Carmina Burana: Songs to Welcome the Spring

[Note: full text and translation of Carmina Burana are attached at the end of this article.]

Carmina Burana is one of the world’s most popular works of classical music, and has been used in everything from commercials and campaign ads to movie trailers and football commentary. In fact its popularity has frequently raised the hackles of classical music aficionados, who often look down on it as being an adolescent work—a primal scream with no depth or real interest.

They’re wrong.

I’ve dealt with the work in many ways, over many years, and I wanted to say a few words about it that might help put it in a different light. It may surprise you to hear that one of the reasons I enjoy the work so immensely is the wonderful, sardonic wit of its lyrics. They are surprisingly intelligent—and very much worth getting to know.

So, allow me to introduce them to you.

407px-CarminaBurana_wheel

To begin I want to step back and say a few words about how I came to love the work and its joyous wordplay.

The powerful opening chorus, “O Fortuna,” is something you hear all the time, and by mid-adolescence I quickly recognized it as the Big Dramatic Scary Music Piece that meant something really bad-ass was about to happen. In my adolescent mind, that was the coolest work ever written, one that always made my hair stand on end. And as a burgeoning singer, I fervently hoped that one day I might finally have a chance to actually sing it.

At this point, all my friends and colleagues in the Minnesota Chorale are laughing uproariously—it is a rare year that we don’t perform it. I would never have believed back in middle school that it would be more of my signature works!

But as we started routinely performing it, something started to irritate me—the translations of it were atrocious. Poetry is always tricky to translate, and Carmina Burana is particularly troublesome. And so while I was still working as a staff writer for the Minnesota Orchestra, I asked for a chance to put together a translation of my own. The powers that be agreed, and I note that many years later, it’s still the one the Orchestra prints in the Showcase magazine (I’m also attaching it as text below). This experience brought me up close and personal with the text, and gave me a renewed respect for the difficulties of translating it to English—and the incredible wit of its original authors.

* * *

So, what are the problems with it? For one, the language is really, really bizarre.

The text comes from a series of poems/lyrics written in the 11th and 12th centuries, which were gathered together into a single collection at the Benedictine monastery of Benediktbeuern in Bavaria.  They were primarily written in Latin, with a sprinkling of German and French thrown in, too; Latin was still the established language of instruction and scholarship, and the international language of Europe. But the Latin isn’t the proper, correct version of the language that we learn in school. It is neither the refined language of the classical era, nor even the educated Medieval Latin of the Church. It’s not formal at all—it is a very casual vernacular form sprinkled with colloquialisms.

But it’s also clear that it wasn’t the primary language of the author (or authors) of the poems—for them, Latin was an acquired language. All too often we find excessive wordiness, and sometimes there an outright misuse of words which must have been difficult for even a contemporary to understand.

So who wrote them?

Current research suggests that the poems were originally written by a group of wandering scholars called The Goliards. They were certainly well-educated—perhaps too much for their own good. They became famous for sarcastically pointing out inconsistencies about Church doctrine, parodying the jargon of academics, and gleefully puncturing the egos of the elite. But because they were well-read themselves, their satire had real wit and real bite—it was the work of insiders. They are close kin to today’s Jon Stewart of Stephen Colbert.

Their irreverence toward authority probably explains why the Goliards were, by necessity, wandering scholars.

But this also helps explain the vivacity and character of Carmina Burana’s poetry.

One characteristic of the songs is that they often make use of over-the-top metaphors that cunningly fold back on themselves, almost to the point of self-parody. The first poem, “O Fortuna” is a prime example of this.

O Fortuna                                          O Fortune,
velut luna                                            like the moon
statu variabilis,                                   you are always changing,
semper crescis                                  forever waxing
aut decrescis;                                    then waning;
vita detestabilis                                  hateful life
nunc obdurat                                      first brutal
et tunc curat                                       then soothing
ludo mentis aciem,                            playing games with our minds;
egestatem,                                         poverty
potestatem                                         and power
dissolvit ut glaciem.                            both melt away like ice.
Sors immanis                                     Fate—monstrous
et inanis,                                             and empty—
rota tu volubilis,                                   you are a spinning wheel,
status malus,                                      you are malevolent,
vana salus                                           your favor is pure vanity
semper dissolubilis,                            and always dissolves away,
obumbrata                                          shadowed
et velata                                              and veiled
michi quoque niteris;                          you torment me;
nunc per ludum                                   now, as in a twisted game,
dorsum nudum                                   my naked back
fero tui sceleris.                                  is bared to your fury.
Sors salutis                                         Fate is against me
et virtutis                                              with no hope for health
michi nunc contraria,                          and virtue;
est affectus                                         willingly
et defectus                                          or unwillingly,
semper in angaria.                              We are all Fortune’s slaves.
Hac in hora                                          Well then, begin! At this hour
sine mora                                            without delay
corde pulsum tangite;                         pluck at the quivering strings;
quod per sortem                                 since Fate
sternit fortem,                                     strikes down even the strongest man,
mecum omnes plangite!                    come join me in a song of lamentation!

