Carmina Burana opens with one of the most famous passages in classical music as the massed choir chants “O Fortuna” at full volume over an accompaniment of orchestral power chords while the timpani pound out a beat like the engine room of the Titanic. It would be a jaded listener indeed who could resist this excitement.
But the work offers a great deal more than that. Orff chose a variety of texts ranging
from witty to wistful from the Codex Buranus, a curious collection of 11th century
Latin poems found in a Bavarian monastery.
They were written by medieval monks who were well-travelled, worldly, educated and
rather subversive. Their poems celebrate the arrival of Spring, the pleasures of wine,
riotous tavern scenes and the joys and sorrows of love. Orff’s music sparkles with
imagination and theatricality, contrasting exquisite vocal solos with powerful orchestral and choral climaxes.