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What, if anything, can be programmed with "Carmina Burana"

Hello Friends,
Next October, Canterbury Choral Society opens its concert season with Orff's "Carmina Burana."  I have wondered if any of you have programmed another work on the same concert that would precede "Carmina"?  I would be interested in your ideas or if you think the Orff should stand alone.
Many thanks, Randi Von Ellefson
Replies (24): Threaded | Chronological
on June 4, 2013 4:36am
Randi - Once, I took part in a concert that followed up Carmina with the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth. The messages of Carmina and Beethoven's musical setting of "Joy" was an intriguing juxtaposition. It was also a WARHORSE concert - two mammoths of the choral repertoire. I was drained - emotionally, physically, mentally. But it was awesome. If you have the time, and the skill among your performers, you might consider this.
I wasn't sure if the programming of these two pieces would work together...but it did. However, I do believe Carmina can stand alone as well. It speaks for itself. Audiences will love it, either way. I think that was most of the draw to our concert - CARMINA and THE NINTH in the same evening?! Tickets were GONE.
Food for thought. Enjoy!
on June 4, 2013 7:23am
  I have been pondering this with little specific suggestion. I eliminated Catulli Carmina from consideration...truly taxing; perhaps more so than the Ninth Symphony Finale.  Honegger's (sp) King David  is written for similar forces. But, I did think of assembling a suite of pieces which closely parallels the themes addressed in Carmina but, beyond that, I draw a blank to suggest assembling that repetoire.
  While Catulli is truly pornographic, there is nothing more in Carmina that any adolescent doesn't titter about in corners. But, Roll Out the Barrell doesn't quite compare with "In taberna". How about the Liebeslieder Walzer? There is a string quartet version of the piano parts, I believe, but I have never heard. Now those songs....hmmmm? The "birds" that twitter and get stuck in the branches are NOT those with wings.
on June 4, 2013 8:06am
Hello, Randi
I was involved in a concert where Richard Wagner's Overture to Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg preceded Carmina Burana. I felt that it was a nice prelude to the main attraction. It works nicely if you entertain the idea of programming a piece that involves no singers.
All the best,
on June 4, 2013 8:53am
As long as you have that size of orchestral forces, how about Stravinsky's •Symphony of Psalms•? Sacred/profane theme, plus it shouldn't wear out the chorus. Or, Vaughan Williams' •Toward the Unknown Region• (joy theme again; different take…)
Hope this helps,
Robert A. M. Ross
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 5, 2013 1:51am
Do remember that Carmina burana was composed during the mid-1930s, in Nazi Germany, by a composer who if not an enthusiast was at least a willing collaborator, and was one of the rare contemporary works that (if not at first, then eventually) was enthusiastically approved and promoted by the Party.
Given that, our performance if Carmina burana (in the version for 2 pianos & percussion) next spring will be prefaced by Kurt Weill's Recordare (which, like Carmina burana, uses children's voices along with the main choir).  Weill was one of the composers most vilified by the Nazis, as a Jew and a Socialist.
For a performance of Carmina burana with orchestra, I'd first look at Schoenberg's Survivor from Warsaw; alternatively, I might consider orchestral music by Hindemith or by one of the "internal exile" German composers: Karl Amadeus Hartmann or Boris Blacher.
Best regards,
Jerome Hoberman
Music Director/Conductor, The Hong Kong Bach Choir & Orchestra
Applauded by an audience of 3
on June 6, 2013 5:31am
Thanks to Jerome Hoberman for recalling the history of this work, which, after first being condemned by the Nazis, soon became a pillar of their cultural propaganda (who care what it means
if the masses like it ?!?!).  Rather than ask what might accompany it on a concert program, why not simply decline to program it? There are many more performances of this bombastic
music than are required to remind us of its continued existence.
on June 6, 2013 3:21pm
If we are going to omit the works of composers because of their politics, then we must also omit the works of a host of others, including Stravinsky, who left a record of strong vocal support of Fascism. If we are going to omit a work because the work was embraced by a totalitarian regime, then we must also forego any works by Beethoven and Bruckner, since the Nazis claimed these men as well.
Richard Taruskin devotes a chapter of his outstanding book, Music in the Early Twentieth Century, to the topic of music in totalitarian regimes. He discusses Carmina Burana specifically,  ultimately deciding that its negative connotations come from its reception, not because of the composer's intent.
Shall we not perform Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms? Beethoven's Ninth? Bruckner's Te Deum? Where do we stop?
