Monday, February 07, 2005

Carmina Burana - Carl Orff

Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi:

Since high school, I loved and cherished this celebrated setting of ancient monastery texts. It wasn't until today, when I listened to it with a more critical ear, that I noticed that the dominant texture was monophonic. I had always assumed as a choral work, it was filled with harmonies and homophony, but actually such occurances are quite rare throughout the entire work--which cycles through seasons and scenes of life only to return to its beginning. Most of the singing is unison chant, at most punctuated by a motive from the orchestra, percussion, or an occasional drone (sol-do). Orff achieves variety through the juxtaposition of contrasting motives, registers, dynamics and rhythmic patterns. His force and movement are guided by his very artfully crafted phrases and instrumental punctuation. He very much remains true the spirit of the texts and there historic origin and also transports the listener to a more primeval environment. Even still, his work retains a strong sense of complexity, unity and subtlety. Unity, he achieves this through strophic verses and similar and repeated motives and also through the circular construction of the content (moving through a cycle which returns to its start).

In the beginning (also the end) movement, "Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi" can be divided into to major parts. It begins with with the call to Fortune (re- me me do-), and then much of the rest resides on a simple whole step with rhythm as the greatest source of interest. The second part is more melodic, but no less rhythmically active and has the trumpet flourishes shouting amidst the chanting voices--mostly led by men.

This movement I prefer because it is the beginning and end, the continuity, and also because when I hear it, I feel as though I hear humanity calling out in its desperation, in its ignorance, in its impotence...and in that calling out to the seeminly faceless fate of all things exhibits a rage, a wisdom and a power bordering on that of the divine.

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