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Blanziflor et Helena
In Taberna (In the Tavern)
In Taberna is the fourth part of Carl Orff's brilliant Carmina Burana- a work which sets poems written by bawdy 13th century monks and scholars to modern orchestral and choral music. In Taberna means "In the Tavern" (or colloquially, "down the pub"). It marks the start of the second act, and consists of four movements, "Estuans Interius", "Olim Lacus Colueram", "Ego Sum Abbas" and "In Taberna Quando Sumus". After a dramatic self-examination by the Baritone soloist, the other movements describe scenes of feasting (from an unusual perspective), failing, and of course lots and lots of heavy drinking. The male voices, both solo and choral, dominate; and the mood shifts from high drama, to mournfulness, to despair, to shallow enjoyment.
I present below the Latin text of the poems with an English translation, and intersperse my comments on the music.
11. Estuans interius
The text of this song describes the writer's intense self-loathing due to his inability to control his own destiny. Lenz has been good enough to record his thoughts on the poem here. The music that Orff has devised to illustrate it combines a solo baritone voice with the orchestra in a breathless galloping style reminiscent of Italian opera.
The orchestra is given a long, gathering chord on brass and strings, an initial wavering trill giving way to the thump of a snare drum. They then establish the dominant rhythm of the movement- a driving dotted quaver in 4/4 time. The Baritone enters soon, barely singing outside this rhythm for the entire first verse. His words fall rapidly. In the first four lines, he sings mainly to the same note, rising in pitch only to emphasise the end the second and fourth lines. The next four lines see more variety in the tune, with pairs of notes sung at the same pitch contrasting with their neighbours in a see-saw motion. The baritone's rhythm drives on, but the orchestra divides- the strings introducing some triplet rhythms to the established beat, and the winds adopting a more relaxed progression of supporting chords.
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 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.
The second verse is dealt with in the same way, ending with a brass-dominated interlude leading to a change of feel in the third verse.
Cum sit enim proprium If it is the way
viro sapienti of the wise man
supra petram ponere to build
sedem fundamenti, foundations on stone,
stultus ego comparor the I am a fool, like
fluvio labenti, a flowing stream,
sub eodem tramite which in its course
nunquam permanenti. never changes.
The third verse sees further variety in melody and accompaniment. The baritone sings a lyrical tune to the first and third lines, both of which end in triplets. The second and fourth lines return to the dotted quaver rhythm of the earlier verses. The orchestration supports these melodic developments throughout, and alternates between a new off-beat rhythm and the basic dotted rhythm in accompaniment. The music certainly illuminates the idle drift suggested by the words in this section.
Feror ego veluti I am carried along
sine nauta navis, like a ship without a steersman,
ut per vias aeris and in the paths of the air
vaga fertur avis; like a light hovering bird;
non me tenent vincula, chains cannot hold me,
non me tenet clavis, keys cannot imprison me,
quero mihi similes I look for people like me
et adiungor pravis. and join the wretches.
The next four lines are sung in a straightforward declamatory style, in the simplest possible rhythm. The fifth and seventh lines are taken slowly, with each note and syllable accented and emphasised by the orchestra; the sixth and eighth lines bring things back to the rapid pace of the rest of the movement. The eighth line ends in a great swooping higher note. The fourth and fifth verses share the tune and arrangement on the third; but it's fair to say that the sentiment of the fourth verse suits the mood of the tune less well.
Mihi cordis gravitas The heaviness of my heart
res videtur gravis; seems like a burden to me;
iocis est amabilis it is pleasant to joke
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 lazy heart.
Via lata gradior I travel the broad path
more iuventutis as is the way of youth,
inplicor et vitiis I give myself to vice,
immemor virtutis, unmindful of virtue,
voluptatis avidus I am eager for the pleasures of the flesh
magis quam salutis, more than for salvation,
mortuus in anima my soul is dead,
curam gero cutis. so I shall look after the flesh.
The last lines of the movement are a resignation to the vice and debauchery of the tavern. After the final, higher note from the baritone, the orchestra has a few more bars of thumping out the dotted rhythm, with a accelerating pace. First a loud crash of cymbals, then the ringing of a triangle, and a concluding snare drum bang punctuate this conclusion.
12. Olim lacus colueram
This movement also puts the spotlight on a soloist- the tenor. However, this time, the men of the choir also feature. The text is the lament of a roast swan, being served up at a feast. The orchestration recalls the waddling movements and honking calls of waterfowl on land.
The introduction is driven by the wind instruments, which are given a faltering piecemeal melody, supported by awkward offbeats. It concludes with a low, quack-like sustained note. A sudden slap of percussion intrudes, apparently the blow of the butcher. Then a soft, flute-led lapping rhythm intrudes, perhaps the swan remembering its life on the lakes. Finally the tenor is heard.
