|Pleasures and Perils|
|Image of the Wheel of Fortuna from the first page of the 13th century manuscript Carmina Burana|
“My collected works begin with the Carmina Burana,” declared Carl Orff after the successful premiere in 1937 in Frankfurt, where it was staged with elaborate costumes and scenery. A late bloomer, Orff dismissed most his earlier compositions, including three adaptations of stage works by one of the “inventors” of opera, Claudio Monteverdi, as derivative and withdrew many of them. Carmina Burana also turned out to be his most well received by far. While he subsequently composed over a dozen other stage works in a similar musical style, none achieved the popularity of his “Opus One.”
Perhaps it is the physical exuberance and freshness, coupled with a passionate and sometimes racy text – a full translation in programs and record liner notes used to be expurgated – and an easily accessible musical language that made Carmina Burana one of the most popular twentieth-century stage productions. Like Richard Strauss, in this and in his later stage works Orff aimed at a Gesamtkunstwerk (a concept originally used by Richard Wagner as the foundation of his operas), an artistic synthesis in which text, music, scenery and movement are unified and completely coordinated.
Orff is also known for his educational program of music and dance for schoolchildren, called Orff-Schulwerk. Beginning with the 1920s, he and his associate, Gunild Keetman, developed the program whose goal was to teach children the fundamentals of melody, rhythm and movement, using the simplest of means found in any kindergarten or elementary school: the human voice, toy drums – some specially designed by Orff – xylophones, recorders and bongo drums. Later in works for older children, he added string instruments. The program faltered during the war years, but in 1948 it became for five years an immensely successful educational radio show. So-called “Orff instruments” and his pedagogy are still used in many elementary schools in the United States and Europe.
Carmina Burana is the title given in 1847 to an edited collection of mostly secular songs (“carmina”) from an early thirteenth-century manuscript discovered in 1803 in a Benedictine abbey of Benediktbeuern in Bavaria (hence the Latinized form of the name, “burana”). The manuscript contains about 250 medieval poems and songs, including works in Latin, Middle High German and French, the bulk of which do not appear in any other manuscript. They were assigned to categories: clerical poems, love songs, drinking and gaming songs, and two religious dramas. The collection is clearly a songbook, since many of the pieces included musical notation, but in a style of over a century earlier that did not indicate either exact pitches or rhythms. The actual melodies had to be reconstructed from other later manuscripts. The poets are mostly anonymous but are believed to have been “goliards,” once thought to be defrocked priests and monks; the term is now considered to be an ironic designation of poets who wrote satires and parodies for carnivals and festivals. The best known of these was the “feast of fools,” during which mock popes and cardinals satirized the religious life and parodied church services.
Although the Benediktbeuern Manuscript contains no exact notation, Orff was certainly acquainted with the theories of reconstructing medieval secular song, which he often incorporated into his own settings. Since early medieval musical manuscripts contain no specific instrumental accompaniment or harmony, Orff's settings have little or no harmonic development, relying instead on terse melodic motives and rhythms derived from the meter of the poems themselves. All of the poetry is strophic, and Orff creates stunning instrumental interludes and accompaniments whose variety and vivid tone color break the monotony of the simple melodies.
Orff employs a large orchestra to give him a wide palette of timbre and tone color, but he only occasionally uses the entire orchestra at one time, and then for dramatic effect. Although Carmina Burana is often performed in concert, numerous choreographers have tried their hand at staging it for chorus and dancers as the composer had intended. The focus on rhythm makes all of the choral numbers quite danceable, and even the solo arias are easily adaptable to dance.
The selection of poems serves as a symbolic statement on man’s subjugation to Fortune. Contrary to popular belief, the symbol of wheel of fortune did not begin as a TV game show but can be traced to ancient Roman civilization and adorns the original thirteenth-century manuscript. Carmina Burana opens and closes with a choral ode “O, Fortuna,” a paean to Fortune, Empress of the World, “changeable as the moon.” Within this frame are three large sections, taken from various parts of the original manuscript: Part 1 "In Springtime," includes a sub-section "In the Meadow;" Part 2 "In the Tavern," features baritone and tenor soloists; and Part 3 "The Court of Love," might just as well be called “The Court of Seduction.” Each part explores the fundamental human needs: nature, wine and sex, which, with Fortune on their side, men and women can enjoy to the fullest.
Part 1, "In Springtime" begins with an a cappella chorus intoning a welcome to spring. "Veris leta facies," (Spring’s bright face) with oriental-sounding interludes, the modern instruments imitating gongs and bells. The baritone solo maintains the atmosphere. In the poem welcoming spring, "Ecce gratum" (Behold spring), two spring dances frame two poems, "Floret silva nobilis" (The noble forest blooms), first in Latin, then translated into German, accompanied by drums and tambourines. Orff includes an effective bit of tone painting on the words "meus amicus hinc equitavit" (my lover has ridden away). In "Chramer gip die warve mir" (Hawker, give me some rouge) the women sing the verses, accompanied by a humming refrain for the men and women.
Part 2, "In the Tavern," conjures the masculine world of the medieval tavern, containing perhaps the most distinctive songs in the collection, notably the lament of the roasting swan, "Olim lacus colueram" (Once I lived in a lake) – the only song in the piece that departs from the diatonic intervals of medieval music; and the song of the drunken abbot of Cockaigne (a medieval utopia), whose satirical rant parodies monastic chant. The section ends with a rousing ode to dissipation and debauchery.
