Hearts Through History Romance Writers

Medieval Music With a Passion

by | September 3, 2014

Carmina_Burana_001I really enjoy the Carmina Burana, a 1937 classical composition by Carl Orff. You may not realize it but it’s one of the best-known 20th century pieces. You’ve heard excerpts of the music selling everything from cars to aftershave. And the lingering images after the commercial are powerful.

The music is based on a collection of songs, poems, and plays found in a medieval Germany manuscript found in a Bavarian Benedictine monastery in 1803. The collection was filled with more than 1,000 songs and poems in a wide variety of styles and subject matter. They included religious poems, political satires, drinking songs, and serious and bawdy love songs. All the material appeared to be written by wandering poets (traveling students and monks) at about the same time.

Six plays, all in Latin, were also included in the collection. Two of the plays are the only complete texts of medieval Passion dramas known to exist today.

The Carmina Burana is the largest and greatest collection of nonspiritual lyrics from the Middle Ages. The wealth of information gleaned has added to our understanding of the Medieval goliards (wandering poets), and has demonstrated that secular music thrived in medieval times.

In 1937, the German composer Carl Orff wrote the secular cantata “Carmina Burana,” which was based on the medieval poems. He did not use the original melodies but the opening movement, O Fortuna, is well known. It was the background music for John Boorman’s Excalibur.

Carmina Burana O Fortuna with translated lyrics




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