“Everything I have written to date, and which you have, unfortunately, printed, can be destroyed. With Carmina Burana, my collected works begin.”
This is what Carl Orff, composer of the Carmina Burana, wrote to his publisher upon its completion.
I was fortunate enough to have witnessed a live performance of this piece last night at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center by Choralis, a local chorale group celebrating its tenth anniversary. That I have a few loved ones involved with the group, sure, that had something to do with my attendance and my enjoyment of the piece.
The Carmina is a piece vastly underrated by society as a whole. You’ve heard it, at least, its first (and last) movement. Hollywood uses its epic power ad nauseum, often to promote horror flicks. As a matter of fact, it is used in Michael Moore’s latest flick, Capitalism, A Love Story.
This is a challenging piece for chorus, orchestra, and listener alike. It is written in lower German, Latin and some French. The meters are outrageous, and the music is rhythmic and sometimes harsh. I was in a chorus that performed it some years ago. And we had a few folks walk out on it.
When you enter a venue where the Carmina is about to be performed, and the orchestra is warming up, I guarantee that you will hear the piccolo player fervently practicing a quick, one-bar trill that begins the third movement. This odd lick may be the hardest thing a piccolo ever has to do.
Viewing a live performance of the Carmina is like watching a very good movie. Every movement of the piece is beautiful, but there are slow parts. But by the time it winds into “Ave Formosissima,” followed directly by the power of “O Fortuna,” the audience realizes an epiphany. You’ll want to stand up and yell, my gods, Dr. Crowe was dead the whole time!
Yes, Gretchen Kuhrmann and her crew really pulled it off last evening, complete with a childrens’ chorus in the balcony and three excellent solo vocalists. Bravo.