Carmina Burana

Carmina Burana
(early 13th century)
   The Carmina Burana is a famous collection of love songs, religious songs, drinking songs, political songs, gambling songs, and also of moral songs and religious drama, mostly written in Latin, but to some extent also in a mixture of Latin and Middle High German (called “macaronic poetry”). This collection was created sometime in the early 13th century and copied down in a manuscript, today housed in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München (Bavarian State Library of Munich; MS. Clm 4660 and Clm 4660a [single leaves that had been separated from the original manuscript at some time]).We do not know for sure where this collection was originally put together since the manuscript itself does not provide us with any specific clues, but the Carmina Burana were certainly copied in a south German or, more likely,Austrian convent, such as in Seckau (near Graz, Styria), Murnau (southern Bavaria), or Neustift/Brixen (south Tyrol). The main section, consisting of 228 songs, was systematically put together by a group of scribes, and later scribes added a group of another 26 songs. Since a few songs in this collection can be dated more precisely (NEIDHART’s song CB 168 [ca. 1217–19] and WALTHER VON DER VOGELWEIDE’s “Palästinalied” [ca. 1220–25]), and since we can draw solid conclusions from paleographical, art-historical evidence—the manuscript is richly illustrated—and musicological evidence, it seems most reasonable to date the Carmina Burana at ca. 1230.
   Following the sweeping secularization process in which most convents were dissolved in 1803, the manuscript was transferred from the Benedictine Abbey of Benediktbeuern near Bad Tölz (southern Bavaria) to the State Library in Munich. The collection, however, kept the name Carmina Burana, or “Songs from Benediktbeuern,” and the manuscript itself is known today as Codex Buranus. Because Benediktbeuern had always entertained close cultural and economic contacts with southern Tyrol, and keeping in mind the fairly open-minded intellectual milieu at the Augustinian convent of Neustift/Brixen, recent scholarship has increasingly argued that the Carmina Burana were copied there. The redactor(s) obviously relied on older song collections and had them copied either entirely or in parts. Thematically the Carmina Burana offer a wide range of topics, both religious and secular: greed and simony, jealousy, fortune, virtues, religious conversion, sermons for various groups of clergy, criticism of the Holy See in Rome, pilgrimage to the Holy Land, erotic love, unconventional and perverse forms of love (including homosexuality, adultery, rape, and prostitution), love laments, political, ethical, and moral laments, including laments about undesired pregnancy, about approaching death, the poverty of a student, and even the parodic lament by an already fried swan about its own death (CB 130).Moreover, there are songs about the evils at the court, wine, gambling, drinking, gluttony, and the other seven deadly sins, and about the life of goliards (see GOLIARDIC VERSE). Many times the poets grotesquely parodied religious genres. Some of the best-known poems such as “Estuans intrinsecus” resort to the traditional confession of a churchgoer, but in reality the songs offer nothing but frank acknowledgments of earthly delight in pleasure and sensuality. Not surprisingly, a number of songs prove to be openly obscene, but most of them display an outstanding poetic skill in the employment of rhetorically sophisticated language and music (43 of the poems are accompanied by lineless neumes, that is, notation systems for the general melody, but not for the intervals and the rhythm). The poets were obviously members of a university-trained group of people, both students and teachers, such as Gautier de Châtillon, Giraldus of Bari,Hugo Primas of Orleans, Gottfried of Saint Victor, the ARCHPOET, Peter of Blois, Philipp the Chancellor, and Marner, but the majority of songs have come down to us anonymously. The poets not only display a remarkable disrespect of the church and its sacred texts, they also proudly demonstrate their thorough familiarity with classical Roman literature. Although there are many allusions to the life of minstrels and poor students, most songs seem to have been composed by well-established poets, probably in leading positions at universities and cathedral schools, not afraid of satirizing many of the holiest institutions and ideals of the Catholic Church, freely playing with the cruder human instincts and desires—which would explain the general anonymity of the poets. These highly liberal songs, however, are framed by very serious moralethical songs and by Christian dramas. One of the earliest songs, “Postquam nobilitas seruilia cepit amare” (CB 7), deserves closer examination here. The poet criticizes the decline of the aristocracy that has assumed crude and boorish behavior.Nobility without inner virtues is worth nothing, and man’s true nobility rests in his mind and in his being an image of God: “Nobilitas hominis mens et deitatis imago” (3, 1). The poet defines this nobility even further, mentioning the ability to control one’s temper, the willingness to help those in need, the understanding and acceptance of the limits for man set up by nature, and the absence of fear of anything in this world, except for fear of one’s own moral decrepitude. True nobility is characterized by virtues, whereas the person who is lacking in virtues is a degenerate being: “Nobilis est ille, quem uirtus nobilitauit, / Degener est ille, quem uirtus nulla beauit” (4, 1–2).
   Many of the songs are contrafactures, that is, they are using the melody of other songs for their own purposes. The individual songs have often come down to us in scores of other manuscripts (a total of 502 at the latest count), and only a few of the songs are unique to the Codex Buranus. The Carmina Burana have always enjoyed great respect among medievalists, but they gained true popularity among the wider audience only when the German composer Carl Orff (1895–1982), in 1937, set to his own music 25 songs selected from this collection in the form of a scenic oratorio or cantata, originally accompanied with ballet and divided into the three themes of Spring, Tavern Life, and Love.
   ■ Carmina Burana. Edited by Alfons Hilka and Otto Schumann. Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1930–1970.
   ■ Lehtonen, Tuomas M. S. Fortuna, Money, and the Sublunar World: Twelfth-Century Ethical Poetics and the Satirical Poetry of the Carmina Burana. Helsinki: Finnish Historical Society, 1995.
   ■ Peterson, Jeffrey. “Writing Flowers: Figuration and the Feminine in Carmina Burana 177,” Exemplaria 6 (1994): 1–34.
   ■ Sayce, Olive. Plurilingualism in the Carmina Burana: A Study of the Linguistic and Literary Influences on the Codex. Göppingen: Kümmerle, 1992.
   ■ Walsh, P. G., ed. and trans. Love Lyrics from the Carmina Burana. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.
   Albrecht Classen