His line is marked "Lamentoso (sempre ironico)"- a clue that he should sing (and we listen) with dark humour, rather than simple sympathy. The whole tenor line is formidably high, dwelling on As, and rising to a high C. This gives a strained, uncomfortable quality to the solo part. The tune, repeated in each of the solo verses, is riddled with striking and unsettling intervals. The orchestra supports this closely, with a warbling, muted trumpet standing in for the honk of the 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.
Between each tenor verse, the male voices of the choir sing a simple four-part harmony to a marching rhythm for the verses beginning "Miser, miser!". A sudden, rapid, triplet rhythm gives way to the faltering of the introduction before each subsequent tenor verse.
Miser, miser! Misery me!
modo niger Now black
et ustus fortiter! and roasting fiercely!
Girat, regirat garcifer; The servant is turning me on the spit;
me rogus urit fortiter; I am burning fiercely on the pyre:
propinat me nunc dapifer, the steward now serves me up.
Miser, miser! Misery me!
modo niger Now black
et ustus fortiter! and roasting fiercely!
Nunc in scutella iaceo, Now I lie on a plate,
et volitare nequeo and cannot fly anymore,
dentes frendentes video: I see bared teeth:
Miser, miser! Misery me!
modo niger Now black
et ustus fortiter! and roasting fiercely!
13. Ego sum abbas
Now it is the baritone's turn again. Here, he depicts the declaration of a corrupt, gambling "Abbot" with his "congregation" of drunken gamblers. He sings entirely without accompaniment from the orchestra, but with occasional percussive punctuation and shouts of "Wafna!" from the choir. The tone is the sobbing desperation of the losing gambler.
The movement begins with three repetitions of "Ego", each with three rapid notes and two sustained notes. At the end of the first line eight rapid percussive stabs from the orchestra and anvil ring out. The next five lines are sung through rapidly by the baritone. Each statement of "et" is marked by a glissando, or pitch bend, from an A up to a C.
Ego sum abbas Cucaniensis I am the abbot of Cockaigne
et consilium meum est cum bibulis, and my assembly is one of drinkers,
et in secta Decii voluntas mea est, and I wish to be in the order
et qui mane me quesierit in taberna,and whoever searches me out at the
tavern in the morning,
post vesperam nudus egredietur, after Vespers he will leave naked,
et sic denudatus veste clamabit: and thus stripped of his clothes he
will call out:
The eight raucous percussion chimes ring out again, and the baritone calls out the first "Wafna!". The cry is taken up at once by the tenors and basses of the choir. The two remaining sentences are sung by the baritone, and each is concluded by cries of "Wafna!" from the choir.
Wafna, wafna! Woe! Woe!
quid fecisti sors turpassi? what have you done, vilest Fate?
Nostre vite gaudia the joys of my life
abstulisti omnia! you have taken all away!
Ha Ha! Ha Ha!
After a long pause, a single trombone tone is heard, and finally the choir twists their cries of woe into a mocking laugh at the expense of the protagonist.
14. In taberna quando sumus
With seven verses, this is the longest text in the whole of Carmina Burana. It is effectively a drinking song, performed by the male voices of the choir.
The first verse sets the tone for the second. It is orchestrated with a low, swirling accompaniment. The first line has two attacking semiquaver runs, and the second has three such runs, all leading to the same repeated note. The orchestra plays a low drone with a soft, jerking offbeat. The next two lines are quieter, and all sung to one note. The instruments' low notes are connected smoothly together. This pattern repeats itself for the next four lines. The tone is sinister, and squalid. The last two lines are then repeated, much more loudly, and a full octave higher. The effect is jolting and wholly unexpected.
In taberna quando sumus When we are in the tavern,
non curamus quid sit humus, we do not think how we will go to dust,
sed ad ludum properamus, but we hurry to gamble,
cui semper insudamus. which always makes us sweat.
Quid agatur in taberna What happens in the tavern,
ubi nummus est pincerna, where money is host,
hoc est opus ut queratur, you may well ask,
si quid loquar, audiatur. and hear what I say.
The second verse is scored identically to the first.
Quidam ludunt, quidam bibunt, Some gamble, some drink,
quidam indiscrete vivunt. some behave loosely.
