November 6th, 2005
I spent last night in Milwaukee at the symphony and fell in love. Yes, I’ve fallen in love with Associate Concertmaster, Samantha George.
Isn’t she just dreamy?! With her long, wavy red hair and that sexy black dress…mmm…Oh Samantha, let me catch a ride on your violin strung upon your bow. I’ll float on your melody and sing your chorus soft and low. I’m not sure what an Associate Concertmaster does, exactly, besides sitting next to the first violinist, but she does it oh so well.
Anyway, the occasion was a program featuring Stravinsky’s Chant du Rossignol and one of my favorites, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. I wasn’t familiar with the Stravinsky piece but it was quite good. Also known as The Song of the Nightingale, it was based on Hans Christian Anderson’s story, “The Nightingale”. It was fun as a local actress came out and read the story aloud during the performance. But I was there to hear Orff’s masterpiece, Carmina Burana. In submitting it to his publisher, he wrote, “Everything I have written to date, and which you have, unfortunately, printed, can be destroyed. With Carmina Burana, my collected works begin.” I got to the concert hall a bit earlier than I had intended as my friends had to bail on me early due to family obligations. This gave me an opportunity to catch a pre-concert hoolie in which the piece was discussed. It didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know about the history of the piece but I found out how it’s being sampled today. The gentleman started by saying the exact same things I said to my girlfriend when introducing the piece to her. You may not know the piece but you’ve heard it. Or, more precisely, you’ve heard the opening part, “O Fortuna”. It was featured in the film The Omen, perhaps most famously. The presenter contacted Orff’s publisher who said that the rights have been given out for use in film, commercials, etc. well over 500 times. He also played snippets of a few techno songs that used samples from it. Pretty much everyone has heard one part or another of Carmina Burana whether they know it or not.
The history of the piece, in brief: Orff was introduced to a collection of 13th century poems that were discovered in 1803. He chose a couple dozen of the poems and wrote his piece around them. Written mostly in Latin (as well as Middle High German and Old French), the poems selected by Orff concern Fate, spring, the vulgar activities of tavern life, and courtly love.
The performance last night was, to say the least, awesome! Not only do you have the orchestra, but also the MSO Choir, the Milwaukee Children’s Chorus, and tenor, soprano, and baritone soloists. It’s a BIG production. And, having had several years of Latin, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing a massive chorus singing in that tongue. You just can’t beat the roar of the orchestra with the bombast of tympanis while a massive chorus sings in Latin about the fickleness of Fate. The movement concerning spring has a melody as catchy as any song by The Beatles with very naughty lyrics such as:
“Shopkeeper, give me colour
to make my cheeks red,
so that I can make the young men
love me, against their will.
Look at me,
Let me please you!”
You can bet your sweet ass I was looking at Ms. George during this part with a copulatory gaze.
The part about taverns featured lyrics that showed that tavern life hasn’t changed much in 800 years.
“The poor man drinks, the sick man drinks,
the exile drinks, and the stranger,
the boy drinks, the old man drinks,
the bishop drinks, and the deacon,
the sister drinks, the brother drinks,
the old lady drinks, the mother drinks,
this man drinks, that man drinks,
a hundred drink, a thousand drink.”
The only part that would be out of place today was “Cignus ustus cantat (The Roast Swan)”. (Somehow the lament of a fried cheese curd just doesn’t seem right.) The tenor, John Osborn, did a fantastic job as the swan bemoaning its fate. His performance was imbued with a bit of humor and his singing wasn’t overly dramatic.
The section about courtly love was great too, though of a very different tone than the rest of the piece. Very beautiful and I must say that the Milwaukee Children’s Chorus did a great job. A reprise of “O Fortuna” closes out the piece. The audience went crazy apeshit bonkers and gave everyone a well-deserved standing O. In fact, some folks applauded after the movement about spring, which is a definite no-no at classical concerts but I think conductor Andreas Delfs didn’t mind one bit. Speaking of Mr. Delfs, if it weren’t a classical concert, I would write that he was up there shaking his bum. I mean, he was at the podium waving his baton like a madman, turning every which way – the man wasn’t still for a moment.
If you’re not familiar with Carmina Burana, by all means go check it out. It’s one of those pieces that everyone can enjoy. As classical works go, it’s fairly simple. Instead of formal recapitulations and thematic development, it’s very rhythmic with lots of repetition. And it’s got bawdy lyrics.
The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection recommends the following recordings:
Gundula Janowitz, Gerhard Stolze, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau;
Schöneberger Sängerknaben, Chorus & Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin/Eugen Jochum.
Deutsche Grammophon Galleria 423 886-2
Lynne Dawson, John Daniecki, Kevin McMillan;
San Francisco Girls Chorus and Boys Chorus, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra & Chrous/Herbert Blomstedt
London 430 509-2