Oh, for tuna

Yeah, I hear a collective groan and forehead slap from all the muzik geeks. Heh, sorry…

I’ve been to a couple Cleveland Cavaliers games, and watched a bunch of them on TV — like yesterday, when they smoked the Pistons. Just before the action starts, the arena speakers blast out a positively deafening refrain, getting the crowd ready to rumble. But it’s not Zeppelin or Jay-Z or Aerosmith or Queen — rather, they play something written in 1936 by Carl Orff.

So yeah. Carl Orff. A “classical” musician, born in Germany in 1895. He is best remembered — even by those who have no clue it’s his work — for the secular cantata, Carmina Burana, based on 13th century poetry (which was pretty bawdy and profane, and therefore just a bit controversial). I giggle every time I hear it at an athletic event or in a movie, because it’s cool that a long-hair gets his due on the basketball court or the cinema soundtrack.

[I own the Robert Shaw/Atlanta Symphony version from 1990, which I think is the all-time best, if you ever want to borrow it.]

The Knot-Sees really dug it, too, back in the 30s. While completely a 20th-century composition, its medieval-period text is alarming and provocative. The piece is chock full o’ hedonism, from earthy references to women and sex, to knee-slapping drinking songs that accuse everyone from kids to the archbishop of tying one on. Truthfully, you ain’t lived till you’ve seen and heard 80 men sing “In Taberna” (In the Tavern).

Having sung Carmina twice in my career (it is great fun, but a huge, demanding work, especially for the soloists), the now-familiar opening always brings back fond memories for me. Often referred to as simply “O Fortuna,” its title is actually Fortuna, imperatrix mundi (Fortune, Empress of the World), with “Fortuna” depicted as the mystical female creature who controls the Wheel of Fortune, and thus, the fate of humankind. Certainly you’ve heard it. Bet you have. It’s the most ripped-off/flattered piece of “classical” music in history, with the possible exception of the first four notes of Symphony #5 by Beethoven, or maybe the 3rd movement of Chopin’s Piano Sonata #2 (the “Funeral March” theme).

Anyhow, if you’re not sure, here it is. But save for its apocryphal and pagan sound, it really doesn’t have much to do with victory, or domination over one’s opponent/oppressor. On the contrary, the translation reveals quite the dismal picture. You can follow along with the text below, if you like (the entire work can be found here):

But hey. That can just be our secret.

Have a dandy Sunday. Today I get to meet Bando at Panera for brekky. Yummy.


9 thoughts on “Oh, for tuna

  1. BoomR

    Oh For Tuna Salad Sammiches!! :-) Pencil me in for the groan & slap of the forehead, too! LOL

    …and lest old crusties like you & I who may remember another classical rip-off by the jingle-king himself, Barry Manilow? Intro to “Could It Be Magic” is an adaptation of Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor?

    Take note all you rappers….THAT’S how WE did sampling back in our day!!

  2. Ross

    My go-to source for classical recording ratings and criticism gives Shaw’s Carmina Burnana high marks (“clear and spacious, and the choral work … is spectacular”). i’m glad to hear the piece was played at a sporting event; it has the requisite thrill and tension, and at least it’s somewhat more fitting than say a beer commercial (Guinness used it recently, in a rare bit of bad advertising on their part).

    1. Rat Fink Post author

      Yep, I would definitely agree. I’ve heard dozens of renditions since the 70s, and I do like the Atlanta one the best. Best tempos, best drama, best soloists, in my humble opinion. Love it!

  3. Stein

    So I have a funny story… There was this guy that went to college with me that was a complete and total bottom-feeder. He was the most arrogant tool you can imagine. He insisted that he could play every instrument, and play it better than you. In our wonderful music history course (third quarter of it) we were listening to Ole Orff. This guy yells “I played this song when I filled in with the Dayton Symphony!” Immediately a guy whom everyone knew as a pot-head chimed in with, “Oh yeah? Well I wrote it!!” The arrogant kid never spoke in that class again. It was a thing of beauty.


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