Orff ~ Carmina Burana: O Fortuna (1937)

The (identical) first and last movements of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” are undoubtedly the most frequently borrowed 3 minutes of classical music ever written.

Carl Orff
Carl Orff

O Fortuna appears at both the beginning and end of Carmina Burana, a secular cantata and composer Carl Orff’s best-known work. For better or worse it has been “re-purposed” countless times for you-name-it — even a Domino’s pizza commercial.

It is fair to say that for the composer there was both a blessing and a curse to Carmina’s popularity. It put Orff’s name on the map worldwide and presumably earned him considerable performance royalties. However, everything else he wrote is rarely heard today making him kind of a classical music one-hit wonder (although he’s by no means the only name on that list). Having said that Orff did have considerable influence around the world as an educator owing to the fact that earlier in his life he developed and propagated a new method of teaching music to young children.

This video accurately translates the ancient Latin and German text and adds some sensuous computer-generated graphics of which the composer probably would have approved (the text of Carmina is VERY suggestive in spots). In the underlying recording in this video, David Parry conducts performers from the London area.

Personal connection: I have sung Carmina probably 20 times with the Minnesota Orchestra, the Mankato Symphony, and a chamber group accompanying performers from the Minnesota Dance Theater. The latter production has a direct connection to Carl Orff. The founder of the company, Loyce Houlton, worked with Orff on the original choreography even though the composer had never previously thought of it as a ballet work. Her daughter, Lise Houlton, inherited the role of MDT artistic director and continues to use these same dance moves in current performances. Dancers from MDT performing “Carmina” are shown in the photo at top.

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