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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Carl Orff -- Carmina Burana


In March of 1998, just as basketball season was ending, my 16-year old body did...some weird things.  No, not sex things, pervs!  It started with a random wrist injury (I thought I told you pervs to get out of here!).  I was shooting warm up free throws before a late-season game when my arm suddenly popped. I had the highest free-throw percentage in the district at that point--virtually 100% before that game (I went 100% in 1995), but fourteen years later, my arm still pops when I try to shoot a basketball. I've never been able to get my accuracy back, and I have no idea why that happened.
Then things really got strange.  A few nights later, in the season's final game, we played our hated rival, a match we were expected to lose. I remember starting the game, then looking up to see there were three minutes to go, we were down by four, and that the ball was being in-bounded to me under the basket.  I caught the pass, put up and made a lefty layup, ran down the court, played some tough D, then the clock expired and we lost.  I have no idea what happened during the game before those three minutes.  Somehow my brain lost the time.  I played almost an entire basketball game with my memory turned off.  I have no idea how the game was so close, how I played throughout, or how I handled the injury I was hiding.  I've never lost time again, but that was only the beginning of my mental troubles.
For the next month, I didn't sleep.  I'd get into my bed every night, stare at the ceiling, my alarm would go off, I would get out of bed and go to school.  No sleep.  No dreams.  No rest.  This started to take a physical toll.  After a couple of weeks, my eyes got so bloodshot, people at school started asking if I was using drugs.  Teachers started looking at me weird.  I found it impossible to stop daydreaming.  I couldn't concentrate on anything.  Then the sleep paralysis started.  My exhausted body would fall asleep, but my mind never would.  The hallucinations were absolutely terrifying-that skeletal lady ghost from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark sucking out my breath and all that great stuff.
Like most children, I listened to NPR exclusively from the age of 3 to about 14.  Our local station, WRKF played classical music, except for a couple hours in the morning and afternoon that were dedicated to news.  On Saturdays the station played jazz until late night, and then it played space music (my favorite).  I guess in high school I got too cool for this music, but after a month of not sleeping and having these terrible succubul visions, I was willing to try anything.  I turned on WRKF loudly as a last ditch solution.  The late pm program, Night Music, sounded comforting, but the song the DJ ended the show with every night worked magically.  The piece was called "Child," by New Age artist, Bill Douglas.  I could not pass through this pacifying aural tide without drifting off to sleep.  My insomnia was over.

Extremely grateful for the end of my insomnia and night terrors, I called the DJ one night to thank him for playing such wonderful music.
"What is that relaxing piece?" I asked.
"Why, that is Carmina Burana by Carl Orff," he said.
I forced my mother to drive me to the Sam Goody in Cortana Mall (still no car!), picked up Carmina Burana, told my mom to get ready for the most relaxing music she had ever heard, and popped the CD into the minivan player.
This came out of the speakers:

(Excalibur is such a sweet movie!!!)
So the dude told me the wrong composer. And the wrong album...and genre (new age ain't classical). Carmina Burana can illicit many states, but outside of a few stray minutes, relaxation is not one of them.   It took me another twelve years to actually find the correct Bill Douglas song (and finally hear the entire song in daylight without falling asleep), but in late '98, instead of relaxing, my now well-rested person was primed for events of an epic nature.
Carmina Burana is about as big as you can get.  There's a reason that movies, television shows, and commercials are all blasting it in the background, seventy-five years after it was written.  If this music doesn't make you want to march through a forest in ancient Germany, smashing bears, faeries, and gnomes in the face, then something is wrong with you.
The pacing of Carmina Burana threw me off a bit as a teenager, but appeals to me now. This cantata isn't all bombast.  There are some quiet passages as well, whether flute solos, or soft singing, though the singing lasts throughout, sometimes soft, medium, or even bear-smashing in volume.  The singing is mostly in Latin and has a choirish feel.  There are a few sections that sound like opera, but composer Carl Orff was only satirizing that genre of music.   But how can something be so epic, so soft at points, and humorous at others?
Orff's inspiration for Carmina Burana was an early medieval manuscript of the same name, featuring poetry, drama, and drawings about life, love, sex, death, and all that crap.  Central to these concepts is the Wheel of Fortune.