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 7, 2013 6:05am
Stravinsky, indeed, had an unwholesome flirtation with facism. In a 1930 letter he wrote: "I don't believe that anyone venerates Mussolini more than I do."  At this time Mussolini
had significantly improved the condition of the Italian economy. As has been famously noted: the trains ran on time. And in Germany Hitler was three years from rising to absolute power. As the '30s unfolded, with world-wide depression and the increasing cruelty of fascism in Italy and Germany, the composer must have had cause to reexamine his attitudes.
Then, in perhaps a favorable stroke of fate for the history of Western music, he was invited to deliver the Norton lectures at Harvard during the 1939-1940 academic year. By this time
Europe was descending into one of the blackest moments in human history. One might muse that Harvard saved Stravinsky, though in a broader sense America saved Stravinsky.
As for determining whether a composer's music is worthy to be performed based on his political attitudes, or perhaps naivete, no - we do not blackball music of Stravinsky, Beethoven,
Bruckner, etc. (though I have come to loathe Wagner, both for his music and the social myths he so vehemently advanced). The difference between these composers and Orff is that they were great composers, but Orff was not a great composer.
on June 7, 2013 8:49am
While Orff may not be a great composer, Carmina Burana is accepted by many as a great work. If you do not accept that assessment, then it is at minimum a widely-performed and popular part of the standard repertoire.
The topic of judging music based on politics is of great interest to me. While researching my dissertation topic (Respighi's Laud to the Nativity), I was shocked at the extensive and undeserved vitriol which was directed at the apolitical Respighi, just because Mussolini liked and exploited his Roman tone poems for political gain. (Unlike Stravinsky, Respighi's untimely death in 1936 precluded him any opportunity to distance himself from the regime). This led me to publish a major article on the subject, which I will be happy to share if anyone is interested.
More of that Stravinsky quote: "For me, [Mussolini] is the only man who counts today, in the entire world.... He is the saviour of Italy and--let us hope--of Europe."
I vote for judging works on their musical merit. If you find the work lacking, then don't perform it. While the political views of Wagner, Richard Strauss and others were appalling, the musical world would be much poorer if everyone chose not to perform any of their works.
on June 8, 2013 8:11am
I stand on the side of judging artistic works by their own merit, apart from the life of their composer.  When working as a church musician, this issue has arisen on occasion as to the spiritual quality of a composer's life - should an anthem composed by a known scalawag be performed in worship?  I answer that firstly with the charge that judging the character of a composer from a distance is subjective and apt to be grossly misjudged, and secondly, with the acknowledgment that God can use rocks to elicit his praise.  Many glorious sacred pieces have been written by unbelievers.
But I must admit that with composers - or actors - whose views I find offensive, I find that I do tend to have a bad taste in my mouth toward them personally.  That doesn't mean I don't go see their movies, but it does take some of the glory out of the experience.  Nonetheless I think we're on the best track when we see art as Salieri saw Mozart's in Amadeus: sometimes the most unlikely characters create the most sublime art.  If we give the glory to God, enjoying the art that He inspired, and let the politics or character be the responsibility of the artist, I think we are on the right track.
As to the merit of Carmina as a work of art, I think it is fabulous.  Its simplicity and melodic appeal are delightful, its rhythmic intensity is compelling, and its neo-medieval harmony accomplishes exactly what the texts call for.  Audiences love it, singers love to sing it, and it is a joy to conduct.  Robert Shaw only recorded works he respeced, and he recorded Carmina.  Orff may have lifted inspiration from Stravinsky, but Carmina has achieved much wider success than Les noces, and let us not forget the widespread practice of copying from other composers in the Baroque era.  Why are there not more works like Carmina, that vibrate the strings of young people sated with American pop music as well as classical music lovers?  More works like it would be good for building our audiences and lifting the aesthetics of the uneducated.
on June 5, 2013 5:25am
How about --- Chichester Psalms, then a brief intermission, then Carmina!
