Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi
I
Primo Vere
Uf Dem Anger
II
In Taberna
III
Cour D'Amours
Blanziflor et Helena

I

Primo vere (In Springtime)

Primo vere is the second part of Carl Orff's brilliant Carmina Burana- a work which sets poems written by disgraced 13th century monks and scholars to modern orchestral and choral music. Primo Vere means "In Springtime". It consists of three movements, "Veris leta facies", "Omnia sol temperat" and "Ecce Gratum". The first two are subdued, with the winter still well remembered. The second holds out hope for spring, describing the slow warming of the sun's rays. The final movement is a frisky celebration of the springtime, which looks forward to the arrival of summer.

I present below the text of the poems with an English translation, and intersperse my comments on the music.

3. Veris leta facies

This movement is in three verses, and each is arranged and sung in the same way. The first one is introduced by two rapid, stabbing lines on the piccolo, supported by simple chords on the piano and xylophone. This is a sparse, wintry attention-grabber, reminding us that the start of spring is still a cold time.

The first two lines, are sung in unison in a low-pitched flowing chant. They are prefixed by a two low, chiming notes from the piano and horns, and are supported by the latter note, which sounds continuously during the chant. The second two lines are performed in the same way. The mood is restrained and measured.

Veris leta facies                   The merry face of spring
mundo propinatur,                   turns to the world,
hiemalis acies                      sharp winter
victa iam fugatur,                  now flees, vanquished;

The next four lines are sung to a higher tune. The low chimes that announced the lines earlier are replaced by high chimes from the piano, piccolo and xylophone. Each line is now punctuated by a chime of it's own. This appears to speed things along, even though the singing is at the same subdued tempo. So, an air of anticipation is built up. In each verse, the second four lines deal with a more dynamic topic that the first four, and the change in musical arrangement emphasises this.

in vestitu vario                    bedecked in various colours
Flora principatur,                  Flora reigns,
nemorum dulcisono                   the harmony of the woods
que cantu celebratur                praises her in song.
Ah!                                 Ah!

Each verse ends with a short tune on the piccolo, punctuated by three triangle strikes, with the choir holding a long "Ah!" note on a single pitch.

Flore fusus gremio                  Lying in Flora's lap
Phebus novo more                    Phoebus once more
risum dat, hac vario                smiles, now covered
iam stipate flore.                  in many-coloured flowers,
Zephyrus nectareo                   Zephyr breathes nectar-
spirans in odore.                   scented breezes.
Certatim pro bravio                 Let us rush to compete
curramus in amore.  Ah!             for love's prize. Ah!

Cytharizat cantico                  In harp-like tones sings
dulcis Philomena,                   the sweet nightingale,
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 virginum              the chorus of maidens
iam gaudia millena.   Ah!           already promises a  
                                    thousand joys. Ah!

4. Omnia sol temperat

The central verse of this movement retains the calm, anticipatory air of the previous one. Again, each of the three verses has the same tune and arrangement. This time, they are sung by a solo baritone.

Each verse begins with a sustained high note from the strings, and four short, high piccolo notes. Then we are plunged immediately into the flowing baritone song. Half way through his second note, the strings begin a cold chord that is held right up to the first word on line four.

Omnia sol temperat                  The sun warms everything,
purus et subtilis,                  pure and gentle,
novo mundo reserat                  once again it reveals to the world
faciem Aprilis,                     April's face,

During the word "ad", the strings change chord to a warmer, less sparse one. It is the perfect musical representation of the arrival of filtered shafts of sunlight. Each verse has a similar turning point at the start of line four where the sun's warmth is felt.

ad amorem properat                  the soul of man
animus herilis                      is urged towards love
et iocundis imperat                 and joys are governed
deus puerilis.                      by the boy-god.

Rerum tanta novitas                 All this rebirth
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 your springtime
fides est et probitas               it is true and right
tuum retinere.                      to keep what is yours.

Ama me fideliter,                   Love me faithfully!
fidem meam noto:                    See how I am faithful:
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.

This movement ends with the same four piccolo notes that it began with, but this time there is also a quiet, low piano chord. Spring has now been anticipated, and the warmer weather has begun. But the mood of this movement is still understated, moderate and melancholy. Notice that in the last line, the poet reminds us of the wheel of fortune which was the dark theme of the previous movement.

5. Ecce gratum

In the last movement of this part, the joys of spring become more obvious, and there is a brighter, happier feeling. Again, each verse is sung to the same tune and arrangement. The tenors open each verse with a unison fanfare of the first line, underpinned by a single chiming bell. The first line is then repeated, with the basses and the orchestra joining in. This is the first harmony singing we've heard since the opening part, Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi. The singing is staccato, and the start of each line is marked by the chiming sound from the beginning of the movement.

The first three lines are repeated again, the orchestral parts becoming richer, and the sopranos and altos adding their voices to the harmony. The phrasing remains detached. The next three lines, "purpuratum, floret pratum, Sol serenat omnia" are sung by all voices in unison, the tune a flowing spiral. The singers are shadowing by a twinkling piano, glockenspiel and celesta line.

Ecce gratum                         Behold, the pleasant
et optatum                          and longed-for
Ver reducit gaudia,                 spring brings back joyfulness,
purpuratum                          violet flowers
floret pratum,                      fill the meadows,
Sol serenat omnia.                  the sun brightens everything,

The last four lines have a slightly different mood again. The male voices start, supported by the brass section and with the wind section repeatedly jumping up and down a constant interval. They sing the last four lines rapidly and loudly. Thees are then repeated with the female voices joining in harmony; the percussion comes to the fore at this point with rattling tambourines.

The male and female parts take it in turns to frolic on the penultimate two lines- the men on "Estas redit", the women on "nunc recedit". They join together for the last line which is again supported directly by the brass- the tempo more stately. They hold the final "Ah!" over sweeping string lines, a snare drum roll and rattling tambourines.

Iamiam cedant tristia!              sadness is now at an end!
Estas redit,                        Summer returns,
nunc recedit                        now withdraw
Hyemis sevitia. Ah!                 the rigours of winter. Ah!

The music pauses briefly, a final strike of the tubular bell rings out, and the next verse starts right away.

Iam liquescit                       Now melts
et decrescit                        and disappears
grando, nix et cetera;              ice, snow and the rest,
bruma fugit,                        winter flees,
et iam sugit                        and now spring sucks 
Ver Estatis ubera;                  at summer's breast:    
illi mens est misera,               a wretched soul is he    
qui nec vivit,                      who does not live    
nec lascivit                        or lust    
sub Estatis dextera.  Ah!           under summer's rule. Ah!

Gloriantur                          They glory
et letantur                         and rejoice
in melle dulcedinis,                in honeyed sweetness
qui conantur,                       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. Ah!             in being Paris' equals. Ah!

The next part is Uf dem Anger, which features dances, the fertile forests, and flirtatious maidens.

Sources:

  • Imperial College Union Choir's 2002 performance
  • PDF sheet music typeset by Michael Bednarek, http://mbednarek.com/
  • The 1997 recording with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Royal Choral Society under Richard Cooke

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