Clearly, the narrator is down on his or her luck, and in fury rails against the cruel twists of Fortune.

But my goodness, the narrator throws every possible smear against Fortune in an unstructured run-on sentence of rage, calling it: hateful, brutal, cruel, savage, monstrous, empty, veiled in shadows, wicked… accusing her of everything but having bad breath. Wow.  I mean, if you flung this list of insults at your ex, would it help you in any way?

My favorite phrase here is “ludo mentis aciem.”   I love that Fortune is, literally, accused of playing a twisted head game with us, and I always put an extra sneer in my voice when I sing that line.

* * *

The Goliards were particularly known for satirical riffs on Catholic thought and practice. The most obvious mock-liturgy is the “Ego Sum Abbas” song from the In Taberna sequence. On the one hand, it’s easy to get swept up in the fun and think of this song as bit of nonsensical drunk-talk—particularly given the drunken music that Carl Orff provides for the good Abbot. But there is a sly, knowing wink happening in the text. The narrator intones with mock serious (and in terms of music, sings a drunken parody of Gregorian chant):

Ego sum abbas Cucaniensis                    I am the abbot of Cockaigne
et consilium meum est cum bibulis,         and my congregation is one of sots,
et in secta Decii voluntas mea est            I’m with the order of St. Decius

Most translators glide by “Cockaigne” and “order of St. Decius” as mumbo-jumbo terms, but both have very specific meanings. Cockaigne is the name of a mythical land; but in the Middle Ages it seen as a very specific type of mythical land—an anti-paradise. This doesn’t mean it was equated with Hell, as in a place of punishment away from God, but a paradise where virtue was inverted, and earthly vices were celebrated. It was a land of joyous lust, sloth and gluttony, where already-roasted fowl flew right into your mouth, and pigs grew knives from their back so you could carve them up as they ran by. And of course, casual sex was the norm, and modesty was scandalous.

This provides a clearer sense of what kind of activities would take place at any monastery located there.

And similarly, “Sect of Decius” has several layers to it. The name is that of a medieval patron saint of gamblers. But again, he is what we might call an anti-saint, meaning that he’s not the Church’s official saint that helps you overcome your gambling addiction, but the man that helps you gamble more effectively. Plus, he’s always there to put in a good word with God if you get caught. The name itself is particularly scandalous, as Decius was a Roman Emperor famous for his early persecution of Christians.

Alas, all that background is usually left out in a translation, diluting the overall impact.

* * *

Of course, Carmina Burana has long had a reputation of being very risqué, if not outright pornographic in its content.

But that takes things a bit too far. Yes, there is a frankness to the poems, and they clearly reflect a much earthier view towards physical love than we would approve today. But what makes the text fun is that so often the ribald imagery is banded about in double or triple-entendres.  They suggest far more than they actually spell out. Therefore, the challenging aspect of translating the lyrics (or for that matter, singing them), is to avoid two extremes: on the one hand you have to avoid an interpretation that is exact but clinical, overly formal and so polite that it’s lifeless and misses the point. But you also have to avoid ham-fisted vulgarity. You have to split the difference and find a balance.

Or to put it another way, to fully capture the essence and charm of the text, Carmina Burana has to flirt.

For example, the song that opens the Cour d’Amours section:

Siqua sine socio,            If a girl has no lover
caret omni gaudio;         She misses out on all the fun,
tenet noctis infima          It is as if she keeps the dark night
sub intimo                       hidden
cordis in custodia:          in the depth of her heart;
fit res amarissima.         it is a most bitter fate.

If a stranger were to say that to you in an elevator, or a co-worker were to announce that at a staff meeting… there would be a problem. But if your partner says that to you with sparkling eyes and a wry smile, the same words would have a very different effect.  That is the joy of performing the work—making those delicate distinctions.

Even the most “overt” of the songs, “Si puer cum puellula” is couched in sly wordplay.

Si puer cum puellula            If a boy and girl
moraretur in cellula,             slip away to a quiet room together
felix coniunctio.                    how lucky they are!
Amore suscrescente           Love rears its head
pariter e medio                     between them as
avulso procul tedio,              tedious good sense is cast away,
fit ludus ineffabilis                and an unmentionable game begins
membris, lacertis, labii        with their legs, arms and lips.

In truth, this is somewhat hard to fully express. “Felix coniunctio” comes off as a modest bit of understatement, and is still couched in the language of luck and fortune that pervades the work. But one might internally read that line as, “He got lucky!” for an entirely different feel. And “Amore suscrescente” could go any of a number of ways… it’s hard to avoid the connection between passion increasing, and the size of something else increasing. There’s nothing explicit there, but….

