Carmina Burana - O Fortuna

The “Carmina Burana”, a medieval collection, tells us about life and love, about the hope and happiness of young people in the past. They were written by students and clergy when Latin was the lingua franca throughout Italy and western Europe for travelling scholars, universities, and theologians. Most of the poems and songs appear to be the work of Goliards, clergy (mostly students) who satirized the Catholic Church. Several centuries later, Carl Orff, a German composer, transformed some of these poems into music, a series of songs with full orchestral accompaniment. The motive of the wheel of Fortune is important to him. It turns hope to disappointment, love to loss. But it can also bring you to the top again. Therefore the mighty hymn to Fortune (“O fortuna, velut luna, statu variabilis”) appears twice in Orff ’s composition: at the beginning and at the end. The swing of the wheel as well as the motive of dance which appears again and again in the poems make Orff ’s “Carmina Burana” the perfect base for the dance choreography we created together trying to interpret its meaning by dancing.

  • 1112 AD
    The agreement of Sutri has been stipulated to solve the investiture problem
  • 1122 AD
    The fight for investiture stopped with the compromise of Worms
  • 1147 AD
    Second Crusade
  • 1152 AD
    Lombardy league fights against Frederick Barbarossa
  • 1183 AD
    End of Fight between Frederick Barbarossa and prinscipalities
  • 1183 AD
    Peace of Constance, the districts recognize the superiority of the emperor, the emperor allows the right to regalia, and the power to elect their magistrate.
  • 1187 AD
    Gerusalemme is occupied by the Turks
  • 1190 AD
    Frederick Barbarossa dies and is succeed by Henry VI
  • 1198 AD
    Innocent III becomes Pope
  • 1202 AD
    IV Crusade
  • 1210 AD
    Otton from Brunswick is excommunicated
  • 1212 AD
    Frederick II is crowned King of Germany
  • 1215 AD
    Magna Charta in England
  • 1220 AD
    Frederick II becomes king of Sicily
  • 1231 AD
    Constitution of Melfi
  • 1250 AD
    Frederick II dies

Historical Introduction

The so-called Carmina Burana are a collection of poems included in a manuscript written by itinerant scholars between the 12th and the 13th centuries. This manuscript contains 318 songs: most of them are written in Latin, but some others in German. Their contents are almost exclusively profane: didactic moralizing poems and satires, love songs and spring songs and verses about drinking and gambling. In addition to these songs, the manuscript contains two Latin plays: a Nativity play and a Passion play. Sometimes there are melodies or illustrations together with the texts. The poems were composed by three authors coming from the south of the Alps, according to their handwriting and the language they used. The manuscript was discovered by Johann Christoph von Aretin. The songs became famous after the composer Carl Orff (1895-1982), who turned them into a cantata entitled Carmina Burana in 1937.

Carl Orff

Carl Orff

Johann Christoph von Aretin

Johann Christoph von Aretin

O Fortuna

O Fortuna
velut luna
statu variabilis,
semper crescis
aut decrescis;
vita detestabilis
nunc obdurat
et tunc curat
ludo mentis aciem,
dissolvit ut glaciem.
Sors immanis
et inanis,
rota tu volubilis,
status malus,
vana salus
semper dissolubilis,
et velata
michi quoque niteris;
nunc per ludum
dorsum nudum
fero tui sceleris.
Sors salutis
et virtutis
michi nunc contraria,
est affectus
et defectus
semper in angaria.
Hac in hora
sine mora
corde pulsum tangite;
quod per sortem
sternit fortem,
mecum omnes plangite!

Lectio Restituta (German Group)
Oh Fate!
Like the moon
with your changeability
you always increase
or decrease,
the despicable life
now persists
and now then heals
with jokes the shrewdness of
the mind,
it melts them like ice.
Fate enormous
and meaningless
you, movable wheel,
baleful condition,
vain wellness
always faint,
covered by shadows
and veiled
you strive me, too;
now through game
nude spine
I bear your evil deeds.
Destiny of wealth
and strength
against me
it is an increase
and a decrease,
always at the mercy
of fate.
Right now,
without a break
feel the beat of the rope
because of fate
quiet the fort,
everyone cry with me!

