Carmina Burana

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Carmina Burana

1.  O Fortuna
2.  Fortunae plango vulnera
3.  Veris laeta facies
4.  Omnia sol temperata
5.  Ecce gratum
6.   Tanz - (instrumental)
7.  Floret silva nobilis
8.  Chramer, gip die varwe mir
9.  Swaz hie gat umbe
10.Were diu werlt alle min
11. Aestuans interius
12. Olim lacus colueram
13. Ego sum abbas
14. In taberna quando sumus
15. Amor volat undique
16. Dies, nox, et omnia
17. Stetit puella
18. Circa mea pectora
19. Si puer cum puella
20. Veni, veni, venias
21. In trutina
22. Tempus est iocundum
23. Dulcissime
24. Ave formosissima

The Carmina Burana of Carl Orff

The poems presented here are those which have been set to music by the German composer Carl Orff (1895-1982). They form only a small part of the whole Carmina Burana, the name applied to a large collection of medieval poems which survive in a late medieval manuscript found in the early nineteenth century in southern Germany. These poems, which come to more than two hundred in number but are never of any great length, can be roughly classified as follows:

(i) Moralistic and satirical poems, the former being concerned with the human condition and the world at large, the latter with abuses in the church.

(ii) Love songs and songs celebrating the return of spring.

(iii) Songs connected with drinking and gambling.

Most of the poems seem to have been intended to be sung. The main language is Latin; a few are in German or are macaronic, i.e. mixtures of Latin and a vernacular (here either German or French). The manuscript has a type of musical notation, which is not followed by Orff but which has been used by others to reconstruct the original presentation. No poem is assigned to an author.

A remarkable feature of the intellectual life of the late Middle Ages was the ease and readiness with which scholars and students (and no doubt a good many hangers-on) moved about Europe from one university town to another. There seems to have always been a large number of such people in temporary residence in university towns both in their native countries and in foreign parts. As might be expected, they were not always on good terms with locals who had no connection with, or interest in, intellectual pursuits (such rustici are a frequent butt in the Carmina Burana) and, as their common interests naturally brought them together, they tended to form a class apart, a society to which the terms Wandering Scholars and Ordo Vagorum have been applied. These it was who in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries composed and sung most of the poems of Carmina Burana. Because they were generally without bonds or ties and were not involved in acquiring or maintaining social status, they were not concerned overmuch with the conventions of society, nor were they greatly troubled by the fulminations of religion against worldly pleasures. The Carmina Burana show attitudes not usually associated with the Middle Ages; we see a quite amoral attitude to sex, a fresh appreciation of nature, and a disrespect of the established church which even today's society would find hard to tolerate. The Wandering Scholars were very much concerned with enjoying themselves, they were frank and uninhibited, and were not afraid of attacking or ridiculing people and institutions they did not like. Their poetry was written for the immediate present, to express an emotion or experience, to complain of some current abuse, but chiefly, one may conjecture, to entertain their fellows as they caroused. At its best it has spontaneity and freshness which compensate for its limited range and technique.

Most poems are in Latin because this, as the established language of instruction and scholarship, was the lingua franca of the Vagantes and was used by them even in lighter moods; the vernacular languages were not yet properly established as vehicles for sophisticated literary expressions. We must, however, always remember that the Carmina Burana were written by people for whom Latin was an acquired language. All too often we find a vague wordiness (the first poem is the worst offender in our selection) and sometimes an outright misuse of words which must have been difficult for even a contemporary to understand.

Because the Latin texts given below are intended for those studying the classical language, the normal spelling used for classical Latin has been adopted. The recordings of Orff's selection follow medieval pronunciation to a large extent, and the following should be noted:

  • Classical Latin ae and oe are both pronounced as e
  • ti when preceded by a vowel is pronounced as tzi, e.g. saevitia becomes sevitzia

  • c is pronounce as ch before e and i, e.g. ocellis becomes ochellis

  • No distinction is made between the long and short vowels of the classical language

The Carmina Burana are not written in metres of Classical Latin poetry, which consisted of different arrangements of long and short syllables. Instead, we have stanzas where lines are rhymed according to various patterns. The rhythm of individual lines is determined by word accent. The similarity with certain traditional forms of English poetry is striking.


Orff's composition consists of twenty-five parts. The sixth and the twenty-fifth are not give here as the former is a dance without words and the latter is a repetition of the first song.

For those who are not already acquainted with Orff's Carmina Burana, many recordings are available.

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