Carmina Burana

Salvete, omnes!

I’ve always loved the Carmina Burana by Orff, though, upon thinking about it, have recently had some questions on whether it is appropriate for me to be listening to it, given the history/context of it, most of which I have (up to writing this) learned from reading other posts here on it.

I guess the broader question we may apply to this issue is: If the creation of a work (whether of music, art, literature, etc.) may have been done with questionable or even outright negative intent, should we still listen to it, even if we don’t agree with that intent but if we listen to it for some other reason such as the beauty of the poetry/music itself and their ability to move us? Even if we don’t agree with the lyrics, mightn’t it be of some benefit to listen just to get a better sense of where the lyrics’ narrator is coming from (and to evoke a kind of empathy if such is appropriate)?

Other perhaps less controversial instances of this come to mind such as our admiration of Greek temples, not for what they were made for, but for the beauty of their architecture. The poems of Catullus (particularly the ones to Lesbia/Clodia) also come to mind for me as a classicist. While it is thought by many that the Roman poet was having an affair with said Clodia, we yet feel his suffering at her own infidelity to him. (It is also interesting to note that Orff also composed a “Catulli Carmina” as another portion to a larger work also containing the “Burana” based on some of C.'s poems.) Also stories from mythology come to mind; though we do not approve of pagan worship, they still hold some meaning for us either as mere stories or even containing even within them some universals.

Getting back to the “Burana”, could listening to such music cause someone else to stumble, either within or outside of the Church, since it contains some lyrics apparently rather in opposition to the Church/her teachings? Might some hearing/happening to know I’m listening to it think that I am endorsing everything I hear in it? If so, is this enough reason to give up listening to it altogether, or only in certain circumstances where listening to it could cause someone to stumble? (As I’ve said in other posts, I am seriously looking into becoming RC, so, honestly, I’m trying to go ahead and work out some of these issues.)

Would be interested to hear your take on the above questions.

Gratias vobis multas.

Wow, I would say that you are very close to answer yourself the question.

As Christians and Catholics we are supposed to transform our environment with the values that Jesus want for us.
So every aspect of our life is important as we are a mirror for those around us and hopefully they will not see us but Christ at work through us.

You have rightly pointed to works of art that even though built by pagans do have some intrinsic beauty AND the Catholic Church has always recognized the touch of GOD even in the pagan works of art, literature, etc.

Modern music can be harder to judge though.
Is the lyric outrageous? Filled with hate speach or bad words?

How would that reflect your own values? Is it consistent with Christianity?

In the end you are the judge of that and I am sure you can make the determination.

Hi Mystic.

It would be helpful if you could be more specific about the verses that you are concerned about. I believe that the lyrics that Orff set to music were mainly students’ drinking songs. I have never seen the full text but this is what I’ve found in Wikipedia:

The selection covers a wide range of topics, as familiar in the 13th century as they are in the 21st century: the fickleness of fortune and wealth, the ephemeral nature of life, the joy of the return of Spring, and the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust.

Orff is said to have been Hitler’s favorite composer, but I don’t think we should let that stand in our way.

As fr as modern music generally goes, no, many of the lyrics do not espouse Catholic/Christian values. However, the music itself can be good and even the lyrics can fruther inform us as to why a person holds the views he/she does. Again, I think sometimes it can be about empathy and doesn’t always have to reflect our own views if we simply listen to it. Now, I might advise someone who is “weaker” in their faith/convictions against listening to this kind of music, but, as some have pointed out in other threads, I think this can be a bit subjective.

Was this meant to be taken seriously or sarcastically? Lack of voice tone/body language/a sarcasm emoticon has me confused…

Hmm, I though it Wagner.

Even so, it does not stop me from enjoying “Ride of the Valkyries”.