Aestuans Interius

Aestuans interius
ira vehementi
in amaritudine
loquor meae menti;
factus de materia,
cinis elementi,
similis sum folio,
de quo ludunt venti.
Cum sit enim proprium
viro sapienti
supra petram ponere
sedem fundamenti,
stultus ego comparor
fluvio labenti
sub eodem tramite
numquam permanenti.
Feror ego veluti
sine nauta navis,
ut per vias aeris
vaga fertur avis;
non me tenent vincula,
non me tenet clavis;
quaero mihi similes,
et adiungor pravis.
Mihi cordis gravitas
res videtur gravis;
iocus est amabilis
dulciorque favis;
quicquid Venus imperat,
labor est suavis,
quae numquam in cordibus
habitat ignavis.
Via lata gradior
more iuventutis,
implicor et vitiis
immemor virtutis,
voluptatis avidus
magis quam salutis,
mortuus in anima
curam gero cutis.

Burning inside,
I’m speaking to my mind,
through fierce anger,
in bitterness:
because I am made out of material
of light elements,
I am like a leave
the winds are playing with.
Because it is the mark
of an intelligent man
to put on rocks
his foundation
I’m a foul and compare myself
to a lingering river
on the same bed
never stable.
I am carried
like a ship without a sailor,
like an intangible bird
carried through the airways.
Shackles do not hold me,
a key does not hold me,
I am looking for similar
and I meet the corrupted.
The heaviness of heart
seems hard to me;
the game is lovable
and sweeter the honey.
Whatever Venus orders
is enjoyable labor
which never lives
in the cowardly hearts.
I step through wide lanes
as in my youth
I surrounded myself in vices
forgetful of honesty
coveting lust
rather than salvation
dead inside
I carry with me the flesh’s cure

Miniature from “OVIDE MORALISE”

14th century

Miniature from “Ovide Moralise” di Chretien Legouais (XIV sec.)

Miniature from “Ovide Moralise” di Chretien Legouais (XIV sec.)

14th century In Medieval and Ancient philosophy the Wheel of Fortune, or Rota Fortunae, is a symbol of the capricious nature of Fate. The wheel belongs to the goddess Fortuna who spins it randomly, changing the positions of those on the wheel: some suffer great misfortune, others gain windfalls. It became a common image in manuscripts of the book, and then other media, where Fortuna, often blindfolded, turns a large wheel of the sort used in watermills, to which kings and other powerful figures are attached.


The Staircase of Fortune (“La scala della fortuna”), 1939 Martini Alberto,1876-1954

The Staircase of Fortune (“La scala della fortuna”), 1939 Martini Alberto,1876-1954

Alberto Giacomo Spiridione Martini was born in Oderzo in 1876 and died in Milan in 1954. He was an italian draftsman, painter, engraver and illustrator. He was a precursor of surrealist movement.


The piece ‘O Fortuna’, which is part of ‘Carmina Burana’ of Carl Orff, presents some music/text’s matches. At the beginning and in half of the composition there is an immediately and evident change of the dynamic (from forte to piano) and of the beat (from 2/4 to 3⁄4). This choice probably derives for describing in a better way the main characteristics of the Fortune, that is the mutability. It grows and decreases , sometimes is with us or against us: it shows us the human impotence in front of the Fortune and the cruelty of fate. The chilling atmosphere of the choir tends to evoke the classic image of death brought back by the iconography of the Middle Ages: the horrendous skull wrapped in a black cloak with a scythe in hand.This state of variability is highlighted also by the presence of numerous rhythmic games and timbral artifices, which create great suggestion. Variabilis: accelerando. After Variabilis from forte it becomes piano. Dissolvit ut giaciem: the dynamic decreases as if to end; in reality it starts again more tense than before, keeping the piano. Sempre dissolubilis: it seems to end, but it starts again with the addition of the eardrums that give greater tension. Sors salutis et virtutis michi nunc contraria,est affectus et defectus semper in angaria: the music suddenly becomes loud. It continues to accelerate and increase its dynamics until the end, with a final explosion characterized by the addition of percussion. All this trend highlights the invincible strength of Fortune.

Choreography created and perfomed by students during the Italian-German meeting in Wilhelmshaven, April 2019