Wait, my bad.
Central to these concepts is the Fortuna Wheel

and the circular nature of the phrase "I shall reign, I reign, I have reigned, I am without a realm." In modern English, this is the basic concept of wanting to be doing awesomely, doing awesomely, having done awesomely, living in an empty Frigidaire box under the Huey P Long Bridge. These feelings and concepts come across today just as genuinely as when these ancient poems were written, and Orff did an excellent job of contextualizing them in the world of sound. That the circle again reaches its beginning just as it reaches its end is a masterstroke.
The older I get, the more I realize Carmina Burana's perfection. Also, are there any other review blogs that weave the words "contextualizing," "awesomely," and "smashing bears" around stories of high school basketball games, sleep paralysis, and ancient poetry into their work? I highly doubt it, and that it is why I am, here and now, declaring The Nicsperiment to be the best blog that has ever, ever...occupied this URL.
NOTE: This review is based on the version I bought fourteen years ago, conducted by Jansug Kakhidze and performed by the Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra. I think this is it, just repackaged.

1937 Carl Orff
1. Carmina Burana: I O Fortuna 2:35
2. Carmina Burana: II Fortunae plango vulnera (I Bewail The Wounds Of Fate) 2:32
3. Carmina Burana: III Veris leta facies (Spring Is Coming) 4:14
4. Carmina Burana: IV Omnia Sol temperat (All Is Warmed By The Sun) 1:57
5. Carmina Burana: V Ecce gratum (Behold The Good and Long-awaited Spring) 2:55
6. Carmina Burana: VI Tanz (Dance) 1:43
7. Carmina Burana: VII Floret silva (The Woods Are Clothed In Flowers and Leaves) 3:28
8. Carmina Burana: VIII Chramer, Gip Die Varwe Mir (Merchant, Give Me Paint To Make My Cheeks Rosy ?) 3:11
9. Carmina Burana: IX Reie (Round-dance) 4:34
10. Carmina Burana: X Were diu werlt alle min (If The Whole World Were Mine) 0:55
11. Carmina Burana: XI Estuans interius (In Great Anger and Turmoil) 2:10
12. Carmina Burana: XII Olum lacus colueram (Once I Lived On A Lake) 2:56
13. Carmina Burana: XIII Ego Sum Abbas (I Am The Abbot ?) 2:07
14. Carmina Burana: XIV In taberna quando sumus (When We Are In The Tavern ?) 3:04
15. Carmina Burana: XV Amor volat undique (Love Is Everywhere) 4:00
16. Carmina Burana: XVI Dies, nox et omnia (Day and Night Are Hateful To Me ?) 2:29
17. Carmina Burana: XVII Stetit Puella (There Stood A Girl) 2:27
18. Carmina Burana: XVIII Circa Mea Pectora (Your Beauty Draws My Sighs) 2:07
19. Carmina Burana: XIX Si puer cum puellula (If A Boy and A Girl ?) 1:04
20. Carmina Burana: XX Ceni, veni, venias (Come, Come ?) 0:53
21. Carmina Burana: XXI In trutina (On The Unsteady Scales Of My Heart) 2:06
22. Carmina Burana: Xxii (Tempus Est Iocundum (The Happy Hour Is Coming ?) 2:22
23. Carmina Burana: Xxiii Dulcissime (My Darling ?) 1:00
24. Carmina Burana: Xxiv Ave Formosissima (Hail, Thou Most Beautiful ?) 1:32
25. Carmina Burana: XXV O Fortuna 2:40


Neal said...

