Entertainment Music How "Carmina Burana" and Nazi Germany are Linked This Composition by Carl Orff is Based on "O Fortuna" and Other Medieval Poems. Share PINTEREST Email Print Caiaimage/Martin Barraud/Getty Images Music Classical Music Basics Lyrics Operas Rock Music Pop Music Alternative Music Country Music Folk Music Rap & Hip Hop Rhythm & Blues World Music Punk Music Heavy Metal Jazz Latin Music Oldies Learn More By Aaron Green Music Expert B.A., Classical Music and Opera, Westminster Choir College of Rider University Aaron M. Green is an expert on classical music and music history, with more than 10 years of both solo and ensemble performance experience. our editorial process Aaron Green Updated April 17, 2018 "O Fortuna" is a medieval poem that inspired German composer Carl Orff to write the cantata "Carmina Burana," one of the most well-known works of the 20th century. It's been used for TV commercials and movie soundtracks, and it is frequently performed by professional musicians around the world. Despite its acclaim, many people don't know much about the cantata, its composer, or its link to Nazi Germany. The Composer Carl Orff (July 10, 1895–March 29, 1982) was a German composer and educator who is best known for his research into how children learn music. He published his first compositions at age 16 and studied music in Munich prior to World War I. After serving in the war, Orff returned to Munich, where he co-founded a children's art school and taught music. In 1930, he published his observations on teaching children about music in Schulwerk. In the text, Orff urged teachers to let children explore and learn at their own pace, without adult interference. Orff continued composing but went largely unrecognized by the general public until the premiere of "Carmina Burana" in Frankfort in 1937. It was a huge commercial and critical success, popular with both the public and with Nazi leaders. Buoyed by the success of the cantata, Orff entered a competition sponsored by the Nazi government to rescore "A Midsummer Night's Dream," one of the few German composers to do so. There is little to indicate that Carl Orff was a member of the Nazi Party or that he actively supported its policies. But he was never able to completely escape having his reputation forever linked to National Socialism because of where and when "Carmen Burana" premiered and how it was received. After the war, Orff continued to compose and to write about music education and theory. He continued to work at the children's school he co-founded until his death in 1982. History "Carmen Burana," or "Songs Of Beuren," is based on a collection of 13th-century poems and songs found in 1803 in a Bavarian monastery. The medieval works are attributed to a group of monks known as Goliards who were known for their humorous and sometimes raunchy compositions about love, sex, drinking, gambling, fate, and fortune. These texts weren't intended for worship. They were considered a form of popular entertainment, written in vernacular Latin, medieval French, or German so as to be easily understood by the masses. About 1,000 of these poems were written in the 12th and 13th centuries, and after being rediscovered a collection of the verses were published in 1847. This book, called "Wine, Women, and Song" inspired Orff to compose a cantata about the mythic Wheel of Fortune. With the help of an assistant, Orff selected 24 poems and arranged them by thematic content. Among the poems he selected was O Fortuna ("Oh, Fortune"). Other poems that inspired portions of "Carmen Burana" include Imperatrix Mundi ("Empress of the World"), Primo Vere ("Springtime"), In Taberna ("In the Tavern"), and Cours d’Amour ("The Court of Love"). Text and Translation Opening with a pounding timpani and large chorus, the listener is introduced to the Wheel's magnitude, while the haunting/foreboding text and melody sitting atop a river of endlessly repeating orchestral accompaniment, mimics its constant rotation. LatinO Fortuna,velut luna,statu variabilis,semper crescis,aut decrescis;vita detestabilisnunc obduratet tunc curatludo mentis aciem,egestatem,potestatem,dissolvit ut glaciem. Sors immaniset inanis,rota tu volubilis,status malus,vana salussemper dissolubilis,obumbrataet velatamichi quoque niteris;nunc per ludumdorsum nudumfero tui sceleris. Sors salutiset virtutismichi nunc contraria,est affectuset defectussemper in angaria.Hac in horasine moracorde pulsum tangite;sternit fortem,mecum omnes plangite! EnglishO Fortune,like the moonyou are changeable,ever waxingand waning;hateful lifefirst oppressesand then soothesas fancy takes it;povertyand power,it melts them like ice. Fate, monstrousand empty,you turning wheel,you are malevolent,your favor is idleand always fades,shadowed,veiled,you plague me too.I bare my backfor the sportof your wickedness. In prosperityor in virtuefate is against me,Both in passionand in weaknessfate always enslaves us.So at this hourpluck the vibrating strings;because fatebrings down even the strong,everyone weep with me. Sources Classic FM staff. "The Story Of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana." ClassicFM.com. Heffer, Simon. "TV review: O Fortuna! Carl Orff and Carmina Burana (Sky Arts 2)." Telegraph.co.uk, 9 April 2009. Rickards, Guy. "O, Fortuna! - Carl Orff and Carmina Burana." Gramophone.uk.co.