Carmina Burana programme notes

The performance kicks off with the exuberance of children learning through music, with the Lethbridge Children’s Orff Ensemble joining forces with the LSO to bring to life numerous folksongs from across Canada. Then, the awesome power of our largest orchestra so far this season brings a fitting end to the banner 55th. Accompanied by over 200 voices, they will present Carl Orff’s celebrated Carmina Burana!

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Series 6 – Carmina Burana

Carl Orff – Orff Fantasia on Canadian Folk Songs

“Tell me and I forget; show me and I remember; involve me and I understand.” – Chinese proverb

Carl Orff and his colleague Gunild Keetman developed a child-centered and dynamic approach to music education, later implemented by Dorothee Günther at her school in Munich. Orff’s five collections of music were developed into a series called Orff Schulwerk or simply the Orff Appraoch. These collections use a great deal of rhymes, chants, poems, and folk music of the children’s culture.

The Orff philosophy uses sequences of activities beginning with language, rhythm and movement as a way of introducing and teaching children about music, where the primary approach to learning is play. This holistic approach uses singing, speech, dance, movement, listening, creating and playing instruments. Creating and improvising are an integral part of the learning process, with an emphasis on beat, rhythm and in-tune singing. Music is often composed by the children themselves as part of the process and is the unique opportunity for children to show understanding.

Orff Fantasia is a compilation of only a few Canadian folk songs. Teaching Canadian folk songs is a great vehicle to sharing our Canadian heritage and history. The opening piece, Canada: A Speech Canon (J. Sills), gives an overview of all the provinces and territories that make our great nation. The songs unfold from East to West, beginning with songs from Atlantic Canada. Lots of Fish in Bonavist Harbour and I’se the B’y sing of the fishing industry that remains an important part of everyday life today. In central Canada, Land of the Silverbirch and My Paddle are partnered to describe the immense beauty of Ontario.

From our French heritage, we sing Un Canadien Errant, which was written after the Lower Canada rebellions of 1837-38, and tells of the sadness of a life in exile. It has also become associated with the deportation of the Acadians and their deep love for their country. John Kanaka, a song from the lumber tradition, and sometimes known as a sea shanty, is an energetic song that would have entertained the workers in the evenings back at camp. Spirit of the Sun is an Ojibway song from the East, which reflects the First Nations’ place in Canadian history.

As we travel west, Old Grandma tells an amusing account of daily life and the hardships of life on the prairies. Moving into Northern Canada, Dance of Lights is not a Canadian folk song, but was originally composed by Stacy Skretting for her students to support what they learn in Social Studies about Aurora Borealis. My Heart Soars is a poem by Chief Dan George, a well-known Canadian poet and actor, and the music is by Donna Otto of British Columbia. This song is a gentle piece that reminds us of the incredible beauty of the Earth.

Drill Ye Tarriers describes the demanding and dangerous work of building railways over the Rocky Mountains, and the small pay for the job. Kettle Valley Line (arranged by D. Otto) is a song that tells the story beginning in Lethbridge, where young men would attempt to hop and ride the rails without paying the fare. These young men would then go to Hope, BC, find work in the winter months in the lumber industry and then return for spring work on the farm. We conclude this collection of folk songs with a repeat of Canada: A Speech Canon.

Notes by Stacy Skretting

Carl Orff – Carmina Burana

The output of Carl Orff is empowered by dialogue with musical practices past and present. His youthful output by and large followed the musical avant-garde of the time, but the study of Renaissance composers such as Monteverdi in his twenties inspired Orff’s work to journey through the past.

Orff began writing Carmina Burana in 1934 upon encountering the thirteenth-century song and poetry compilation of the same name. The compilation was discovered in 1803 in the Benedictine monastery of Benediktbeuern, from where it got its title (Latin: Songs from Beuern). In its entirety, Carmina Burana contains 254 poems written by the goliards; scholastic clerics and church dropouts infamous for their criticism of Church doctrine and lecherous behaviour.

It is considered one of the most important collections of Medieval Latin secular poetry, though a handful of poems are written in old German and French. Despite the work’s bulk and historical importance the verse is not consistently sublime, mostly being lewd depictions of gambling, drinking, and amatory pleasures. Orff picked 23 of the poems for his secular cantata, intending them to highlight the theme of the ever-turning wheel of fortune.

