Sunday, May 23, 2010

Art of Listening Concert Review: The Four Temperaments and Carmina Burana

The Pennsylvania Ballet performed with a symphony on Thursday, March 4, 2010 at the Academy of Music. The works performed included Paul Hindemith's (1895-1963) The Four Temperaments and Carl Orff's (1895-1982) Carmina Burana.

Third Movement: Sanguine
Both of these collections of music are from the 20th century era. One of the most common characteristics carrying over from the Romantic era in both works is a reliance on program music. The Four Temperaments is an artistic expression of the four different temperaments in people: choleric, melancholic, sanguine and phlegmatic.  

Carmina Burana derives from a 13th century series of medieval poems of the same name which Orff organized into three sections: Nature (primo vere), The Tavern (In taberna) and the Court of Love (Cour d'amours) (Erik Levy). Carmina Burana is framed by a chorus praising the goddess of Fate in “O Fortuna” (Babcock).
I think the fact that Carmina Burana was intended to be a stage piece strongly affected the way the piece was written. The musical elements had to enable a time to break for the dancers. It was interesting to watch different ballet dances sync with motions in the music. Jack Stein says “the most extraordinary aspect of the music of Carmina Burana is the rhythm.” The piece's rhythm is “simultaneously complex and simple.” I think Orff's use of a variety of rhythms and meters gives the pieces a feel constant change in comparison to a Baroque motor-rhythm. Paul Griffiths explains that musically Carmina Burana uses “obsessive rhythmic patterns.”
Rhythms in Carmina Burana seem to have expressed purpose and Orff uses different rhythms to express different moods and ideas.

Carmina Burana's chorus combined with a full orchestra and an extensively large percussion section gives a piece a broad pallet for textures. Stein describes the piece as the “most symphonic” of Orff's work. I wondered how much of an impact these interpretations of ideas associating images with particular instruments had in my perception of the pieces. I think of how the Nature sections of Carmina Burana using the sound of flutes, choruses, timpanis, bells, and soft strings reinforced ideas I had in my head about musical representations of nature. I felt like the variety of instruments gave Orff the ability to experiment with the physical positioning of instruments in the orchestra. I think it is interesting that the use of so many different instruments enables Orff to use “melodic and harmonic simplicity... and cumulative, pounding ostinatos” without the music seeming too simple or repetititve (Griffiths). 

Carmina Burana's dynamics are vibrant going from points where the entire orchestra is playing fortissimo to only a few lonely instruments in a soft pianissimo section. During the song Reie the shifts between in instruments makes it feel like the orchestra's sound is spinning around as the chorus sings German lyrics which translate to:

Those who go round and round
are all maidens,
they want to do without a man
all summer long. Ah! (Orff).

The tempo goes from a carefree spring/summer feel to a more frantic pace in the Tavern section of Carmina Burana. The timpani's pacing reminds me of the stumbling of a drunk. The orchestra's percussion seems to slam during the baritone's solo, revealing a darker side to the world than the innocence of spring. The Tavern section seems to flirt with death. 
The chorus sings about drinking and gambling and not fearing death. Erik Levi's review explains the irony behind “a baritone solo of exaggerated pathos in which the drunkard seems oblivious of the perilous condition of his soul, the grotesque falsetto singing of a Swan (tenor) which is being roasted, the inebriated psalmody of the Abbot (baritone) from Fool’s paradise and an orgiastic hymn to earthly enjoyment sung by the male chorus.” At first the chorus sounds angry and fast like they're pounding shots until they reach a euphoric peak. 
The peak of the chorus's singing during “In taberna quando sumustranslates to realization of egalitarianism in almost universal suffering.
 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. Six hundred pennies would hardly suffice, if everyone drinks immoderately and immeasurably. However much they cheerfully drink we are the ones whom everyone scolds, and thus we are destitute. May those who slander us be cursed and may their names not be written in the book of the righteous (Orff).
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In the end the singers feel like they have been singled out and begin to curse those who slander them. In this attempt to parody the religious attitudes of the time, the Tavern section of the piece uses only male voices.
Orff's music changes the scene quickly from what seems like it could have been another battle over a “book of the righteous” in the Tavern towards feeling the “curse” of love in the Court of Love section of the piece. The tone of the music changes with the introduction of female voices. I think the Court of Love section highlights Orff's selective use of rhythms and instruments to convey an idea. During points of longing in the lyrics of a song like “Dies, nox et omnia” Orff uses a solo baritone and minimalist instruments for the male's longing. The next song features a female vocalist solo describing a “saucy, provocative, sexy account of a girl in a red tunic” (Reid 128). 
I think the most interesting musical element that parallels the story in Cour D'amours is the use of call and response between the male and female sections of the chorus to parallel the back and forth between a relationship. Babcock points out that this antiphonal use of the choir represents the tension between the male and female characters (Babcock 38). It seems that as the female and male characters are able to eventually able to give into their desires the choirs erupt with joyful singing.
 I think it would be interesting if we could compare musical representations of feelings from the Four Temperaments to those parallel ideas in Carmina Burana.
While the four temperaments expressed in Hindemith's pieces seem to follow the attitudes that individuals go through in the turning of life's phases. The writing on a Fortuna Wheel of an earlier Carmina Burana program reads “Regnabo (I shall reign), Regno (I reign/I am reigning), Regnavi (I have reigned), Sum sine regno (I am without a kingdom)” which we could interpret these statements to represent attitudes comparable to each temperament. Babcock mentions that Orff's stage directions were intentionally not specific, leaving the choreography up to interpretation for the director. I wondered whether the choreography for Carmina Burana for the Pennsylvania Ballet was influenced by their choices in choreography for the Four Temperaments.
I wonder if this was Hitler's reaction to Carmina Burana.
Given the satiric presentation of some of the ideas Orff presents in the story, I can see how this piece would cause controversy during the Third Reich in addition to their objection to the “erotic tone” (Griffiths). I do not understand how the show could have later become the most popular in Germany of its time. I would be interested in seeing how much of the crowd at the Academy of Music knew what the message of the songs. These songs seem hardly controversial by today's popular music's standards but I do find it interesting that the audience seemingly included grandchildren with their grandparents as well as a few families. Would the audience be the same if Carmina Burana were advertised as a show about lust, gambling, drinking, and a satire on religious values? Does the pervasive nature of a song like “O Fortuna” in our culture almost obliterate the meaning of the song about the inevitability of fate, which we now better associate with Jim Morrison's drug addiction in The Doors and Nas “Hate Me Now”? I wonder whether the foreign language barrier prevents many in the audience from moral objecting to the content the same way the show initially met audiences in Germany. 