Sed in ludo qui morantur, But of those who gamble,
ex his quidam denudantur some are stripped bare,
quidam ibi vestiuntur, some win their clothes here,
quidam saccis induuntur. some are 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
The third verse recovers its cool from the violent ending of the second. The first two lines are smoothly flowing, still loud, but with less menace than before. However they end with great sudden, disjointed flurries of activity from the orchestra. The xylophone dominates here. The next four lines re all sung to the same note. The scoring is similar to the first two verses, but the offbeats are higher and less discordant. The last two lines again jump up a whole octave, but this time appear to quicken, consisting initially of crotchets, then quavers, the semiquavers, and overlapping with the frantic orchestration than ended similar lines before.
Primo pro nummata vini, First of all it is to the wine-merchant
ex hac bibunt libertini; that the libertines drink,
semel bibunt pro captivis, one for the prisoners,
post hec bibunt ter pro vivis, three for the living,
quater pro Christianis cunctis four for all Christians,
quinquies pro fidelibus defunctis, five for the faithful dead,
sexies pro sororibus vanis, six for the loose sisters,
septies pro militibus silvanis. seven for the footpads in the wood,
The fourth verse continues to count up through the lists of those being toasted. The first two lines are quiet and comparatively stately; but the end with a loud trombone slide. The next lines are markedly faster, but remain quiet. There are a lot of words here, and the fast tempo makes singing this section tricky for the choir. The offbeats continue to be high pitched, and seem to be coalescing into a perky tune. The sinister atmosphere is giving way to something happier- perhaps the booze is taking hold?. The last two lines contain several octave leaps.
Octies pro fratribus perversis, Eight for the errant brethren,
nonies pro monachis dispersis, nine for the dispersed monks,
decies pro navigantibus ten for the seamen,
undecies pro discordaniibus, eleven for the squabblers,
duodecies pro penitentibus, twelve for the penitent,
tredecies pro iter agentibus. thirteen for the wayfarers.
Tam pro papa quam pro rege To the Pope as to the king
bibunt omnes sine lege. they all drink without restraint.
Between the fourth and fifth verses come six bars of orchestral interlude. The first two are in the minor-mode, and reflect the dark, sinful sentiments from the rest of the section. The next two sound similar, but the trombones have entered double time, and things have become more frantic. Finally the mood changes completely. The orchestra shifts into major-mode. The trombones tempo doubles again, and the offbeats take a comic turn. It seems that the squalid drinking den of before has become a happy Bavarian beer hall, with an oom pah band parping away in the corner. Orff was from Munich, and such scenes would have been familiar to him.
Our protagonists have drunk enough to chase away their guilty, disapproving feelings and are ready to enjoy themselves fully.
The fifth verse sees the beginning of a comprehensive list of the assembled drinkers. All of medieval society is here- and all are drinking. The first four lines are the most measured, with the male voices in unison to a skippy, jaunty repetitive tune. The orchestral offbeats are soft. The next four lines introduce a clearer, higher set of offbeats, and raise the volume.
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 swift man drinks, the lazy man drinks,
bibit albus, bibit niger, the white man drinks, the black man drinks,
bibit constans, bibit vagus, the settled man drinks, the wanderer drinks,
bibit rudis, bibit magnus. the stupid man drinks, the wise man drinks,
The next verse follows directly, adding harmony to the choral parts, and some melodic complications to the bass beats in the orchestra. Everything is building and building. By the fourth line, the harmony has split into three parts, and a new pattern of offbeats has been added. The volume has increased again, and the mood is merrily frantic. By the time we've reached the "bibunt centum, bibunt mille" things appear almost out of control as the music swirls and builds.
Bibit pauper et egrotus, The poor man drinks, the sick man drinks,
bibit exul et ignotus, the exile drinks, and the stranger,
bibit puer, bibit canus, the boy drinks, the old man 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 man drinks, that man drinks,
bibunt centum, bibunt mille. a hundred drink, a thousand drink.
But a crash of cymbals and an abrupt change of pace from the singers marks the final verse. The first two lines begin with strident, measured tones, and a rapid "numate" or "immoderate". Then the previous drinking-song feeling returns somewhat, and we hear a rapid build up to a high and rising pitch at "scribantur".
Parum sexcente nummate Six hundred pennies would hardly
durant, cum immoderate suffice, if everyone
bibunt omnes sine meta. drinks immoderately and immeasurably.
Quamvis bibant mente leta, However much they cheerfully drink
sic nos rodunt omnes gentes we are the ones whom everyone scolds,
et sic erimus egentes. and thus we are 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.
In Taberna concludes with eight slurred, drunken cries of "Io!" from the choir, supported by the brass. A closing chord builds for four bars, and then a final sudden "Io!" is heard.
The next part is Cour d'Amours, or "The Court of Love", which contains the lushest, most beautiful music in all of Carmina Burana. Its nine movements describe the flights of Cupid, lovers' assignations, the pain of unrequited love, and the joy of first love. Oh, and lots of sex.
- 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