Desire! Fate, Fortune & the Music of Carl Orff

Mar 29, 2016

Landsberg_Wheel-of-FortuneThe Angeles Chorale shall have dual pianos, a percussion ensemble, and original choreography by Artists Plus for its production “Desire! Fate, Fortune & the Music of Carl Orff” on April 2.

After a musical introduction, the opening movement of Orff’s Carmina Burana “O Fortuna” will be performed. “O Fortuna” is one of the most recognized pieces of music of our time—and one of the most powerful. Every time we hear it, whether in movies such as The Last of the Mohicans or Speed, at sporting events, or even in commercials like Old Spice aftershave, we get chills. Every time.

In 1934, Orff encountered the 1847 edition of the Carmina Burana by Johann Andreas Schmeller, the original text dating mostly from the 11th or 12th century, including some from the 13th century. Orff selected and organized 24 of these poems into a libretto, mostly in Latin verse, with a small amount of Middle High German and Old Provençal. The selection covers a wide range of topics, as familiar in the 13th century as they are in the 21st century: the fickleness of fortune and wealth, the ephemeral nature of life, the joy of the return of Spring, and the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust. (Italicized portions are official text.)


Carl Orff

Carl Orff


For this event—”Desire! Fate, Fortune & the Music of Carl Orff”—an orchestra will not be used…

“Orff authorized a version of Carmina Burana utilizing not an orchestra but two pianos and five percussionists,” explains Angeles Chorale’s Artistic Director John Sutton of his decision to present this non-orchestral rendition. “Yes, the audience won’t hear the orchestral colors, but they’ll experience Carmina Burana with a new clarity—hearing choral colors that are often masked by an orchestra.”

Frequently irreverent and satirical – sometimes even bawdy – most scholars believe the texts were written by a group of clergy and monks called Goliards. Traveling entertainers, the Goliards often wrote the poems as ‘protest songs’ against the growing contradictions they saw within the church.

Other times, the songs simply celebrate life at its most passionate and elemental. “Carmina Burana gives us a chance to explore one of our most primal instincts, desire,” Sutton says. “I don’t know a person, for instance, who isn’t addicted to excess – whether it’s exhibited in excessive shopping, excessive eating, excessive sex, excessive control, excessive narrow-mindedness.”

Or excessive drinking. “One song is so funny,” Sutton continues. “It talks about all of the people who are drinking. It goes through this litany of lawyers and plumbers and carpenters and chambermaids and priests. Everybody’s drinking!”


Testing the wine (or sneaking a drink); a scan from The Medieval Cookbook via Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Testing the wine (or sneaking a drink); a scan from The Medieval Cookbook via Wikimedia Commons, public domain


However, according to Sutton, the songs go far deeper than this. “As my mentor – and Angeles Chorale’s former Artistic Director – Don Neuen often said, Any good idea taken to an extreme becomes a bad idea,” Sutton comments. “The opening lyrics of ‘O Fortuna’ encourage us to delve more deeply into this conundrum.”


O Fortune,
like the moon
you are changeable,
ever waxing
and waning;
hateful life
first oppresses
and then soothes
as fancy takes it;
and power
it melts them like ice.


“Desire!” will also bring to musical life our primal instinct to love and be loved. Opening the program is what Sutton describes as “a little triptych of falling in love, getting married, and then reflecting on the marriage.”

Songs include “One May Morning,” an English folk song arranged by conductor Charlene Archibeque, “The Wedding Cantata” by Daniel Pinkham, and “This Marriage” by Eric Whitacre, written for his wife, soprano Hila Plitman, while Whitacre was composer-in-residence at Azusa Pacific University, where Sutton is Associate Professor and Chair of Choral Activities.