Good luck.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 5, 2013 7:01am
Depends if you're doing the orchestral or chamber version. I played piano in the chamber version for a group several years ago, and we added Whitacre's "Cloudburst," which uses piano (just 1) and percussion. I barely remember it, but I believe we did Carmina first, then the Whitacre (which is single mvt., under 10 minutes). 
on June 5, 2013 2:15pm
Way back when, I sang in a Carmina performance that was preceded by the men of the chorus singing Poulenc's "Quatre petite prières de Saint Francis d'Assis" and the women singing Debussy's "La damoiselle elluée"
I thought they made a great set!
on June 5, 2013 6:14pm
Brahms Schicksalslied is a nice pairing - textually and musically. If you really want a nice, full program:
Brahms Tragic Overture
Brahms Schicksalslied
Orff Carmina Burana
on June 6, 2013 6:35am
hello randi,
i would recommend Constant Lambert's exuberant The Rio Grande. it was written just before Carmina Burana (in 1927), and offers a lively, Gershwinesque contrast to Orff's music. the scoring is not dissimilar, especially in terms of percussion. It takes about 15 minutes, and would provide an excellent 'warm-up' for the performers and audience alike. You can hear a recording on YouTube:
i believe it's published by Oxford.
philip barnes
st. louis (mo)
Applauded by an audience of 3
on June 6, 2013 11:35am
I am in favor of presenting- in combination with a dedicated Medieval ensemble- Reconstructions of the original Benedictburien-goliardic songs upon which Orff relied. So Instructive!
on June 7, 2013 3:41pm
Interesting that Lee Barrow should mention Richard Taruskin.  If you Google his name together with Orff you will find the New York Times article from May 6, 2001, titled "Orff's Musical and Moral Failings."  In it, Taruskin not only points out Orff's plagiarisms in "Carmina Burana" from Stravinsky's "Les Noces", but also describes how Orff, in his "Catulli Carmine" and "Trionfo di Afrodite" also copied copiously from Stravinsky's "Les Noces." In every case, however, the result was a simplification and reduction of esthetic effect.  Orff was commissioned in 1938 by the Nazi authorities to compose incidental music for a Midsummer Night's Dream, since Mendelssohn's score was not permitted to be performed. One may say, of course he had to do that.  But what he didn't have to do was outright lie, after the war was over, about his connection to the White Rose resistance movement.  He claimed he had been a cofounder of that movement and had fled for his life into the Bavarian Alps when the "other" founder (the musicologist Kurt Huber--the real founder of the movement) was exposed, arrested and executed in 1943.
Let us not confuse the music of Carmina Burana with the music of Beethoven, Bruckner, and others --music that might have been performed during the 1930s and 40s, but that had absolutely no relationship to what Germany had become at that time.  At the end of Taruskin's article, he writes in reference to Orff, ". . . one may still regard his music as toxic."  I'm afraid I must agree more with James Johnson than with Lee Barrow.
on June 8, 2013 4:02am
I would like to recommend two of my own works for SATB choir and orchestra
Movement #1 of For What Can Be More Beautiful? is passionate, richly melodious music built on a text from the 'Song of Solomon'. It stands very well alone as a 15 minute work.
Extending Carmina Burana's celebration of human physical love, my work Earthsong, also 15 minutes in length, could be described as a love song to Earth. This work also includes an SA children's chorus.
Let me know if you would be interested in receiving perusal scores or recordings.
Christopher Marshall
on June 8, 2013 4:10am
I've just conducted the full orchestral version and the first half was:
smetena bartered bride overture
Elgar From the Bavarian Highlands

comes to about thirty minutes all told which with an hour or so for Carmina worked fine!
Ian Chesworth
Manchester, UK

on June 8, 2013 5:48pm
Jim Taylor's e-mail seemed to be a reply to my poor summary of Prof. Taruskin's NYT article about Orff.  I  would hope that everyone concerned with this discussion regarding Carmina Burana would read Taruskin's entire article, which is so easily accessible to all. It is an important article that is not easily summarized.  I would like, however, to take this opportunity to recommend the book by Michael H. Kater, "Composers of the Nazi Era."  You might find it in a nearby college or university library.  I know that it is in our Univ. of Iowa library, for example.  In the sections of the book devoted to discussions of Orff, Kater makes some rather astute comments about his musical style.
on June 12, 2013 10:19am
At your request, Richard, I just read the NY Times article on Orff by Taruskin at  Its two principal points appear to be that Orff was indeed a collaborator with the Nazis and that Carmina Burana and the other two parts of the trilogy are bad music because they derive from Stravinsky and because they lack complexity.