* * *

The Goliards could also be highbrow as well. The poems burst with so many classical allegories that unsuspecting readers might mistakenly believe they had cracked open The Homeric Hymns. Themes from the Trojan War, for example, are constantly woven into the text—with the chorus balefully warning us the Wheel of Fortune’s axle is inscribed with the name “Queen Hecuba,” the queen of Troy and mother of Trojan heroes, who saw her children killed and city burned to the ground by the invading Greeks. Later, the chorus begs Venus to make us the equals of the Trojan prince Paris, who convinced Helen to run away with him to Troy; in the work’s climax, Helen herself is invoked.

One of my favorite instances of classical imagery, however, occurs in the first song of the Primo Vere section. Here, the words conjure up a remarkable scene:

Florae fusus gremio
Phoebus novo more
risum dat, hoc vario
iam stipatae flore.

I don’t know if a literal translation does it justice. For me, the image evoked here is Phoebus Apollo, the god of sunlight and healing, reclining in the lap of Flora, the goddess of flowers and spring. Filled with joy and mirth at the moment, Apollo smiles and begins to laugh… and each of his laughing breaths transforms into flower petals as they pass his lips, fluttering among the pair in a swirl of color and beauty. What an incomparable image of spring!

* * *

One of my favorite poems is “Ave formosissima,” which forms the climax of the work before the powerful “O Fortuna” chorus sweeps in as the finale. This poem gets to the heart of Goliards’ skill at wordplay and layers of meaning.

Ave formosissima,           Hail, fairest of women,
gemma pretiosa,              precious jewel,
ave decus virginum,         Hail, glory of maidens,
virgo gloriosa,                   noble virgin,
ave mundi luminar,           Hail, light of the world,
ave mundi rosa,               Hail, rose of the world,
Blanziflor et Helena,         Blanchefleur and Helen,
Venus generosa!              noble Venus!

Now at first glance, this is a perfectly standard love poem to sing to a lady love, praising her extravagantly and comparing her to Blanchefleur (a legendary beauty from medieval romances), Helen (the woman who sparked the Trojan War), and finally the goddess of love and beauty herself.

But let’s look a little bit closer.

On its surface, the words draw heavily on traditional Hymns to the Virgin Mary—it is only in the last two lines that we learn that the woman in question is admired not as a religious symbol, but for more (ahem) prosaic reasons.

But there’s more to meet the eye in the last line, too. It is possible to simply read it literally, and determine that the ardent lover is comparing his love to three ideals of female beauty, each more impressive than the last. As such, it makes perfect sense to end with Venus as the natural, final comparison.

But “Venus” has another perfectly appropriate meaning here. In late classical and medieval games of chance, Venus was the name for a particularly fortuitous roll of the dice, indicating four different numbers on four dice that appeared on four separate rolls. The person fortunate enough to make this roll was proclaimed the master of the game, showered with free drinks, food, and more. This roll was so wonderful that the term “Venus” became proverbial for a dazzling stroke of good fortune. (Conversely, the term for the worst possible roll, Cygnus or “dog,” still survives in Italian gambling lingo today.)

So the last line simultaneously is a call out to the most beautiful woman in the world, a joyful shout “jackpot!” and a cocky pronouncement, “I’m King of the World!”

Seconds later, a mighty gong crashes; the narrator loses it everything, and is again left to bewail the cruel turns of Fortune’s Wheel. It is that dramatic fall which gives the piece its emotional gravity.

* * *

Carmina Burana is hardly the most sophisticated text I’ve ever sung—it cannot, for example, hold a candle to Goerte’s Faust, used in Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony. But its wit and wordplay are often undervalued.

This is too bad… it’s the text that makes it so fun.

Our next performance is with the Minnesota Orchestra in June 2014, so come hear us if you have the chance!  Tickets are available here.

 * * *

P.S. I should share what is probably my favorite moment, which comes in the “Ecce Gratum” song.

Iam liquescit                       Now melts
et decrescit                        and flows away
grando, nix et cetera         hail, snow and the rest

 It is an entirely minor moment, but as a writer I’ve had it drilled into my head again and again that you can never, ever use “et cetera” or its abbreviation “etc.” in formal writing. It makes me smugly happy that a poet got away with using it… and I get to sing it in a Real Work of Western Art Music.