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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  • Carmina Burana — (pronounced|ˈkarmɪna buˈraːna), also known as the Burana Codex, is a manuscript collection, found in 1803 in the Bavarian monastery of Benediktbeuern, and now housed in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich. The 119 leaves of the original… …   Wikipedia

  • Carmina Burana — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Códex buranus (Cármina burana) Para obra homónima de Carl Orff, véase Carmina Burana (cantata). Carmina burana es el nombre dado a la colección de cantos goliardos de …   Wikipedia Español

  • Carmĭna burāna — Carmĭna burāna, Titel einer Sammlung größtenteils lateinischer, daneben aber auch deutscher und lateinisch deutscher Lieder, die fahrende Kleriker, sogen. Goliarden (s.d.) oder Vaganten (s.d.), des 12. und 13. Jahrh. zu Verfassern haben, und… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Carmina Burana — (izg. kȃrmina burȃna) ž <indekl.> DEFINICIJA pov. rukopisna zbirka srednjovjekovnih pjesama iz 12. i 13. st. na latinskom jeziku, otkrivena poč. 19. st., poezija putujućih klerika važan izvor za poznavanje onodobnog mentaliteta i… …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • Carmina burana — Carmĭna burāna, Sammlung meist mittellat. Lieder fahrender Schüler (Vaganten), gefunden in der Abtei Benediktbeuern in einer Handschrift des 13. Jahrh. Auswahl in den »Carmina clericorum« (7. Aufl. 1890), vollständig hg. von Schmeller (4. Aufl.… …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

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  • Carmina Burana — Cet article concerne des manuscrits médiévaux. Pour l’œuvre musicale que Carl Orff en a tirée, voir Carmina Burana (cantate). Codex Buranus (Carmina Burana) « Les Carmina Burana …   Wikipédia en Français

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