The timing of Carmina Burana’s Frankfurt premiere in 1937 was awkward given the political climate of Orff’s native Germany. Nazi party critics pounced on the work’s “jazzy atmosphere” and “incomprehensibility”, and further attacked it for its erotically charged texts. While this condemnation initially deterred theater directors in the Third Reich from producing Orff’s opus, the work still received wide acclaim. Following its premiere, Orff declared it his first true accomplishment. Carmina Burana would go on to become the first part of Orff’s triptych of Latin cantatas and the most popular classical work from early twentieth-century Germany.

Carmina Burana is divided into five sections. The first, Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi (Fortune, Empress of the World), opens with the famous O Fortuna bemoaning Fortune turning her wheel of fate. Despite widespread use in pop culture, it is impossible to envision the piece with a grander sweep than in its original setting as the booming D Minor motif reinforces the calamitous lyrics. A subtle transition to Fortune plango vulnera continues the lament with reminiscences of better days.

Following the initial despair, the second section Primo vere (Spring) blooms with a contrasting mood. Veris leta facies begins by evoking the medieval origins of the poem with simple textures and modal melodies. Omnia Sol temperat continues with delicate winds and glockenspiel decorating the pauses between verses, delivered by a warm solo tenor. All past despondency is lost in the lilt of Ecce gratum as the full choir returns to worship the season in all its grandeur.

The joyous instrumental interlude Tanz begins Uf dem anger (In the Meadow); a subsection of Primo vere written mostly in middle high German. In Uf dem anger spring’s fervor has spawned love. Floret silva begins in grand style, softening to innocent pining for lost love as the language switches from Latin to German. Chramer, gip die varwe mir’s quick melodic line depicts the boy-craziness of a young maiden, whose desire for male attention enamours her with the world.

Orff continues the contrast between orchestral opulence and austerity in his Round Dance. This movement’s stark strings open with calm elegance ornamented by percussion and horns, but upon setting into the text strikes up an epic tone to strumming accompaniment. The piece abruptly switches to sensitive intimacy as the hushed choir sings the adoration of reluctant maidens. Uf dem anger concludes its consideration of love with Were diu werlt alle min, detailing sacrifices made for lust.

Estuans interius marks the beginning of a new section, In Taberna (In the Tavern), and a return to Latin from the vernacular. Highlighting the goliards’ love of vices of the day, it reveals a more pessimistic outlook. The tenor aria Estuans interius is despondently bold, as our narrator laments the loneliness of his debauched life to the tune of a galloping orchestra.

Olim lacus colueram opens with shrill honking in the bassoon, and is no doubt the strangest perspective we have encountered; a cooked swan contemplating the misery of being a meal. The gloomy bird is left for the soliloquy of a drunken monk in Ego sum abbas Cucaniensis, whose slurred sermon is interrupted by fierce comedic interjection of the ensemble. A rousing men’s chorus then provides a goliard description of the goings-on of the medieval tavern in In taberna quando sumus, where the goliards attack society’s hypocritcal condemnation of their lechery.

On leaving the revelry of the tavern we enter the Cour d’Amours (Court of Love), whose title indicates its reconsideration of the themes of love and lust. Amor volat undique begins the section with sweet harmonies blowing in the wind section punctuated by the philosophic observations of a children’s choir. A lover’s complaint is then heard from the male perspective in Dies, nox et omnia; a sulking tenor line repelled by collective female chatter.

The alto soloist is quick to juxtapose this to the salaciousness of the maiden in Stetit puella’s innuendo-laden text. As though on cue the tenor soloist promptly furthers this salaciousness, desperately pining to lie with the lady of his affection. Two short but apt movements are found in Sie puer cum puellula and Veni, veni, venias, as the former’s anthropological study of lust is polar to the latter’s piano-backed infatuation. Muted strings provide a sweet accompaniment to In trutina, joining the alto for one of the tenderest moments in Carmina Burana.

The jaunty atmosphere is resumed in Tempus est iocondum, expressing the urgency of first love shared by mixed choir, youth choir, and tenor soloist. Dulcissime’s solo is a prelude to the majesty of Ave formosissima, referencing the classic beauties of Helen and Blanchefleur to a broad orchestral accompaniment. A gong crash breaks this celebration as the chorus resumes the calls of O Fortuna, marking Carmina Burana’s having come full circle around the wheel of fortune.

Notes by Zain Solinski