My reaction to the first is to reaffirm what I said earlier, that I don't think we should judge a work as to its political correctness.  It just doesn't matter whether the work was created with even the most evil designs.  What matters now is the work itself, what it says about life and art and how it communicates to the soul.  Carmina is a collection of ancient texts on fate, spring, life in the tavern, and erotic love.  Does it succeed in fulfilling those texts, is it a work that is truly art?  To muddy up the question of an artwork's value with political correctness is to do a disservice to the art world, however interesting a piece's background may be.  Political correctness is often a fault of those who consider themselves liberal in their thinking, which is an interesting irony.
As to whether Carmina is as bad a piece of music as Taruskin claims, I would respond that there is a time for everything.  Only the snobbiest of critics would say that high classical music is the only good music, and the only style worth hearing.  Thankfully there is good music in a wide range of styles, from jazz to blues to rock to country to light classical to folk musics from the around the world.  Carmina is earthy and raw, and it is appealing, especially to our ears of today.  Our pop culture loves earthy and raw, dating to the Rolling Stones and the styles that came from them: hard rock, punk rock, and heavy metal.  Carmina bridges a gap between classical and pop, which Stravinsky didn't do.  The fact that Orff took notions and downright motives from Stravinsky and created a simpler fabric is not a fault.  Even Taruskin admits that Stravinsky lifted from Rimsky, and he from Liszt.  Every composer stands on the shoulders of those who went before him, nothing is created in a vacuum.  Carmina is great music, but admittedly not as complex and profound as its progenitor.  And, as I said before, it has done much to open the ears of rock-soaked young and not-so-young people to the idea that classical music can be delightful.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 13, 2013 9:45am
Lets just get folks into the hall to hear live music first and worry later about teaching them to be critics and snobs. The audience for live choral music is dwindling (I tell my students they really only want to hear us at Christmas and graduations, and then they expect us to be brief and perfect), and we should be using whatever tools we have to reach out and grab new audiences by the ears. Carmina Burana is one the most effective pieces around for attracting a potential audience to the excitment of live choral music; let's not be too harsh. After all, one man's trash ... (and it really is a great piece, not trash at all!)
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 13, 2013 9:29am
Dear Randi --
I've performed Carmina once with orchestra where the conductor decided to use John Adams' "Short Ride in a Fast Machine" as an "overture" -- I found this effective.
On another occasion, a different conductor programmed Berstein's Chichester Psalms as the first half. It made for a long evening, but a nice pairing. This was presented with two pianos and percussion.
Another time, the conductor programmed selections by Brahms from various collections for the first half (wish I could get my hands my hands on the program -- there was a nice unifying theme, most likely love, for seven or eight different selections across several different opus numbers, but I can't recall what they were). This was also the two piano and percussion version.
Looks like I'll be performing my seventh Carmina this fall. The first half is a world premiere of a new symphony.
Every other time I've performed Carmina, it has been as a stand alone piece, and no one seemed to feel they were missing out. Always leave them wanting more? Carmina says it all?
I love the idea of paring Carmina with something medieval, but I don't have any concrete suggestions that make sense using the forces available for Orff.
What about having the local Orff Schulwerk chapter feature some of their best student performers? As an elementary music educator who taken a fair amount of Orff Schulwerk training, I was struck by the connections between Orff's compositional techniques and the approach embraced in his educational system. Has anyone else tried this with success?
Keep us posted on your thought process and desicions.
All Best,
-- Tim
on June 13, 2013 4:03pm
I'm sure many more persons would agree with Jim Taylor than with me regarding Carmina Burana.  But where he finds Carmina to be "earthy and raw", I find the work to be rather sentimental and full of nostalgia for the presumed glories of a German past.  He says "what matters now is the work itself."  But "Carmina Burana" is in an extraordinary position.  It is not like other works.  I cannot get the image out of my mind of a well-dressed assemblage of ladies and gentlemen listening to this work in the early 1940s while just down the road Jewish families are being rounded up and taken to concentration camps (or, indeed, extermination camps).  This scenario cannot be imagined or duplicated with even such an anti-semitic composer as Richard Wagner, who indeed wrote a book attempting to show how weak Jewish composers were in comparison to other composerss.
 The Nazi musicians were a special breed. We should not forget also that a rather well-known choral conductor, Wilhelm Ehmann, was, during the Nazi era, a high-ranking Nazi musicologist who wrote a history of German music, in which he made it clear that Jewish composers were useless members of the human race.  After the war, he was forbidden to teach musicology, and so he turned to choral conducting.  He was very clever in destroying most traces of his Nazi past, including all references to his books and articles written during the 30s and 40s, but, of course, it was impossible to destroy the magazines and books themselves.
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