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Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring / Carl Orff: Carmina Burana

Premiere 23. 6. 2021, Janáček Theatre

The coming of spring has been celebrated since ancient times and the old pagan rituals connected with it have also been an inspiration to artists. The most famous example is Igor Stravinsky and his The Rite of Spring, which was composed for Diaghilev´s Russian Ballet. The Paris premiere in 1913 provoked a scandal thanks to the avant-garde nature of the music as well as the daring stage production. However, over the following years this fascinating work not only became part of the repertoire of ballet ensembles, but also was regularly heard in concert form. 

The wheel of fortune is spinning and upon it is written “I will rule, I rule, I ruled, I lost the empire” – this is the central idea and structure of one of the most famous cantatas of the 20th century, Carmina Burana, by the German composer Carl Orff. It is part of what are known as the Trionfi, together with Catulli Carmina and Trionfo di Afrodita. The cantata is based on a collection of medieval poems and songs – some of a satirical or religious nature, and others concerned with love, or drinking. Carl Orff went through two hundred original texts in Latin, Old French, Italian and German that had been found at Benediktbeueren Abbey and divided the chosen pieces into six thematic units. Carmina Burana was performed for the first time in 1937 at the Frankfurt Opera House to great success, and after World War II its popularity exploded, with the piece making its way to concert halls around the world, and even to the silver screen. Just as with Stravinsky´s music, the basic musical element for Orff is rhythm. He effectively utilised an enormous musical apparatus – an orchestra with an extended percussion section, a choir and a children´s choir – to achieve some truly impressive moments in a work where joy, love, sadness and hope alternate as the wheel of fortune spins. Everything commences and concludes with a number devoted to Fortuna, the ruler of the world.

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