It’s tempting to think of Carl Orff as a one-trick pony. The German composer wrote “Carmina Burana,” the most often performed and most popular of works for orchestra, chorus and soloists.
But what else? Many things, actually, but nothing else that brought him such fame.
The Spokane Symphony, the Symphony Chorale and the Spokane Area Children’s Chorus will perform “Carmina Burana” on Saturday at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox. Music Director Eckart Preu will conduct.
Soloists include soprano Dawn Wolski, who has appeared frequently with the symphony, as well as a pair of newcomers to Spokane, tenor J. Raymond Meyers and baritone Eugene Brancoveanu.
Not surprisingly, every Spokane Symphony conductor has led performances of “Carmina Burana,” some of them more than once.
The work has been heard in many films and has played in the background of commercials selling automobiles, shaving lotion and instant coffee. It has been imbedded in pop and rock albums, some of them suppressed in lawsuits brought by the Orff estate.
“Carmina Burana” is based on poems from the 11th and 12th centuries in a manuscript from the abbey of Benediktbeuren, near Munich. The manuscript contains more than 250 poems based on songs sung by the Goliards, renegade priests who were vagabond poets and singers of the Middle Ages.
The poems – written in Latin, Middle High German and Provençal – mock morality and praise a “good life” of love, drinking and gambling.
Orff first encountered them in “Wine, Women and Song,” an anthology of 46 of the poems translated by the English poet John Addington Symonds in 1884. Orff and an friend went to a German publication of the originals and compiled a cycle of 24 songs in 1937.
It was a huge success, easily the most successful musical work of the Nazi era in Germany. The Nazis were put off by the erotic nature of many of the texts and by the style of Stravinsky that lies behind Orff’s music, but they got over it.
Orff wrote to his publisher after the 1937 premiere, “Everything I have written to date, and which you have unfortunately published, can be destroyed. With ‘Carmina Burana’ my collected works begin.”
After the end of World War II, its international success grew ever larger.
“Carmina Burana” opens and closes with “O Fortuna,” a description of the wheel of fortune. The wheel turned for Orff in 1937, but never quite came around for him again.
He wrote many more works: original operas, arrangements of baroque operas, a series of works for the musical education of children, as well another two pieces along the lines of “Carmina Burana.” None brought him the recognition, or the money, of his initial success.
Among Saturday’s soloists, Wolski is the wife of the symphony’s concertmaster, Mateusz Wolski. She holds performance degrees from St. Mary’s College in Maryland and the Manhattan School of Music.
Wolski was the only non-Russian winner of the Zara Dolukhanova International Song Competition in Russian in 2008. She has appeared in Poland, recently made her debut in China and has sung with many orchestras in the U.S.
Meyers has performed in many West Coast productions including a wide range of operetta and opera from Mozart through Verdi to Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus.”
He has sung frequently with such companies as San Francisco Opera, Portland Opera and Toledo Opera, and made his film debut in “Milk,” the Oscar-winning Gus van Sant production starring Sean Penn.
Brancoveanu is a graduate of the American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria, and the Universität Morzarteum in Salzburg. He has sung with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and many opera companies including the San Francisco Opera.