When I was telling my girlfriend I liked Vangelis’ album Mask, she exclaimed: Oh, but then you should try Carmina Burana from Carl Orff! I never heard of it, but of course tried it. And listened to it over and over again. I sang it along, learnt every part about it. Years later I found the record at the library sale.
The Carmina Burana is Orffs version of the collection of poems that is known under the same name. Buria, genitive Burana, is the Latin name of the village of Benedictbeurn in Bavaria. The songs were discovered there in 1803. It is a collection of songs about youth and the sins of lust, but also of decline into old age: better enjoy the youth while it lasts.
Just about one in four of these songs have neumes, the musical notation of the late Middle Ages included. As part of the historical informed performance one can find recordings of that. Orff created his work himself, without that benefit. The result is more a work of the time of Orff than of the Middle Ages. It is profoundly of the nineteen thirties.
I don’t know how this period is called in art history, but to me it always has this little bit of a brown smell to it. The very same nostalgic romanticism that brought forth this glorified version the Middle Ages also brought forth the horrors of the Third Reich. Don’t get me wrong: it is that time, it is not the person. One can see the same kind of nostalgia in the buildings from that time: beautifully adorned, with lots of references to older times.
As recordings of this work go, this one is absolutely superb. I have heard different ones, but I always get back to this, for me the standard version. It has a lot of dynamic, when it needs to be subtle it is very subtle and lovely. If it needs to be loud it is loud and full of glory.