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Carmina Burana O Fortuna

Carmina Burana O Fortuna

Carmina Burana O Fortuna

Composed in 1936, Orff's Carmina Burana (Songs of the Beuern) can be heard on stages, televisions, and silver screens across the globe. The song's text, Carmina Burana, was discovered in 1803 at the Monastery of Benediktbeuren near Munich as part of a collection of Latin poetry written by the Goliards dating back to the 12th century. Written exclusively for entertainment, the Carmina Burana confronts issues similar to the issues we face today: love, sex, drinking, gambling, fate, and fortune.
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Carmina Burana O Fortuna

In 1935–36, the 13th-century poem “O Fortuna” was set to music by the German composer Carl Orff for his twenty-five-movement cantata Carmina Burana. The composition appears in numerous films and television commercials and has become a staple in popular culture, setting the mood for dramatic or cataclysmic situations. For instance, it is used to portray the torment of Jim Morrison’s drug addiction in the film The Doors. In 1983, Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek released his third solo album, Carmina Burana, which is an interpretation of the piece in a contemporary framework.
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Carmina Burana O Fortuna

Orff developed a dramatic concept he 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.” Although Carmina Burana was intended as a staged work involving dance, choreography, visual design and other stage action, the piece is now usually performed in concert halls as a cantata. A notable exception is the Trans-Siberian Orchestra version which features strobe lights and what appears to be flames engulfing the stage, wings and balconies, pulsing intensely in time to the music. A danced version choreographed by Loyce Houlton for the Minnesota Dance Theatre in 1978 was prepared in collaboration with Orff himself.
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Carmina Burana O Fortuna

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.
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Carmina Burana O Fortuna

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).
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Carmina Burana O Fortuna

“O Fortuna” is a medieval Latin Goliardic poem written early in the 13th century, part of the collection known as the Carmina Burana. It is a complaint about Fortuna, the inexorable fate that rules both gods and men in Roman and Greek mythology.
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Carmina Burana O Fortuna

In 1935–36, “O Fortuna” was set to music by German composer Carl Orff as a part of “Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi”, the opening and closing movement of his cantata Carmina Burana. It was first staged by the Frankfurt Opera on 8 June 1937. It opens at a slow pace with thumping drums and choir that drops quickly into a whisper, building slowly in a steady crescendo of drums and short string and horn notes peaking on one last long powerful note and ending abruptly. The tone is modal, until the last 9 bars. A performance takes a little over two and a half minutes.
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Carmina Burana O Fortuna

“O Fortuna” in the Carmina Burana manuscript (Bavarian State Library Clm 4660, f. 1r). The poem occupies the last six lines on the page, along with the overrun at bottom right.
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The desire Orff expressed to his publisher has by and large been fulfilled: No other composition of his approaches its renown, as evidenced in both pop culture’s appropriation of “O Fortuna” and the classical world’s persistent programming and recording of the work. In the United States, Carmina Burana represents one of the few box office certainties in 20th-century repertoire.
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The uncertainty of Fortune was a regular motif in medieval literature; various symbols and examples of her caprice became commonplace. Of the several poems in the Carmina Burana on this subject the following is certainly not the best; its vagueness suggests that some expressions may have been chosen simply through the demands of rhyme. It is, however, considerably enhanced by the musical setting which Orff has given it. Some phrases deserve comment:

Several performances were repeated elsewhere in Germany. The Nazi regime was at first nervous about the erotic tone of some of the poems, but eventually embraced the piece. It became the most famous piece of music composed in Germany at the time. The popularity of the work continued to rise after the war, and by the 1960s Carmina Burana was well established as part of the international classic repertoire.

cordae pulsum tangite lit. touch the beat of the string. O FORTUNA O Fortuna, velut Luna statu variabilis, semper crescis aut decrescis; vita detestabilis nunc obdurat et tunc curat ludo mentis aciem; egestatem, potestatem, dissolvit ut glaciem. Sors immanis et inanis, rota tu volubilis, status malus, vana salus semper dissolubilis; obumbrata et velata mihi quoque niteris; nunc per ludum dorsum nudum fero tui sceleris. Sors salutis et virtutis mihi nunc contraria; est affectus et defectus semper in angaria. hac in hora sine mora cordae pulsum tangite! quod per sortem sternit fortem, mecum omnes plangite!
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O Fortuna velut luna statu variabilis, semper crescis aut decrescis; vita detestabilis nunc obdurat et tunc curat ludo mentis aciem, egestatem, potestatem dissolvit ut glaciem. Sors immanis et inanis, rota tu volubilis, status malus, vana salus semper dissolubilis, obumbrata et velata michi quoque niteris; nunc per ludum dorsum nudum fero tui sceleris. Sors salutis et virtutis michi nunc contraria, est affectus et defectus semper in angaria. Hac in hora sine mora corde pulsum tangite; quod per sortem sternit fortem, mecum omnes plangite!
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O Fortuna (O Fortune), undoubtedly the most famous piece of this work, is recognized by millions of people all over the world. I consider it to be one of those unknown-but-known works. Orff brilliantly captures the meaning and nature of the Wheel of Fortune. Opening with a pounding timpani and large chorus, the listener is introduced to the Wheel's magnitude, while the haunting/foreboding text and melody sitting atop a river of endlessly repeating orchestral accompaniment, mimics its constant rotation.
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O Fortuna (O Fortune) velut luna (like the moon) statu variabilis (you are changeable) semper crescis (always waxing) aut decrescis; (and waning;) vita detestabilis (hateful life) nunc obdurat (first oppresses) et tunc curat (and then soothes) ludo mentis aciem, (as fancy takes it) egestatem, (poverty) potestatem (and power) dissolvit ut glaciem. (it melts them like ice.)
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O Fortuna (O Fortune) velut luna (like the moon) statu variabilis (you are changeable) semper crescis (always waxing) aut decrescis; (and waning;) vita detestabilis (hateful life) nunc obdurat (first oppresses) et tunc curat (and then soothes) ludo mentis aciem, (as fancy takes it) egestatem, (poverty) potestatem (and power) dissolvit ut glaciem. (it melts them like ice.)Sors immanis (Fate – monstrous) et inanis, (and empty) rota tu volubilis, (you whirling wheel) status malus, (you are malevolent) vana salus (well-being is vain) semper dissolubilis, (and always fades to nothing) obumbrata (shadowed) et velata (and veiled) mihi quoque niteris; (you plague me too;) nunc per ludum (now through the game) dorsum nudum (I bring my bare back) fero tui sceleris. (to your villainy.)Sors salutis (Fate is against me) et virtutis (in health) michi nunc contraria, (and virtue) est affectus (driven on) et defectus (and weighted down) semper in angaria. (always enslaved.) Hac in hora (So at this hour) sine mora (without delay) corde pulsum tangite; (pluck the vibrating strings;) quod per sortem (since Fate) sternit fortem, (strikes down the strong) mecum omnes plangite! (everyone weep with me!)
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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.
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“O Fortuna” has been called “the most overused piece of music in film history”, and Harper’s Magazine columnist Scott Horton has commented that “Orff’s setting may have been spoiled by its popularization” and its use “in movies and commercials often as a jingle, detached in any meaningful way from its powerful message.” Its contemporary usage is often joking or satirical in nature, owing to its oversaturation in popular culture.

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