“O Fortune, like the moon you are changeable,” wrote medieval monks, knowing full well that not all of their prayers could ever be answered. Fast forward to 1935 Germany whose rising prosperity co-existed with rising dangers of war. That’s when composer Carl Orff came across those long-obscure manuscripts which made clear that, amid rays of hope and joy, there would always be forces beyond human control.
So, setting these songs to his own music in “Carmina Burana,” Orff decided to start by making them thunder and surge,as you’ll hear in a one-time-only this year performance by the Omaha Symphony plus a vast array of voices.
Timeless drama, now grabbing us in their thrall for more than 80 years. Modern? Yes. It was written by a modern composer, leaping off into intense rhythms with no temporal bounds. Orff was, however, influenced by the musical past, the Renaissance and early Baroque, crossing international boundaries connecting with Italy’s Claudio Monteverdi and England’s William Byrd.
And the words? They speak to the eternal vicissitudes of fate, the unpredictable nature of nature and human life, the joy of spring, the perils and pleasures of drinking, gambling, gluttony, lust.
“It contains no diabolical message; it contains no message whatsoever,” wrote The New Yorker’s Alex Ross
This spectacular aural experience, as befits, has massive amounts of elements, including more than 25 percussion pieces, thirteen winds, eleven brass, a gigantic choir, plus three vocal soloists. “It’s a spectacle. It’s very hard to categorize,” conductor Marin Alsop once said, adding that that was Orff’s intent. “He wanted it to be a piece for all of the senses: to hear the voices, to hear the words.”
No wonder just gathering everyone on stage for one day is a major enterprise. Consider the nearly 500 voices of students from Bellevue, Blair, Burke, Elkhorn, Lincoln Southwest, Papillion-La Vista high schools, Creighton Prep and the OPS Mini Singers Chorus. Plus soprano Amy Owens, tenor Anthony Webb and baritone Samuel Schultz. Ernest Richardson takes charge on the podium.
These young people blend their voices, singing of hope, of course, already knowing the drama of daily life. They reach across our towns and cities, showing us, showing themselves, that coming together, uniting is a power strong enough to challenge whatever fortune’s future awaits.
“Carmina Burana” is heard November 12th, Kiewit Hall, Holland Center, 1200 Douglas St. Sunday 2 p.m. Tickets: $19-$79. www.omahasymphony.org