Xochipilli


Carmina Burana, text and translation

FORTUNA IMPERATRIX MUNDI

1. O Fortuna (Chorus) (O Fortune)

O Fortuna O Fortune,
velut luna like the moon
statu variabilis, you are always changing,
semper crescis forever waxing
aut decrescis; then waning;
vita detestabilis hateful life
nunc obdurat first brutal
et tunc curat then soothing
ludo mentis aciem, playing games with our minds;
egestatem, poverty
potestatem and power
dissolvit ut glaciem. both melt away like ice.
Sors immanis Fate—monstrous
et inanis, and empty—
rota tu volubilis, you are a spinning wheel,
status malus, you are malevolent,
vana salus your favor is pure vanity
semper dissolubilis, and always dissolves away,
obumbrata shadowed
et velata and veiled
michi quoque niteris; you torment me;
nunc per ludum now, as in a twisted game,
dorsum nudum my naked back
fero tui sceleris. is bared to your fury.
Sors salutis Fate is against me
et virtutis with no hope for health
michi nunc contraria, and virtue;
est affectus willingly
et defectus or unwillingly,
semper in angaria. We are all Fortune’s slaves.
Hac in hora Well then, begin! At this hour
sine mora without delay
corde pulsum tangite; pluck at the quivering strings;
quod per sortem since Fate
sternit fortem, strikes down even the strongest man,
mecum omnes plangite! come join me in a song of lamentation!

2. Fortune plango vulnera (I Cry Against the Blows of Fortune)

Fortune plango vulnera I cry against the blows of Fortune
stillantibus ocellis with tear-stained eyes,
quod sua michi munera for the gifts she gave me
subtrahit rebellis. she has treacherously taken away.
Verum est, quod legitur, It is written in truth,
fronte capillata, that Fortune has a fine head of hair,
sed plerumque sequitur When she first approaches
Occasio calvata. But when she turns away she is bald.
In Fortune solio On Fortune’s throne
sederam elatus, I used to sit elated,
prosperitatis vario crowned with
flore coronatus; the flowers of prosperity;
quicquid enim florui however much I flourished
felix et beatus, happy and blessed,
nunc a summo corrui now I’ve fallen from the heights
gloria privatus. deprived of glory.
Fortune rota volvitur: Fortune’s wheel turns;
descendo minoratus; I crash down, humbled;
alter in altum tollitur; another is raised up in my place;
nimis exaltatus raised far too high up,
rex sedet in vertice a king sits at the wheel’s pinnacle—
caveat ruinam! let him beware his ruin!
nam sub axe legimus for under the wheel’s axis is written:
Hecubam reginam. Queen Hecuba [of Troy].

PRIMO VERE (SPRING)

3. Veris leta facies (The Joyous Face Of Spring)

Veris leta facies The joyous face of spring
mundo propinatur, turns to the world,
hiemalis acies winter’s army
victa iam fugatur, now flees, defeated;
in vestitu vario dressed in bright colors
Flora principatur, Flora reigns,
nemorum dulcisono the harmony of sweet nature
que cantu celebratur. praises her in song. Ah!
Flore fusus gremio Lying in Flora’s lap
Phebus novo more Phoebus charms with new
risum dat, hac vario laughter, now bedecked
iam stipate flore. in many-colored flowers.
Zephyrus nectareo Zephyrus breathes nectar-
spirans in odore. scented breezes.
Certatim pro bravio Let us eagerly compete
curramus in amore. for love’s prize. Ah!
Cytharizat cantico In harp-like tones sings
dulcis Philomena, the sweet Philomela.
flore rident vario With many flowers
prata iam serena, the joyous meadows are laughing,
salit cetus avium a flock of birds rises up
silve per amena, through the pleasant forests,
chorus promit virgin a chorus of maidens
iam gaudia millena. brings a thousand joys. Ah!

4. Omnia sol temperat (The Sun Calms Everything)

Omnia sol temperat The sun calms everything,
purus et subtilis, pure and gentle,
novo mundo reserat once again a new world is revealed
faciem Aprilis, by April’s face,
ad amorem properat the mind of the young man
animus herilis hastens towards love
et iocundis imperat and joys are governed
deus puerilis. by the boy-god [Cupid].
Rerum tanta novitas All this renewal
in solemni vere in spring’s festivity
et veris auctoritas and spring’s power
jubet nos gaudere; bids us to rejoice;
vias prebet solitas, it shows us paths we know well,
et in tuo vere and in the springtime of your life
fides est et probitas it is true and right
tuum retinere. to keep close who is yours.
Ama me fideliter, Love me faithfully!
fidem meam noto: See how faithful I am:
de corde totaliter with all my heart
et ex mente tota and with all my soul,
sum presentialiter I am with you
absens in remota, even when I am far away.
quisquis amat taliter, Whosoever loves this much
volvitur in rota. turns on the wheel of torture.

5. Ecce gratum (Chorus) (Behold, the Welcome Spring)

Ecce gratum Behold, the welcome
et optatum and longed-for
Ver reducit gaudia, spring brings back joy,
purpuratum violet flowers
floret pratum, fill the meadows,
Sol serenat omnia. the sun brightens everything.
Iamiam cedant tristia! Now let sorrow depart!
Estas redit, Summer returns,
nunc recedit and now withdraws
Hyemis sevitia. the rampaging winter. Ah!
Iam liquescit Now melts
et decrescit and flows away
grando, nix et cetera; hail, snow and the rest,
bruma fugit, winter flees,
et iam sugit and now spring suckles at summer’s breast:
Ver Estatis ubera; a wretched soul is he
illi mens est misera, who does not live
qui nec vivit, and plays
nec lascivit sub Estatis dextera. beneath summer’s right hand. Ah!
Gloriantur They glory
et letantur and rejoice
in melle dulcedinis, in honeyed sweetness
qui conantur, those who strive
ut utantur to make use of
premio Cupidinis: Cupid’s prize;
simus jussu Cypridis at Venus’ command
gloriantes let us glory
et letantes and rejoice
pares esse Paridis. in being Paris’ equals. Ah!