I'm a huge Arthurian legend fan, so I've seen Excalibur a couple times, the first time for a high school class on Arthurian Legend. It's got its weird moments, but then, so does Arthurian legend! But it is epic when Arthur decides to move at the end and Fortuna kicks in. Modern films with all the shaky cam and special effects wish they could be that awesome.

Fun, random Neal fact. I saw a Royal Shakespeare production of Chekhov's The Seagull when I was studying in England in 2000. Nigel Terry was one of the major characters, and it took me awhile to figure out why he was so familiar! For some reason, another guy in my school group and I decided to wait and get an autograph on our programs. What earth-shattering thing did we discuss while he signed? The weather, of course!

Us, bundled up in coats: "Kind of windy out tonight, isn't it?"
Him, looking old and tired in a fisherman's cap: "Bit blowy, isn't it?"


Nicholas said...

As soon as I wrote this, I knew I needed to see if Excalibur is out on Blu Ray.
If King Arthur says it's "blowy," then it is definitely "blowy!"
That is a great story.
Also, I'm glad you checked this out. I was into this review more emotionally than usual, even though I knew it wouldn't receive much traffic (Once More With Feeling's received three times as much in less the time!), but it meant a lot to me for some reason.

Neal said...

It's funny that I even did it, as I'm not a big autograph person. Just sounded like fun, so we did it.

I'd love to say we discussed something more significant, but we went with the old failsafe of "Love Excalibur, how's the weather." Humans are so predictible.

Another fun fact about Stratford: the pub across the street from the RSC is called the Black Swan, AKA "The Dirty Duck" Pretty much everyone calls it the Dirty Duck (it's even called that on Google maps!), and you can sometimes find actors over there after a production. Nigel Terry never wandered over, but we did see the guy that played Peter in the BBC version of the Chronicles of Narnia over there (he was playing Peter again in an RSC production).

Back to Carmina Burana... I've had it playing in my head sometimes this week after listening to it again, and I have to say I think John Williams was trying to emulate Fortuna with "Duel of the Fates" from episode 1. Iffy movie, but good song, also hits on everything that Fortuna does, especially the choir in the background singing/shouting in a non-English language. Heh.

Nicholas said...

Man, I used to love that Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe adaptation when I was a kid. To my memory it was far more enjoyable than that dreck Hollywood made a few years back. Anyway, that kid who played Peter seems like he was pretty good in it, though I guess he's older than us now? Been a while, though.
Also, Williams was definitely emulating Orff. In fact, if you listen to other pieces, there are a lot of little touches you can hear in Williams own work. The quiet moments, as well. Orff's flute solo in Movement Six of this is reminiscent of pretty much any of the more light-hearted moment in Star Wars (especially involving droids) and even the more laid back moments of Saving Private Ryan. I guess, as they were/are both "popular" composers, they worked/work with a lot of the same textures and emotions.

Anonymous said...

The first Hollywood LWtW was okayish, but it reflects the current Hollywood need to have massive battle scenes. Ironically, I think this need was influenced by the Lord of the Rings movies.

So we didn't even bother with Prince Caspian. It was more of the same, and featured even bigger, unnecessary divergences from the plot (I recall that Peter ordered an attack on the Telmarine castle, or something like that). I read Ebert's review of Dawn Treader, and he described some island with a castle that looked like a skull... or something. It was unrecognizable to the actual story. *shudders* Hollywood can't seem to let the Narnia stories be small adventure stories, which is what they are. Unless they have massive battles or huge castles, they're just not "good" enough and require some spicing up. Sad.

As for the other music, Duel of the Fates has to be something of an homage or riff on Fortuna, not a texture thing. I can't imagine Williams is unfamiliar with it, and it's got too many similarities. Not that this is a bad thing. It is its own song, even if it has some similarities. Same thing for my story I'm working on called "The Nose." Similarities to the one from Gogol, but very different.

Neal said...

*sigh* That was me up there. Darn captcha stuff went screwy and ate my name.