Carl Orff's Carmina Burana

Classical Academy | Composers | 20th Century Period | Choral Music


For Carl Orff, music and speech were inseparable, but rather part of a combined phenomenon that gave listeners direct access to what they heard. His much-loved cantata, Carmina Burana, reflects this approach, privliging textual questions of comprehensibility versus harmonic complexities - indeed, the music is remarkbale simple. Influenced by late Renaissance and early Baroque music, Orff's style blends the traits of William Byrd and Claudio Monteverdi with those of the modern composer he most revered, Igor Stravinsky.


With its unmistakable opening 'O Fortuna', a movement of such dramatic conception, Carmina Burana is much more than the scenic cantata it purports to be in concert halls today. Orff drew the texts from a medieval collection of the same name, written in Latin, Middle High German and Old Provencal by students and scholars between the 11th and the 13th centuries. The subject matter covered by the 24 selected texts is vast, from the fickleness of fortune and wealth to the joy of Spring, and the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust.


Carmina Burana premiered to rapturous praise in Frankfurt and beyond. Following this, Orff wrote to his publishers; "Everything I have written to date, and which you have, unfortunately, printed, can be destroyed. With Carmina Burana, my collected works begin". Immerse yourself in the mystic wonders of Carmina Burana, performed in full on this great recording.