UF DEM ANGER

6. Tanz (Dance)

7. Floret silva nobilis (The Noble Woods Are Blooming)

   (Chorus)
Floret silva nobilis The noble woods are blooming
floribus et foliis. with flowers and leaves.
   (Small Chorus)
Ubi est antiquus Where is my lover
meus amicus? from last year? Ah!
Hinc equitavit, He has ridden off!
eia, quis me amabit? Oh! Who will love me now? Ah!
   (Chorus)
Floret silva undique, The woods are blooming all over,
nah min gesellen ist mir we. I am pining for my lover.
   (Small Chorus)
Gruonet der walt allenthalben, The woods are turning green all over,
wa ist min geselle alse lange? why is my lover away so long? Ah!
Der ist geriten hinnen, He has ridden off,
o wi, wer sol mich minnen? Oh! Who will love me? Ah!

8. Chramer, gip die varwe mir (Shopkeep, Give Me Rouge)

   (Semi-Chorus)
Chramer, gip die varwe mir, Shopkeep, give me rouge
die min wengel roete, to make my cheeks red,
damit ich die jungen man so that I can make the young men
an ir dank der minnenliebe noete. love me, against their will.
Seht mich an, Look at me,
jungen man! young men!
lat mich iu gevallen! Let me please you!
Minnet, tugentliche man, Good men, love
minnecliche frouwen! women worthy of love!
minne tuot iu hoch gemout Love gives you high sprits
unde lat iuch in hohen eren schouwen and lets you shine in honor.
Seht mich an Look at me,
jungen man! young men!
lat mich iu gevallen! Let me please you!
Wol dir, werit, daz du bist Hail, world,
also freudenriche! so rich in joys!
ich will dir sin undertan I will be obedient to you
durch din liebe immer sicherliche. because of the pleasures you afford.
Seht mich an, Look at me,
jungen man! young men!
lat mich iu gevallen! Let me please you!

9. Reie (Round dance)

Swaz hie gat umbe

Swaz hie gat umbe, Those who go round and round
daz sint alles megede, are all maidens, who claim
die wellent an man they want to go without a man
allen disen sumer gan! all summer long!

Chume, chum, geselle min

Chume, chum, geselle min, Come, come, my love,
ih enbite harte din, I await you with desire,
ih enbite harte din, I await you with desire,
chume, chum, geselle min. come, come, my love.
Suzer rosenvarwer munt, Sweet rose-red lips,
chum un mache mich gesunt come and make me better,
chum un mache mich gesunt, come and make me better,
suzer rosenvarwer munt sweet rose-red lips.

Swaz hie gat umbe

Swaz hie gat umbe, Those who go round and round
daz sint alles megede, are all maidens, who claim
die wellent an man they want to do without a man
allen disen sumer gan! all summer long.

10. Were diu werlt alle min (Were All the World Mine)

Were diu werlt alle min Were all the world mine
von deme mere unze an den Rin from the sea to the Rhine,
des wolt ih mih darben, I would cast it all away
daz diu chunegin von Engellant if the queen of England
lege an minen armen. would lie in my arms.

IN TABERNA

11. Estuans interius (Burning Inside)

Estuans interius Burning inside
ira vehementi with violent anger,
in amaritudine bitterly
loquor mee menti: I speak to my heart:
factus de materia, created from crude matter,
cinis elementi of the ashes of the elements,
similis sum folio, I am like a leaf
de quo ludunt venti. played with by the winds.
Cum sit enim proprium While it’s proper
viro sapienti that the wise man
supra petram ponere should build
sedem fundamenti, his foundations on stone,
stultus ego comparor I, in my folly, am like
fluvio labenti, a flowing river,
sub eodem tramite whose course
nunquam permanenti. never stays the same.
Feror ego veluti I am carried along
sine nauta navis, like a ship without a helmsman,
ut per vias aeris and in the paths of the air
vaga fertur avis; like a twittering bird;
non me tenent vincula, chains cannot hold me,
non me tenet clavis, keys cannot imprison me,
quero mihi similes I look for men like me
et adiungor pravis. and join the rouges.
Mihi cordis gravitas For me a serious heart
res videtur gravis; is too serious a matter;
iocis est amabilis a joke is pleasant
dulciorque favis; and sweeter than honeycomb;
quicquid Venus imperat, whatever Venus commands
labor est suavis, is a sweet duty,
que nunquam in cordibus she never dwells
habitat ignavis. in a faint heart.
Via lata gradior I travel the broad path
more iuventutis as you do as a youth,
inplicor et vitiis I give myself to vice,
immemor virtutis, forget virtue,
voluptatis avidus I am greedy for pleasure
magis quam salutis, more than for salvation,
mortuus in anima my soul is dead,
curam gero cutis. so I shall look after the flesh.