First United Methodist Church, Pasadena



DESIRE! Fate, Fortune & The Music Of Carl Orff
Saturday, April 2, 7:30 p.m.
First United Methodist Church, 500 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena 91101
Tickets: $25, advance purchase online; $30 at the door; $20 student tickets with valid ID at the door only
For more info, call 1.818.591.1735
Or visit





A marvelous explanation of the Goliards from “Music about Poultry, Day 3” at Smart and Soulful Music:

The collection of poetry known as Carmina Burana was unearthed in 1803 at a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria. It was quickly recognized as a window into the soul of the Golliards, a sort of displaced and, as a result, disillusioned, second class of medieval clergy. Trained in theology and monastic disciplines at a time of overabundant applicants for a limited number of ecclesiastical positions, a large number of these seminarians found themselves adrift and questioning their place in the social order. These were the Golliards. Educated, lacking apparent purpose, world-weary, and observing around them a deep and prevalent moral corruption in the Church, they themselves gravitated toward a carnal lifestyle and expressed their frustrations over the moral degradation they witnessed in Latin verse. The Protestant Reformation was still a few centuries off, and the biting satire of their poetry was the only way the Golliards had to express their discontent. These morally charged forces would continue to build pressure under the dome and eventually explode in revolt and revolution once Martin Luther broke the camel’s back in 1517. The Golliardic poetry that survives from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries exposes many of the currents that would eventually place Luther at the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg with a hammer in one hand, 95 Theses in the other, and a few nails held between his lips.




Above: An image from Garden of Delights or Hortus deliciarum by Herrad of Landsberg, 12th century. Fortune turns the crank while those on the wheel depict how fortunes easily come and go. Landsberg was German, an Abbess (1167-95), a writer and illuminator. Garden of Delights is a “complex pictorial encyclopedia”¹ The work covers biblical, moral, and theological elements, including gardening hints! (We include this illustration as productions of Carmina Burana are often accompanied by images of these wheels of fortune, which were quite popular in the 12th century, according to William Clark at A Medieval Woman’s Companion.)


The Angeles Chorale

The Angeles Chorale


The Angeles Chorale is a 100-voice, auditioned, professional-level, volunteer choir rehearsing and performing in the Los Angeles area. The Chorale appeared with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2012 under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel as he conducted Mahler’s 8th Symphony, the Symphony of a Thousand, at the Shrine Auditorium. That season, the Angeles Chorale also was honored to perform with Barbra Streisand at the Hollywood Bowl and with Julie Andrews at the annual Holiday Sing-Along at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, part of the LA Philharmonic’s “Deck the Halls” concert series. 


John Sutton

John Sutton


About Artistic Director John Sutton:
Sutton’s professional choral career spans over four decades of work in the community, church, academic, and professional settings. 

As a student, Dr. Sutton has studied with some of the most distinguished conductors in the field of choral music. John holds degrees from Northwest University (B.A. in Sacred Music and Biblical Literature), San José State University where he was a student of Dr. Charlene Archibeque (MA in Choral Conducting), and the University of California at Los Angeles.

Beyond his focused choral training in the university setting, John has studied and performed with notable choral luminaries such as Robert Shaw, Helmuth Rilling, and and Eric Ericson. In addition, he has performed extensively throughout the United States and abroad in choral concert tours and recording projects which include performances at the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, and Constitution Hall. 

His enthusiasm for the choral art and his commitment to excellence has made him a popular choral clinician, festival conductor and adjudicator.

Since moving to Los Angeles in 2000, John has conducted choral music heard on weekly television series, and national ad campaigns for major motion pictures such as the Harry Potter series, the Spider Man series, The Divinci Code, Fantastic Four, and countless others.

John resides in Altadena, California with his wife, Dr. Cecilia Patiño-Sutton.






Can’t recall “O Fortuna”? Here’s a performance of the work—with full orchestra and with English subtitles.

The UC Davis University Chorus, Alumni Chorus, Symphony Orchestra, and Pacific Boychoir with Jeffrey Thomas conducting; June 2006.

(The music begins around 1:15.)





¹ Source:





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