 Despite questions about the audience's understanding of the pieces, I thought it was interesting that the audience was so reverent towards the music. I think it is interesting that even if we do not understand the meaning of the pieces, we can still appreciate the artistry and emotions of the show without explicit explanation. A lot of this reverence I think derives from simple respect for the performers whose ability I think the modern audience can truly appreciate the musician's ability better today having been exposed to all kinds of music throughout their lives. I doubt the audience would agree with the assertion in “O Fortuna” that the “whirling wheel” makes “well-being vain and always fades to nothing” but I suppose with the price of a ticket to the show would indicate the audience is on the other end of the wheel's “waxing and waning” of life melted by “poverty and power” (Orff). The audience's dress would certainly suggest a different understanding on fickle nature of the fortunes of fate.
I personally enjoyed the show but I wish I would have made myself more informed about the subject matter of the lyrics before I saw the show. If I had known what I know now about the content of the lyrics, I would have read into the choreography more to get a fuller understanding of the show. At the same time, I enjoyed listening to the piece without having ideas from the program notes interfere with my first impressions of the pieces. I feel like the unadulterated experience with the music helped to illustrate either how well these songs convey these emotions and ideas or at least how well engrained the musical ideas are in our culture.

 My first impression of the music was that I really only enjoyed “O Fortuna” because it was a song that I recognized but now that I understand the meaning behind the other songs I appreciate the images Orff's music was trying to illustrate. I think if I could do things differently I would attend the concert with a better understanding of the original cultural context of the music because Orff's music provides an interesting commentary on the values of the society he lived in as well as the medieval period from which the poems are drawn from. I feel like I needed to understand that beforehand in order to separate the original meaning of the poems from Orff's interpretations and criticism.

Ultimately, what the Carmina Burana performance made me question how much the message behind the music really mattered in its resonance with its audience. Given that these ideas were things the Third Reich tried to stop but eventually could not prevent from becoming popular, did Carmina Burana succeed because it defied the barriers of their society and changed the society or did Orff's satirical points become secondary to the music which he created which has stood the test of time but may have lost meaning through reinterpretation? Did the music itself change people's behaviors?

Works Cited
Babcock, Jonathan. Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana": A Fresh Approach to the Work's Performance Practice. Choral Journal 46:11 (May 2006) p. 26-40. 12 Mar. 2010. .

Erik Levi. "Carmina burana (ii)." The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Ed. Stanley Sadie. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 12 Mar. 2010 .

Griffiths, Paul and Tim Ashley. "Orff, Carl." The Oxford Companion to Music. Ed. Alison Latham. Oxford Music Online. 13 Mar. 2010 .

Orff, Carl. “Translation of Carmina Burana Lyrics.” Classical Net. Schott Music International, n.d. Web. 13 Mar 2010. .

Taruskin, Richard: The Oxford History of Western Music. Vol. 4 "The Early Twentieth Century". Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, 754-765.

Stein, Jack M. ""Carmina Burana" and Carl Orff." Monashefte. 2. 69. University of Wisconsin Press, 19771. .