Carl Orff's O Fortuna in popular culture

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In 1935–36, the 13th-century poem "O Fortuna" was set to music by the German composer Carl Orff for his twenty-four-movement cantata Carmina Burana. The composition appears in numerous films and television commercials[1] and has become a staple in popular culture, setting the mood for dramatic or cataclysmic situations.[2] For instance, it is used to portray the torment of Jim Morrison's drug addiction in the film The Doors.[3] In 1983, Doors' keyboardist Ray Manzarek released his third solo album, Carmina Burana, which is an interpretation of the piece in a contemporary framework.

"O Fortuna" has been called "the most overused piece of music in film history",[4] and Harper's Magazine columnist Scott Horton has commented that "Orff’s setting may have been spoiled by its popularization" and its use "in movies and commercials often as a jingle, detached in any meaningful way from its powerful message."[5]

In popular culture[edit]

In Movies[edit]

In movie trailers[edit]

  • 1989: In the trailer for the 1989 film Glory, although the actual film score was composed by James Horner and sung by The Boys Choir of Harlem. (Orff's 'Carmina Burana' is not used in the finished film.)
  • 1990: Plays throughout the entire trailer for the low budget Canadian horror film, Cursed (1990), advertised as Gargoyle.
  • 1994: Used in the cinematic trailer for the film The Professional.
  • 1999: In the trailer for the film South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.

In TV series and specials[edit]

In live and reality TV and radio[edit]

In advertisements[edit]

In videogames[edit]

In sports[edit]

Other uses[edit]

Bands and artists who have covered or sampled the work[edit]


In 1991, when the Belgian group named Apotheosis produced a heavily re-sampled version of "O Fortuna", the estate of Carl Orff successfully sued to stop the distribution of the record on the grounds of copyright infringement.[17][18] The verdict also affected the version by Fortuna ft. Satenig, which in the week of the verdict just reached the #1 position in the Dutch charts Nationale Top 100, while Apotheosis was at #3.[19] The week after, the two songs began quickly slipping off the chart.