In Part 3, the raucous bar-room ambience shifts to the delicately refined – but not too refined – world of courtly love, as the women and soprano soloist admit that a girl without a man lacks all delight. The baritone returns, now in the guise of a troubadour, the verses of his song, "Dies, nox et omnia" (Day, night and ever) yearning for his absent lover. Part 3 concludes with a choral dance, "Tempus est iocundum," (The time has come to celebrate) debating the merits of chastity and abandon. Entering with a more than two-octave leap to a pianissimo high C on the word "Dulcissime" the solo soprano succumbs to her lover.
In the addendum to Part 3, "Blanziflor et Helena," a hymn to the beauty of Helen and Venus, Orff employs the full chorus and orchestra, and finally brings the wheel of Fortune around full circle with the reprise of "O Fortuna."
Franz Joseph Haydn
|Franz Joseph Haydn|
Missa in Angustiis (Nelson Mass), Hob.XXII:11
Following the death of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy in 1790, his heir, the unmusical Prince Paul Anton II, disbanded the spectacular musical establishment at the court. After nearly 30 years of service, Franz Joseph Haydn, now a free agent, promptly took advantage of the situation with his two successful trips to London between 1791 and 1795. In 1794, when Prince Paul Anton II died, the new prince, Nikolaus II, gradually reconstituted the musical establishment at Eszterháza. But by now Haydn was famous all over Europe, and his reinstitution as Kapellmeister was mostly honorary. His main job was to compose a mass annually to celebrate the Princess’s name day. The six masses composed between 1796 and 1802 were some of his greatest choral works.
The so-called “Nelson Mass” was composed in the summer of 1798, a bad year for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with large parts of it under French rule. It is probably the grim situation that made Haydn title the mass Missa in angustiis (Mass in Time of Anxiety), composed under the same straitened circumstances as the 1797 Mass in Time of War.
Napoleon himself had already marched on Egypt where Nelson unexpectedly defeated him in the battle of Aboukir Haydn had nearly finished the Mass before the news of Napoleon’s defeat reached Vienna; the subtitle “Nelson Mass” was added to Haydn’s manuscript by a different hand, perhaps in September 1800, when Nelson and Lady Hamilton visited Eszterháza. The Mass is oddly scored with three trumpets, drums, obbligato organ and strings. The absence of woodwinds and horns probably reflected the fact that these positions were still vacant in the Prince’s orchestra.
In the Nelson Mass, Haydn gives the instrumental ensemble equal billing with chorus and soloists, giving the sections and subsections of the Mass glorious instrumental introductions. The timpani play a particularly important and possibly symbolic role in this Mass, something like a musical exclamation point to underscore the threat of war. Haydn had used the instrument in a similar way just a year earlier in the Missa in tempore belli (Mass in Time of War), the so-called Paukenmesse (Timpani Mass).
One of Haydn’s important contributions to the concerted mass was to replace the choppy succession of stand-alone choruses and arias with a more organic musical and emotive interaction between chorus and soloists – and instruments. The result is an intense drama matched with musical structures of symphonic scope and depth – a glorious passage from fear and uncertainty to triumph.
The grim circumstances are immediately reflected in the anguished Kyrie, which composers seldom set in the minor mode. The Gloria is a celebratory dialogue between soloists and chorus. Yet, even in this sprightly Allegro, Haydn introduces the minor far more frequently than is customary, as in the “Laudamus Te.” The tempo slows and the mood sobers for the plea, “Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis” (Thou who takes on the sins of the world have pity on us) . Although the bass solo begins in the major, the choral interjections on “Miserere nobis” reflect increasing anxiety. The conclusion repeats the music of the opening, creating a large symphonic structure, a hymn of praise, surrounding a supplication.
The opening of the Credo is famous for its canon between the sopranos and tenors, followed closely by the altos and basses. Since the Renaissance, settings of the Credo have traditionally made a musical distinction between the statement of belief and the narration of the key events in the life of Jesus to reflect the mystery of the incarnation, the tragedy of the crucifixion and the joy of the resurrection. Haydn pays special attention to Christ’s birth and passion, expanding them into a tender dialogue between soloists and chorus. Setting the text-heavy Credo has always been a challenge to composers. Here, Haydn makes short work of the “Et resurrexit” and the rest of the Credo, using the chorus and soloists more as instruments than conveyors of religious meaning .
The Sanctus begins with unusual solemnity, leading into a brighter Allegro on the words “Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua” (The heavens are full of Your glory). The Benedictus, usually a warm, meditative piece distinguished musically from the jubilant singing of the two Hosannas, here returns to the somber d minor of the Kyrie. Beginning with a long instrumental introduction, Haydn makes this short text into an extended dramatic dialogue between chorus and soloists.
The Agnus Dei, like the Kyrie, is a tripartite invocation. Haydn sets the first two statements for the ensemble of soloists. When the chorus returns for the concluding fugal plea for peace, the tempo increases to Allegro to lift the Mass out of the gloom to triumph.
|Copyright © Elizabeth and Joseph Kahn 2010|