Well Misty, Carmina Burana is as you know a fantastic composition - the text is also in Latin, High German and Provençal. You as you say are a classicist (bonus points for Catullus! :smiley: ) and maybe have read and thought about the texts Orff set, more than the average listener anyway. I’m sure you’d know on reading the texts or hearing their setting if it raised something in you that you felt uncomfortable with. Speaking personally, I’d not avoid any sort of music/poetry/etc just because the themes are “difficult” or inappropriate.

I’m not sure, for myself, that authorial intentions matter very much if I otherwise enjoy the work of art. It’s very much what I/the audience take from it. Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ (which of course depicts artistic nudity) was for a long while considered scandalous even though that (probably) wasn’t the artist’s intent. (I have a hard time imagining Pope Francis or any of his immediate predecessors ordering someone to paint fig leaves all over the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel).

We can listen to Carmina Burana and not think that the exultation of drinking/sex/etc is appropriate, and still admire the music, just as we can read Catullus and empathise with him, without approving of the morality of it. We don’t have to think that Athena is really a goddess to be overawed by the Parthenon. (We don’t have to agree with Martin Luther or Thomas Cranmer to appreciate some of their writings, for that matter!). I don’t think that listening or reading or viewing represents endorsement of what’s been written or made. (A Republican can talk about a manifesto published by a Democratic candidate, without remotely agreeing with anything on it, and vice versa).

I think, that part of being human is to be open to new experiences. Of course a lot of these one should approach with caution but with regard to artistic creations, to my mind it’s fine.

I wish you every blessing as you explore the Catholic faith :slight_smile:

Good point. Just because a person who has, granted, done absolutely evil things likes a particular composer/type of music/whatever doesn’t automatically make that music morally reprobate. Music is more complex than that. Men are more complex than that.


One of the most thoughtful responses I’ve seen here. It goes very far in directly addressing the questions I’ve posed. It is passionate, while, at the same time, being well-reasoned/well-thought-out. I truly wish all of us could be more thorough in our responses to others’ questions. A direct response, both well-reasoned and passionate, can go a long way, I think.

Just throught I’d throw that in there.

Actually it was Wagner who was favored by the Nazis and , IIRC, it has only been in recent years that the Israel Philharmonic would play his works.

I like Carmina Burana-I have no idea what it lyrics are-I assumed they had something to do with Conan the Barbarian.

Literally. Both statements are true. It is (reportedly) true that Orff was Hitler’s favorite composer. It is also true (as I see it) that that is no reason for us to refuse to listen to his music. No emoticons needed!


Yes, Wagner enjoyed the official endorsement of the Nazi party, but Hitler’s personal preference – so it is said – was for Carl Orff.

“Burana” is the Latinized form of a German place name. Carmina Burana is a musical setting of a selection of lyrics from a thirteenth-century compilation of (mainly) student drinking songs in Latin, German, and French.

Carmina is one of my favorites! My choir actually performed it this past weekend, and it was a lot of fun.

To answer a few people above - the lyrics in the piece vary widely in focus. Some of them, such as “Ecce Gratum” and “Ave Formossissima” are simply beautiful, expressing the wonder and beauty of their subjects - in the former, Spring, and in the latter, two girls from myth. Others, like “O Fortuna” and “Fortune Plango Vulnera” are about the fickle nature of the world, and are full of frustration.

And then there are some more rowdy pieces - “In Taberna Quando Sumus” is a song expressing the joys of drinking (and, I think, is meant to be satirical). There are love songs, some of which are bawdy, such as “Circa Mea Pectora”, which is about a man trying to convince a girl to give up her virginity to him; or “In Trutina”, which is about a girl trying to decide between her love and the religious life; or “Puer cum Puelulla”, which is about what boys and girls do when they’re alone in a room together.

Regardless of the subject matter, the music itself is absolutely splendid, so I think it’s a matter of personal judgement whether or not you think you’re glorifying or promoting such activities through your performance of the piece. (And when you consider none of it is in a language spoken today, you’re probably not going to communicate the subject matter to the audience particularly well in the first place.)

Happy to be of help :tiphat:

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