic texts written by students and clergy--many with a decidedly satirical tone towards the Catholic Church--that was uncovered at a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria in 1803.

The poems are mainly songs of morals and mockery, love songs, and drinking and gaming songs with additional songs of mourning, as well as "a satire, and two educational stories about the names of animals..." Within the collection are also descriptions of a raucous medieval paradise in which "the rules of priesthood include sleeping in, eating heavy food and drinking rich wine, and regularly playing dice games."

Carl Orff 's original conception of the staged Carmina Burana (as so provocatively shown above) included elements of dance, masks and costume, set design, and dramatic acting in a kind of theatrical gestalt he termed "Theatrum Mundi," a theatrical conception in which music, movement, and speech were all equal and essential pieces of a whole.

The movement you see above--drawn from a 1975 version Carmina Burana directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle--is entitled "O Fortuna" ("Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi"); it is the best known segment of Carmina Burana and it both begins and ends the piece. Lyrics follow, in English translation from Wikepedia:
O Fortune,
like the moon
you are changeable,
always waxing
or waning;
detestable life
now difficult
and then easy
deceive a sharp mind;
it melts them like ice.

and empty,
you whirling wheel,
stand malevolent,
vain health
always dissolves,
and veiled
you plague me too;
now through trickery,
my bare back
I bring to your villainy.

Fate, in health
and in virtue,
is now against me,
and defeat
always enslaved.
So at this hour
without delay
pluck the vibrating string;
since Fate
strikes down the strong,
everyone weep with me!
You can find out more about this amazing performance--directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle for Munchner Rundfunkorchester Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks and conducted by Kurt Eichhorn in West Germany--here and can purchase a copy by clicking here. You can watch much of the production--albeit in pixelated form--by clicking here.

Information via Wikipedia, 1 and 2; clip via Cosmodromium.

1 comment:

Dorabella du Doigt said...

Hello! Three posts in a day, and I love them all. I loved the Orff video -beautiful stageing. I have only heard it from the orchestra (I'm a violinist) continue the interesting blog!