Zane Razzaq ’15
Assistant Arts Editor
On March 9, Smith College’s and the University of Virgina’s glee clubs and the Smith College Chorus will present a large musical composition of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The show, “Sex, Booze, and Classical Music,” will be conducted by Jonathan Hirsh, who is a professor of music and the conductor of the Orchestra, Glee Club and Chamber Singers; Joseph Baldwin, a lecturer of music and the Iva Dee Hiatt Distinguished Assistant Director of Choral Activities and Frank Albinder, an internationally known conductor and conductor of the Virginia Glee Clubs.
The oratorio is a scenic cantata, a vocal composition with an instrumental accompaniment and usually a choir. Carmina Burana was composed between 1935 and 1936 by Orff, a 20th-century German composer. Carmina Burana or Songs from Beuern in Latin, takes its inspiration from a medieval collection of 254 poems and dramatic texts from the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries of the same name. Orff selected and organized 24 poems from the manuscript into Carmina Burana.
The poems included in the original Carmina Burana were mocking, bawdy and ironic, a combination that Orff’s show strives to reflect.
“The music itself commits no sins simply by being and remaining popular,” said Alex Ross, an American music critic, about the irreverent manner of Orff’s music. “That Carmina Burana has appeared in hundreds of films and commercials is proof that it contains no diabolical message; indeed it contains no message whatsoever.”
Today, Orff’s work continues to be celebrated in contemporary music, created by current artists such as Nas and P. Diddy.
“Carmina Burana has enjoyed popularity and longevity, in large part due to its remarkable crossover ability … portions of the work are heard in films ranging from Excalibur to Natural Born Killers to Jackass,” said Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony.
The work also has a celebrated history in America, specifically in Massachusetts. Boston University’s College of Fine Arts presented Carmina Burana for the first time in the East Coast with their premiere in 1954.
Smith continues the tradition by bringing Carmina Burana to the Pioneer Valley through their Oratorio event. Each spring, a male glee club such as one from Harvard, Rutgers, the Naval Academy and the University of Michigan, comes to Smith to perform a major choral work with the Smith Glee Club. While this year’s performance will be Orff’s Carmina Burana, previous performances have included Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Brahms’ German Requiem.
Fouded in 1871, the Virginia Glee Club is the oldest musical organization at the University of Virginia. The members are primarily undergraduate students, and belong to every school and college within the university. The club has termed themselves a “fraternity of talent” and is regularly seen as a leader among the other American men’s choruses for their tradition of performing both sacred and secular music in the classical tradition.
The Smith College Glee Club was founded in 1885 by a group of Smith students who were inspired by a male group at Yale University and who wanted to create the equivalent at Smith. Glee Club performs in different major concerts at Smith throughout the school year. They also tour throughout the U.S. and perform at different colleges and universities on the East Coast and in the Midwest. The group performs a diversity of music ranging from jazz to contemporary to folk music.