Resources and notes for learning Carmina Burana

Each year the New Zealand Choral Federation run a weekend workshop where they rehearse a classical piece for choir, and perform it to an audience at the end of the event. Choirs and singers from all over the Wellington region participate, and it's a very special experience to be among so many singers and to sing one of these 'big numbers'. This year the work is Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, and the workshop will be in Wellington on Friday 7th and Saturday 8th October, with a performance in the evening. There is a cost of $50 for the workshop.

There is no need for you to commit to going to the event just yet, and I'll send more registration details in due course. There is an expectation that those who come to the workshop will be able to read the score, but we will work a little bit each week to get you up to speed so you feel confident to participate alongside music readers.  As resources and notes accrue, I'll add them to this web page so that you've got everything in one place. I'll also be emailing current singers with updates. 

Week 3: See, hear, sing

Hopefully by this stage you’ve got The Big Picture of this piece of music. If you’d like to see a list of all the songs  (“movements”)  in Carmina Burana, the Wikipedia page is always a great place to start. The full lyrics and translation are available in several places - at Classical Net there’s also a link to an FAQ with more background info; and I really enjoyed reading this interesting article, which has the lyrics & translation at the end.

This is where the learning process begins in earnest. If you’re planning to sing Carmina Burana, you’ll need to decide which voice part to sing. There are 8 voice parts for the chorus (choir): Soprano 1 & 2, Alto 1 & 2, Tenor 1 & 2, and Bass 1 & 2. Very often, the 1s and 2s are singing the same thing, but in some movements they’re divided into two groups, when voice 1 sings a little higher than voice 2.

We don’t have the scores yet, they’ll be distributed by the workshop organisers to everyone who registers, and I’ve asked for us to get them in advance so we have some time to familiarise ourselves with them. Meanwhile, there are some awsome resources on YouTube. The most prominent one is a channel called Rehearsal Tracks. I haven’t explored it in depth, but they appear to have a video for every voice and every song in Carmina Burana. In these videos you’ll hear that particular voice part and see the score at the same time, so you can start to connect the sound with what you’re reading, and perhaps have a go at singing along.

Some of these tracks are of a person singing the particular voice part, but most of them are an instrument playing the line that’s to be sung – not quite so helpful because we don’t get to hear the pronunciation, and how the words fit to the tune. But it’s better than nothing, and perhaps with reference to the lyrics, and a pronunciation guide we’ll muddle through.

The gold standard of see – hear – sing is a very flash resource called Choraline. The ‘real person’ videos on YouTube are copies of their collection, though there are only the first two or 3 songs available for free. A full set costs about NZ$20, and they appear to only have Soprano & Alto available. I’ve bought the alto set, please contact me before spending any money.

Week 3 Homework

  • Have you registered yet? Book through Humanitix.
  • Download the lyrics or bookmark your preferred site (links above) so you can access them easily.
  • Watch some videos of rehearsal tracks, make a firm decision about which voice part you’re going to sing, and have a go at singing along to O Fortuna. Start to familiarise yourself with reading a score. Can you see how the shape of the score fits the voice you’re hearing? 

Rehearsal Tracks: playlists by voice part
Soprano 1
Soprano 2
Alto 1
Alto 2
Tenor 1
Tenor 2
Bass 1
Bass 2

Choraline versions of O Fortuna (on YouTube):
Soprano 1 
Soprano 2
Tenor 1
Tenor 2

Week 2: Orientation and booking

This week we'll look at a synopsis and more background to Orff's Carmina Burana, and get the big picture of what we're going to learn. There's details of how to register for the workshop too. Scroll down to see the previous week's posts.
The cantata for orchestra, chorus (that's us!) and vocal soloists premiered in Frankfurt, Germany in 1937. Orff drew his text from a 13th-century manuscript containing songs and plays written in Latin and medieval German. The manuscript was discovered in 1803 at a Bavarian monastery, and contains texts presenting a varied view of medieval life, including religious verses, social satires, and bawdy drinking songs. 
Orff selected 24 songs, which he arranged into a prologue, an epilogue, and three parts of roughly equal length. The first part, Primo Vere (“In Early Spring”), presents youthful, energetic dances; the second part, In Taberna (“In the Tavern”), evokes drunken feasting and debauchery; and courtship and romantic love are the subject of the third part, Cour d’Amours (“Court of Love”). The prologue and epilogue are the same song: O Fortuna ("Oh Fortune") which frames the revelry of the three main movements with a stark warning about the power of luck and fate, offering the ancient image of a wheel of fortune that deals out triumph and disaster at random. "The forceful first measures are among the grandest statements in all choral literature." Reference: Encyclopaedia Britannica

It's a good idea to book your place for the workshop now. It will be helpful for NZCF to get an idea of who's coming - and also they are going to lend you a score, which I'm hoping they'll let us have sooner rather than later, so we have plenty of time to get familiar with it.

Book the workshop and/or concert tickets

Make your bookings through Humanitix

This workshop is being run by the New Zealand Choral Federation. Tickets for the workshop (Friday 7-9.30pm and Saturday 9.30am - 8.45pm) cost $50 and there was no booking fee. The concert is included in this cost, but if you just want to come to the Saturday evening performance (at 7.30pm) tickets are $15. 

There are details of some special accommodation rates on that page too, if you're interested in staying overnight on Friday. We'll probably organise some car pooling a bit nearer the time. 

Note that their refund policy is:  Refunds are available up to 1 day prior to the event.

Week 2 Homework

Your homework for this week is to start listening to Carmina Burana, in order to familiarise yourself with it before we start learning it in detail.

There are LOADS of different performances of it on YouTube, here are a few to get you started, but have a look around to compare. You might have a recording at home of Carmina Burana - check if it's the whole cantata, or just O Fortuna - as you can appreciate, there's a lot more to this than that one famous song! 

University of California, 2007 Has chapters, which can come in handy if you want to listen to one particular track 

Antwerp, Belgium 2011. With subtitles (Latin original and English translation) click on 'cc' to enable. There are also chapters if you click 'show more' in the description

San Francisco Symphony, 2007 Annoyingly this YouTube recording is missing the very first note of the whole piece! Aside from that, it's one that David Hurwitz recommended in his video.

Week 1: Background to Carl Orff and Carmina Burana

Here's some interesting videos I've found about Carmina Burana and the composer Carl Orff. Feel free to email me stuff you find and I'll add it in to our growing resource list.

Brent Stewart, who will be our conductor at the workshop, made a short video when Orpheus Choir of Wellington were performing Carmina Burana back in 2020. Video here.

There's a nice overview of the plot of Carmina Burana by Houston Symphony.

Wikipedia is always a good starting place.

David Hurwitz from recommends some recordings, and talks quite plainly about Orff's background. I like what he says at the end: “Enjoy it just for what it is and try not to think about too much else. It’s not music that lends itself to profound meditation and depth, it’s just supposed to be fun and exciting and colourful” 

Oslo Philharmonic (turn on closed captions to get a translation)

Here's the poster from NZCF


This product has been added to your cart