Arts Listings

Hertz Hall Hosts Medieval and Modern ‘Carmina Burana’

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Friday April 20, 2007

Composer Carl Orff’s 20th century “scenic cantata,” Carmina Burana, and the 13th century collection of songs that inspired Orff’s “reimagining” will both be performed—probably for the first time ever in this format, “back to back, recto to verso”—by the University Chorus and Chamber Chorus with guest soloists and musicians, under the direction of Marika Kuzma. 

The medieval songs will be performed tonight (Friday) at 8 p.m., Hertz Hall on the UC Berkeley campus and Orff’s Carmina Burana will be performed at Hertz Hall at 3 p.m. Saturday, free, as part of Cal Day. 

The medieval Carmina Burana will be repeated Sunday at 7 p.m., St. Dominic’s Church, 2390 Bush St., San Francisco—also for free, with free parking provided. 

The medieval songs of the Carmina Burana, which the University Chamber Chorus will perform tonight are from a manuscript collection found in the abbey at Benediktbeurn, Bavaria, in Latin, German and French, created and sung by Goliards, vagantes, wandering scholars who sang for their supper while on the road from one university to another, singing of wine and love, and satirizing the clergy.  

The performance will be staged, based on materials from Thomas Binkley’s production (where Kuzma assisted Binkley, and several of the guest musicians played) at the Early Music Festival in 1990 (Binkley’s Studio der fruhen Musik originally recorded selections for Teldec.) Guest instrumentalists include guitarists Paul Binkley (Thomas Binkley’s nephew, who will play on Binkley’s instruments) and Michael Bresloff, recorder players Francis Felden and Kit Higginson, harpist Cheryl Ann Fulton, Shira Kammen and Roy Whelden on vielles and percussionist Peter Maund, with choreography by Charles Moulton. 

Carl Orff’s (1895-1982) “scenic cantata” was first performed in Frankfurt in 1937, becoming the first piece of Trionfi, a trilogy including Catulli Carmini (1943) and Trionfo Di Afrodite (1953). Orff, who divided his time between children’s musical education, conducting, designing percussion instruments (which earned the monicker “Orff instruments”) and editing old musical manuscripts, took 25 songs from the medieval collection of the Carmina Burana, mounting them in three parts ( “Springtime,” “In the Tavern” and “The Court of Love”) to realize his modern work, with his signature techniques of building climaxes through repetition, avoiding counterpoint, emphasizing chorus and percussion, and using mimed staging.  

Orff taught at the Munich Academy of Music in his hometown, also co-founding there in 1924 the Gunther Schule for music and movement with Dorothee Gunther. After the age of 40, Orff devoted himself solely to theatrical music, from incidental stage music to operas like Antigone (1946), setting the translation of Sophocles by Romantic poet Friedrich Holderlin. His educational activities were discontinued by the Nazis; in 1948, the postwar government put him on radio to teach, with worldwide impact. 

The University Chorus’ production will be performed in the piano-percussion arrangement with soloists Axel Van Chee, Gregory Fair and Candace Johnson, with pianists Karen Rosenak and Jeffrey Sykes, and percussionist Florian Canzetti. 

Both versions will be conducted by Marika Kuzma. 

“So few people know the origin and contexts of the songs which inspired Orff,” Kuzma said, “that it may come as a surprise how different the sensibilty is. Something I’ve loved about working with the student choruses on this is that these songs from the 13th century are from students, in their search for pleasure and wisdom, and it’s been student imagination and student energy coming together with the original to put this show on. 

The students of the 13th century were, in their way, singing of the nature of true values and even something like the separation of church and state. There are so many lines back and forth between past and present. Orff refers to the 13th century, which referred back to antiquity. And in Thomas Binkley’s version, you can hear very clearly the influence of other cultures. It sounds very Middle Eastern.” 


The medieval songs will be performed at 8 p.m. tonight (Friday) at Hertz Hall on the UC Berkeley campus. Tickets ($4-$12) are available at the Zellerbach Box Office, 642-9988, or an hour before the show at Hertz Hall Box Office. 

Orff’s Carmina Burana will be performed at Hertz Hall at 3 p.m. Saturday, free, as part of Cal Day. 

The medieval Carmina Burana will be repeated at 7 p.m. Sunday at St. Dominic’s Church, 2390 Bush St., San Francisco. Free, with free parking provided as well.