12. Cignus ustus cantat (The Roast Swan)

Olim lacus colueram, Once I lived on lakes,
olim pulcher extiteram, once I looked beautiful
dum cignus ego fueram. when I was a swan.
   (Male chorus)
Miser, miser! Poor me!
modo niger Now scorched black
et ustus fortiter! and roasting fiercely!
   (Tenor)
Girat, regirat garcifer; The cook turns me on the spit;
me rogus urit fortiter; I am burning fiercely on the pyre:
propinat me nunc dapifer, the waiter now serves me up.
   (Male Chorus)
Miser, miser! Poor me!
modo niger Now scorched black
et ustus fortiter! and roasting fiercely!
   (Tenor)
Nunc in scutella iaceo, Now I lie on a plate,
et volitare nequeo and cannot fly anymore,
dentes frendentes video: I see gnashing teeth…!
   (Male Chorus)
Miser, miser! Poor me!
modo niger Now scorched black
et ustus fortiter! and roasting fiercely!

13. Ego sum abbas (I Am the Abbot)

Ego sum abbas Cucaniensis I am the abbot of Cockaigne [Never-Nerverland]
et consilium meum est cum bibulis, and my congregation is one of sots,
et in secta Decii voluntas mea est, I’m with the order of St. Decius,
et qui mane me quesierit in taberna, and whoever searches me out early at the tavern,
post vesperam nudus egredietur, leaves naked by Vespers,
et sic denudatus veste clamabit: and stripped of his clothes he will bawl:
   (Baritone and Male Chorus)
Wafna, wafna! “Woe! Woe!
quid fecisti sors turpassi What have you done, cruel Fortune?
Nostre vite gaudia All the joys of my life
abstulisti omnia! Ha ha! you have taken away!” Ha ha!

14. In taberna quando sumus (When We Are in the Tavern)

In taberna quando sumus When we are in the tavern,
non curamus quid sit humus, we do not think of earthly things,
sed ad ludum properamus, but we set out to gamble,
cui semper insudamus. and always work up a sweat.
Quid agatur in taberna If you want to know what happens in the tavern,
ubi nummus est pincerna, where money is master,
hoc est opus ut queratur, go on, ask,
si quid loquar, audiatur. and hear what I say.
Quidam ludunt, quidam bibunt, Some gamble, some drink,
quidam indiscrete vivunt. some live indiscreetly.
Sed in ludo qui morantur, For those who gamble,
ex his quidam denudantur some are stripped bare,
quidam ibi vestiuntur, some win new clothes,
quidam saccis induuntur. some leave dressed in sacks.
Ibi nullus timet mortem Here no one fears death,
sed pro Baccho mittunt sortem: but they throw the dice in the name of Bacchus.
Primo pro nummata vini, First raise a glass for those who buy a round
ex hac bibunt libertini; and all the boozers drink
semel bibunt pro captivis, another toast for the prisoners,
post hec bibunt ter pro vivis, after that, third for the living,
quater pro Christianis cunctis fourth for all Christians,
quinquies pro fidelibus defunctis, fifth for the departed faithful,
sexies pro sororibus vanis, sixth for the wanton sisters,
septies pro militibus silvanis. seventh for the rangers in the forest,
Octies pro fratribus perversis, eighth for the brothers fallen into sin,
nonies pro monachis dispersis, ninth for the dispersed monks,
decies pro navigantibus tenth for the sailors,
undecies pro discordaniibus, eleventh for the brawlers,
duodecies pro penitentibus, twelfth for the penitents,
tredecies pro iter agentibus. thirteenth for the travelers.
Tam pro papa quam pro rege For Pope and king alike
bibunt omnes sine lege. all drink without restraint.
Bibit hera, bibit herus, The mistress drinks, the master drinks,
bibit miles, bibit clerus, the soldier drinks, the priest drinks,
bibit ille, bibit illa, the man drinks, the woman drinks,
bibit servis cum ancilla, the servant drinks with the maid,
bibit velox, bibit piger, the quick man drinks, the lazy man drinks,
bibit albus, bibit niger, the white man drinks, the black man drinks,
bibit constans, bibit vagus, the shut-in drinks, the wanderer drinks,
bibit rudis, bibit magnus. the fool drinks, the scholar drinks,
Bibit pauper et egrotus, The poor man drinks, and the sick man,
bibit exul et ignotus, the exile drinks, and the stranger,
bibit puer, bibit canus, the boy drinks, the greybeard drinks,
bibit presul et decanus, the bishop drinks, and the deacon,
bibit soror, bibit frater, the sister drinks, the brother drinks,
bibit anus, bibit mater, the old lady drinks, the mother drinks,
bibit ista, bibit ille, this woman drinks, that man drinks,
bibunt centum, bibunt mille. a hundred drink, a thousand drink.
Parum sexcente nummate Six hundred coins would hardly
durant, cum immoderate suffice, when everyone
bibunt omnes sine meta. drinks immoderately and immeasurably.
Quamvis bibant mente leta, Even though they drink with gusto,
sic nos rodunt omnes gentes we are the ones picking up the tab,
et sic erimus egentes. and so we are always destitute.
Qui nos rodunt confundantur May those who slander us be cursed
et cum iustis non scribantur. and may their names not be written in the book of the righteous.

