Carmina Burana — at least the first part, “O Fortuna” — is probably one of the most immediately recognizable lyrics we’ve discussed so far in this class. It’s in all sorts of media — TV, films, film previews, sometimes it’s sampled in other music, and so on. So, of course, it does immediately bring to mind a few things in particular; most notably for me, when I hear “O Fortuna,” I think of the battle in Helm’s Deep from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. However, despite its prevalence, it has never occurred to me to look up the lyrics themselves or its incarnations prior to Carl Orff’s arrangement from the 1930s.
Looking at the lyrics now, both in their original form and translated, it’s actually a bit more confusing than I anticipated. The general message of the lyric at the start seems to be to do with how quickly luck changes from good to bad; the cruelty of an immutable fate; a request from the speaker to their audience that they mourn said cruelty alongside them. However, it’s pretty long and winding; while the lyrics turn back to the initial song several times, they are interspersed with love songs, borderline erotica, drinking songs, something a bit nonsensical about a roast swan, and odes to the seasons. The winding and not always coherent theme behind the lyrics as a set is kind of jarring to read when compared with the solemn, dramatic tone of “O Fortuna” in particular.
Another of the things that jumps out to me is the rhyme scheme/ meter; It’s not particularly remarkable but again, I had never really considered the rhyme scheme prior to reading the lyrics. The Carl Orff version I’m familial with is very grand, orchestral, done by a rather melodramatic-sounding choir; it doesn’t seem to leave much room for whimsy, or rhyme, and the meter of the words sort of gets lost behind the sounds of the rest of the song.