“Music from the Silver Screen” – Behind the Music (O Fortuna)

April 11, 2013 Phoenix Chorale

The Phoenix Chorale will be wrapping up the 2012/2013 season at the end of the month with a blockbuster concert series called “Music from the Silver Screen.” With performances on April 27-28, the concerts will feature a lively exploration of some of the greatest music found in film.

One of the exciting pieces the Chorale will perform is “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana, a scenic cantata composed by Carl Orff in 1935-1936. “O Fortuna” was first introduced to mainstream media in the 1981, John Boorman film, Excalibur.

O Fortuna is based on 24 of the 254 poems found in the medieval collection Carmina Burana, a manuscript composed of 11th – 13th century poems and dramatic texts, believed to be written by clergy in Italy and Western Europe for traveling scholars, universities and theologians. The collection of texts was discovered in 1803 in the Benedictine monastery of Benediktbeuern in Bavaria (Germany).

When Orff came across an edition of the text over 100 years later, he selected and organized 24 of the poems in a libretto, mostly in Latin verse, with a bit of Middle High German and Old Provencal. The poem’s topics range from drinking, lust and gluttony, to fortune, joy, and the fleeting nature of life.

Upon the premiere of his piece at the Frankfurt Opera on June 8, 1937, Orff wrote his publisher saying, “Everything I have written to date, and which you have, unfortunately, printed, can be destroyed. With Carmina Burana, my collected works begin.” While Orff was correct in presuming the celebrity of this piece, it’s unlikely he would have guessed that it would eventually become a pop culture staple, frequently featured in films (as well as television shows and commercials) throughout the century.

The song has been used for dramatic effect (and later, parody) in numerous films since including: Glory (1989), The Hunt for Red October (1990), The Doors (1991), Natural Born Killers (1994), The General’s Daughter (1999), Detroit Rock City (1999), Jackass: The Movie (2002), Cheaper by the Dozen (2003), and even G-Force (2009).

Nowadays, the song has even achieved YouTube fame with this animated “O Fortuna Misheard Lyrics” video, which has reached over 3,500,000 views and had us the Phoenix Chorale office crying with laughter (trust me, its worth taking a watch) – https://youtu.be/nIwrgAnx6Q8

And for our last video, who doesn’t love a good flashmob? – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJNp5UKRtbQ

As you can see, the dramatic nature of “O Fortuna” has carried it to new and unexpected fame, but that doesn’t mean it can no longer be appreciated in the context of chorale artistry. Make sure you stop by to hear the Chorale take the piece out of the movies and back to its antecedent setting.