III. COUR D’AMOURS

15. Amor volat undique (Love Flies Everywhere)

Amor volat undique, Love flies everywhere
captus est libidine. seized by passion.
Iuvenes, iuvencule Young men and women
coniunguntur merito. come together, as they should.
   (Soprano)
Siqua sine socio, If a girl has no lover
caret omni gaudio; She misses out on all the fun,
tenet noctis infima It is as if she keeps the dark night
sub intimo hidden
cordis in custodia: in the depth of her heart;
   (Boys)
fit res amarissima. it is a most bitter fate.

16. Dies, nox et omnia (Day, Night and Everything)

Dies, nox et omnia Day, night and everything
michi sunt contraria; is against me,
virginum colloquia the sound of maidens’ voices
me fay planszer, makes me weep,
oy suvenz suspirer, and often sigh,
plu me fay temer. and this passion terrifies me.
O sodales, ludite, O friends, you mock me,
vos qui scitis dicite you do not know what you are saying,
michi mesto parcite, have mercy on me in my misery,
grand ey dolur, great is my pain,
attamen consulite at least advise me—
per voster honur. do it for your honor’s sake.
Tua pulchra facies Your beautiful face,
me fay planszer milies, makes me weep a thousand times,
pectus habet glacies. but your heart is of ice.
A remender To restore me,
statim vivus fierem I would return to life immediately
per un baser. With one kiss.

17. Stetit puella (A Girl Stood in a Red Dress)

Stetit puella A girl stood
rufa tunica; in a red dress;
si quis eam tetigit, if anyone touched it,
tunica crepuit. the dress rustled.
Eia!
Stetit puella A girl stood
tamquam rosula; like a little rose:
facie splenduit, her face was radiant
os eius fioruit. and her mouth in bloom.
Eia!

18. Circa mea pectora (In my Heart)

   (Baritone and Chorus)
Circa mea pectora In my heart
multa sunt suspiria there are many sighs
de tua pulchritudine, for your beauty,
que me ledunt misere. which torture me without end.
Manda liet, Mandaliet,
Manda liet mandaliet,
min geselle my lover
chumet niet. does not come.
Tui lucent oculi Your eyes shine
sicut solis radii, like the rays of the sun,
sicut splendor fulguris like a flash of lightning
lucem donat tenebris. which blazes through the darkness.
Manda liet Mandaliet,
Manda liet, mandaliet,
min geselle my lover
chumet niet. does not come.
Vellet deus, vallent dii May God grant, may the gods grant
quod mente proposui: The plan that burns in my mind:
ut eius virginea that I may cut loose
reserassem vincula. the chains of her virginity. Ah!
Manda liet, Mandaliet,
Manda liet, mandaliet,
min geselle my lover
chumet niet. does not come.

19. Si puer cum puellula (If a Boy and Girl)

Si puer cum puellula If a boy and girl
moraretur in cellula, slip away to a quiet room together
felix coniunctio. how lucky they are!
Amore suscrescente Love rears its head
pariter e medio between them as
avulso procul tedio, tedious good sense is cast away,
fit ludus ineffabilis and an unmentionable game begins
membris, lacertis, labii with their legs, arms and lips.

20.Veni, veni, venias (Come, Come, Please Come)

Veni, veni, venias Come, come, please come
Veni, veni, venias, Come, come, please come,
ne me mori facias, do not let me die,
hyrca, hyrce, nazaza, hycra, hycre, nazaza,
trillirivos trillirivos!
Pulchra tibi facies Beautiful is your face,
oculorum acies, the glance of your eyes,
capillorum series, your flowing hair,
o quam clara species! what a glorious creature!
Rosa rubicundior, Redder than the rose,
lilio candidior whiter than the lily,
omnibus formosior, lovelier than all others,
semper in te glorior! I shall always glory in you!

21. In trutina (In the Balance)

In trutina mentis dubia In my mind’s wavering balance,
fluctuant contraria set against each other are
lascivus amor et pudicitia. lascivious love and chastity.
Sed eligo quod video, But I choose what I see,
collum iugo prebeo: and submit my neck to the yoke;
ad iugum tamen suave transeo. I yield to this sweetest of yokes.

