Monday, July 19, 2010

Music Monday ~ O Fortuna!~ Carl Orff

Everybody must have heard O Fortuna! at least once during their lifetime. It pops up regularly in movies and TV commercials. I first heard it many Moons ago as background music to a TV ad for Old Spice aftershave - in the days when aftershave as a male accessory was in its infancy.

Years later I disvcovered that Carmina Burana, a cantata by German composer Carl Orff, from which O Fortuna! is taken, was derived from a set of mediaeval poems. These poems were discovered in a monastery in Bavaria in 1803. They are not all on sacred subjects, as one might expect from writings found in a monastery, but include poems and songs in Latin, French and German about love, lust, gambling and the trials and tribulations of life on Earth. Carl Orff chose 24 from the much larger collection of poems, and set them to music. O Fortuna! sits at the beginning and end of the cantata he composed in the mid 1930s.

I've only now realised the connection between O Fortuna! and the tarot card from the major arcana: Wheel of Fortune. It's a convoluted journey from an aftershave ad. to the tarot deck! Card illustrated is from the 15th century Vinconti-Sforza deck.

The Wheel of Fortune turns
I go down, demeaned;
another is raised up;
far too proud
sits the king at the summit --
let him fear ruin!
for under the axis we read
about Queen Hecuba

Carl Orff was born on 10 July 1895 in Munich, Germany at 3:15AM. Sun conjunct Jupiter, and Mercury all in Cancer, and Cancer rising. His natal chart can be viewed here, at Astrodatbank. Zodiac sign Cancer is ruled by the Moon. Carl Orff's Carmina Burana begins with a direct reference to his ruling luminary. Translation:
O Fortune,
like the moon
you are changeable,
ever waxing
and waning;
hateful life
first oppresses
and then soothes
as fancy takes it;
and power
it melts them like ice.
Fate – monstrous
and empty,
you whirling wheel,
you are malevolent,
well-being is vain
and always fades to nothing,
and veiled
you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back
to your villainy.

Orff has, over the years, had some justifiably bad press, related to his acquiescence during the Nazi regime, and betrayal of his close friend Kurt Huber. Huber was a founder of the resistance movement, White Rose. Perhaps Orff was a weak and selfish man who, while not being a member of the Nazi party, had achieved acceptance of his music by the ruling regime. He was not courageous enough to forego this in order to offer aid when his friend was arrested, tortured and executed. Is this a reflection of a typically Cancerian trait: withdrawal from danger and unpleasantness. I wonder. It's best not to judge the guy too harshly. None of us knows what we'd do in his position, in those circumstances. We might think we know -but we really do not.

This dramatic video presentation of O Fortuna! would, I suspect, have pleased Carl Orff. It features a singer discovered by the TV show The X Factor in 2007, Rhydian Roberts and chorus:


Wisewebwoman said...

Wonderful piece, the performance is haunting, T.

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~ Yes - it gives me the shivers - it's almost perfect background music for what's going on in the Gulf of Mexico just now. :-(