Carmina burana(ii) (‘Songs of Beuren’)
- Erik Levi
(‘Songs of Beuren’)
‘Cantiones profanae cantoribus et choris comitantibus instrumentis atque imaginibus magicus’ in three scenes by Carl Orff to 13th-century Latin and German poems by the monks of Benediktbeuern; Frankfurt, Städtische Bühnen, 8 June 1937.
Orff’s best-known composition is more frequently encountered in the concert hall than in the opera house, but it was originally conceived for the stage. The work, divided into three main sections which deal with nature, the tavern and love, is framed by an imposing opening and concluding chorus in praise of Fortune, the goddess of fate. In the first section entitled ‘Im Frühling’ and ‘Uf dem Anger’ the awakening of spring is depicted in a simple rising unison melody in the chorus, and the ensuing baritone solo praises the overwhelming power of love. There follows a series of dances and short choral movements set in medieval German evoking a peasant spring feast. In the second section, ‘In taberna’, the theatrical element of the work is manifested in a series of parodies – a baritone solo of exaggerated pathos in which the drunkard seems oblivious of the perilous condition of his soul, the grotesque falsetto singing of a Swan (tenor) which is being roasted, the inebriated psalmody of the Abbot (baritone) from Fool’s paradise and an orgiastic hymn to earthly enjoyment sung by the male chorus. The final section, ‘Cour d’Amours’ and ‘Blanziflor et Helena’, provides a dramatic contrast in extolling the pleasures of refined courtly love. Individual numbers include a baritone solo in which the lover seeks to make his wooing more seductive by indulging in a brilliant coloratura vocal line, a coquettish song for soprano which seeks to kindle a young man’s desire, a wooing song for double chorus and finally a chorus of Dionysiac intensity in praise of Venus....