22. Tempus es iocundum (It Is a Time of Joy)

Tempus es iocundum, It is a time of joy,
o virgines, O maidens,
modo congaudete enjoy yourselves together,
vos iuvenes. O young men!
   (Baritone)
Oh, oh, oh, Oh! Oh! Oh!
totus floreo, I am in full flower!
iam amore virginali I am afire with young love!
totus ardeo, novus, novus amor est,
quo pereo.
New, new love is what I am dying of!
   (Women)
Mea me confortat I am elated
promissio, by my promise,
mea me deportat I am devastated by my refusal
   (Soprano and boys)
Oh, oh, oh Oh! Oh! Oh!
totus floreo I am in full flower!
iam amore virginali I am afire with young love!
totus ardeo, novus, novus amor est,
quo pereo.
New, new love is what I am dying of!
   (Men)
Tempore brumali In the winter
vir patiens, man is sluggish,
animo vernali the breath of spring
makes him lusty.
   (Baritone)
Oh, oh, oh, Oh! Oh! Oh!
totus floreo, I am in full flower!
iam amore virginali I am burning all over with young love!
totus ardeo, novus, novus amor est,
quo pereo.
New, new love is what I am dying of!
   (Women)
Mea mecum ludit My virginity
virginitas, makes me frisky,
mea me detrudit my shyness
holds me back.
   (Soprano and Boys)
Oh, oh, oh, Oh! Oh! Oh!
totus floreo, I am in full flower!
iam amore virginali I am afire with young love!
totus ardeo, novus, novus amor est,
quo pereo.
New, new love is what I am dying of!
   (Chorus)
Veni, domicella, Come, my mistress,
cum gaudio, with joy,
veni, veni, pulchra, come, come, my beauty,
iam pereo. I am dying!
   (Baritone, Boys and Chorus)
Oh, oh, oh, Oh! Oh! Oh!
totus floreo, I am bursting out all over!
iam amore virginali I am burning all over with first love!
totus ardeo, novus, novus amor est,
quo pereo.
New, new love is what I am dying of!

23. Dulcissime (Sweetest of Men)

Dulcissime, Sweetest of men!
totam tibi subdo me! I give myself to you completely!

Blanziflor Et Helena

24. Ave formosissima (Hail, Fairest of Women)

Ave formosissima, Hail, fairest of women,
gemma pretiosa, precious jewel,
ave decus virginum, Hail, glory of maidens,
virgo gloriosa, noble virgin,
ave mundi luminar, Hail, light of the world,
ave mundi rosa, Hail, rose of the world,
Blanziflor et Helena, Blanchefleur and Helen,
Venus generosa! noble Venus!

Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi

25. O Fortuna (O Fortune)

O Fortuna O Fortune,
velut luna like the moon
statu variabilis, you are always changing,
semper crescis forever waxing
aut decrescis; then waning;
vita detestabilis hateful life
nunc obdurat first brutal
et tunc curat then soothing
ludo mentis aciem, playing games with our minds;
egestatem, poverty
potestatem and power
dissolvit ut glaciem. both melt away like ice.
Sors immanis Fate—monstrous
et inanis, and empty—
rota tu volubilis, you are a spinning wheel,
status malus, you are malevolent,
vana salus your favor is pure vanity
semper dissolubilis, and always dissolves away,
obumbrata shadowed
et velata and veiled
michi quoque niteris; you torment me;
nunc per ludum now, as in a twisted game,
dorsum nudum my naked back
fero tui sceleris. is bared to your fury.
Sors salutis Fate is against me
et virtutis with no hope for health
michi nunc contraria, and virtue;
est affectus willingly
et defectus or unwillingly,
semper in angaria. We are all Fortune’s slaves.
Hac in hora Well then, begin! At this hour
sine mora without delay
corde pulsum tangite; pluck at the quivering strings;
quod per sortem since Fate
sternit fortem, strikes down even the strongest man,
mecum omnes plangite! come join me in a song of lamentation!

Xochipilli

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3 thoughts on “Carmina Burana: Songs to Welcome the Spring

  1. Do you know Vaughan Williams’ Five Tudor Portraits? I’ve always thought it as something of an English counterpart to the Orff (some of Skelton’s texts can be comparably racy). It was first done in 1936, one year before Carmina was unveiled. I’ve always believed that choirs would probably gobble it up as greedily as Carmina if ever they got hold of it…………………….

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    • Vaughan Williams is one of my absolute favorite composers! I agree that it is a fantastic work—and the elegy for the sparrow is particularly (and surprisingly) moving. Alas I only know the work from recordings, having never had the chance to perform it live. I hadn’t thought of it before, but you are exactly right…it does has a close affinity to Carmina Burana. That would be an interesting pairing!

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  2. Pingback: Coming to Terms with Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” | Mask of the Flower Prince

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