I 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
I was a God-fearing child, innocent and physically unattractive.” — Robert Schumann, Diaries
Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856) was the true Romantic pianist. He lived a life of excess in romance–closely chronicled in an environment of “devotion and tempestuous passion.”
Schumann originally started out studying law but left it for music, with the notion of becoming a virtuoso pianist. Then, in some obscure way, he suffered “an injury” to his hand and had to give up this dream:
“Schumann suffered from many afflictions…continuous general malaise, tinnitus, vertigo, insomnia, headache, depression, premonitions of insanity, numbness, cramp, difficulty in writing, speech disturbance, memory failure, a stroke, pains in bones and joints, florid psychosis, giddiness, general paralysis of the insane, and deterioration to death – to which one might add: manic depressive schizophrenia, a suicide attempt, and a hand problem” — http://www.pianisttopianist.com/?p=10
Faced with this failure. Schumann cast about for a remedy and found it in the daughter of his piano teacher. He could not expect to make money as a performing pianist, but Clara Wieck with her modest dowry might answer to the purpose. She was an aspiring pianist, with no injury to her own fingers. Her father naturally objected but Schumann persevered and when Clara was old enough, she decided for herself. (more…)
Often times while writing I like to have music on in the background. I found the music needs to be instrumental. If there are words, I find that I’m actually listening to the music, and not using it a background.
Music, like the sense of smell brings memories or feelings associated with the music. So it’s a big help to use music that fits what you happen to be writing. Since I write historical romance, I tend to use music that reflects this.
I discovered this when I wrote my first novel, Kentucky Green, set in the Kentucky frontier in 1794. While writing this story, I listened to the movie sound track to The Last of the Mohicans. Not only did the music fit the story, but if I was writing a love scene, there was a romantic track. Tracks for the action/adventure part of my story.
Postcard of ballerina Olga Preobrajenskaya as the Sugarplum Fairy with Nikolai Legat as Prince Coqueluche in the Imperial Ballet’s original production of the Nutcracker.
One of our family holiday traditions when I was a child was to attend the Nutcracker Ballet every year. I first took my daughter to see the Nutcracker when she was three years old. Perhaps it was a bit early, but at the time she was taking a dance class and loved Angelina Ballerina, and sure enough, she was enthralled from the moment the curtain opened. So began our annual tradition of attending the Nutcracker each Christmas season.
My daughter is now ten and dance is still her favorite activity. After attending a performance of the Nutcracker last week, she started asking questions about its history, so we decided to do a little research. The Nutcracker Ballet was first performed at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia on December 17, 1892. I am lucky to have attended both an opera and a ballet at the theater, so I dug through some old albums and boxes and was able to find a ticket and a picture to share with her. (Historical Note: The Mariinsky Theatre became the property of the state in 1917. In 1920 it began to be called the State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet, and in 1935 it was renamed after Sergei Mironovich Kirov. On January 16, 1992, the theatre’s historic name was restored and it became the Mariinsky Theatre once again). (more…)