Monday, September 12, 2011


Ah Carmina Burana - when will I get to see it performed again?

Everybody knows O Fortuna, the piece that both opens and closes the song cycle. And it is a massively impressive piece of work, which is why it's so popular. But there are other, far less well known pieces that are just as impressive, if in a different way.

One of my favorites is the second-shortest piece in the cycle, Dulcissime. It takes up exactly one line of the score. It's at the end of the Cour d'Amours section of Carmina Burana, right before the big finale of the show.

Here are the last three songs that make up the Cour d'Amours, with handy Youtube illustration links.

IN TRUTINA - this is actually a companion piece to Dulcissime and on several occasions on Youtube the two songs, by the same singer, are edited together consecutively and posted. This is Gundula Janowitz's version. This song is about a young women deciding between chastity and sex. She doesn't actually give her decision. But considering what comes next it's a pretty safe bet she's not getting herself to the nunnery any time soon.

TEMPUS ES IOCUNDUM - this is a flashy lyric-and-refrain piece all about giving yourself to joyfulness - and sex. Here is the Carmina Burana version, which is very different from the authentic early music version. Here are the lyrics with English translation. The English version of the refrain is great:
Oh, oh, I am all aflower, now with my first love I am all afire, a new love it is of which I am dying.

I like that all aflower/all afire translation. But you get a good idea how elegant Latin is when you look at that version:

Oh, totus floreo,
iam amore virginali
totus ardeo,
novus amor est,
quo pereo.

Mind you, the way the song is sung, the last line is almost shouted, three times: quo pereo! quo pereo! quo pereo! which makes it the perfect segueway into Dulcissime, which is a shooting rocket of a song and one of the most difficult, I understand, in the soprano repertoire. And you can see why when you listen. Here is Kathleen Battle doing pretty much a perfect rendition:

So basically the singer has to hit the ground running - she gets a tiny little syllable - "dul" to get set and then she has to go up straight to high B for "ciss-i-me" and then in one breath has to do eight sets of triplets and ascend to high D, one note above high C.

Battle makes it seem pretty easy, but this teenager's version makes clear the work that goes into it - she does pretty well, really, although it's supposed to be a capella and she gets a little assist from the piano, but obviously she's not a professional singer yet:

It's a little bit risque for a 14-year-old to be singing this - or would be if anybody understood Latin. The lyrics are:
Dulcissime, totam tibi subdo me!
or in English:
Sweetest man, I give myself to you completely!
You can see how it's hard not to get screechy with this piece and the next singer doesn't entirely avoid it:

Although at least this version goes right into Blanziflour et Helena, which doesn't leave much time to contemplate the last note of Dulcissime, which is how it's meant to be.

This version stretches it out a little...

There's a reason this song has to be short, sharp and high-pitched: it is the sound of the moment when a woman says "yes", joyfully, to sex out of pure irresistible desire for a man she adores. This is how all babies should be made.

There's nothing like seeing Carmina Burana live in person, but you can watch an entire performance of the complete Carmina Burana online here.