Catulli Carmina

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Catulli Carmina
Scenic cantata by Carl Orff
Carl Orff.jpg
The composer, aquatint etching
Descriptionludi scaenici (scenic plays)
Based onPoetry of Catullus
6 November 1943 (1943-11-06)

Catulli Carmina (Songs of Catullus) is a cantata by Carl Orff dating from 1940–1943. He described it as ludi scaenici (scenic plays). The work mostly sets poems of the Latin poet Catullus to music, with some text by the composer. Catulli Carmina is part of Trionfi, the musical trilogy that also includes the Carmina Burana and Trionfo di Afrodite. It is scored for a full mixed choir, soprano and tenor soloists, and an entirely percussive orchestra – possibly inspired by Stravinsky's Les noces[1] – consisting of four pianos, timpani, bass drum, 3 tambourines, triangle, castanets, maracas, suspended and crash cymbals, antique cymbal (without specified pitch), tam-tam, lithophone, metallophone, 2 glockenspiels, wood block, xylophone, and tenor xylophone.

Dramatic structure[edit]

The piece is divided into three parts: a prelude with Latin text by Orff,[2] the central dramatic story using Catullus' poems, and a short postlude which recalls the music of the prelude.[3]

In the prelude, groups of young women and young men sing to each other of eternal ("eis aiona" – "forever" – two words of Greek in the otherwise Latin text) love and devotion, along with quite explicit statements of the erotic activities they intend with each other. (In the texts distributed with programs and early recordings, such as the Turnabout (Vox) one, many lines in the translation are left blank.) A group of old men interrupts with sarcastic comments and charges the young people to listen to "the songs of Catullus".

The story proper tells of Catullus, a lovesick young man who falls in love with Lesbia, a woman who does not remain faithful to him. The tenor and soprano soloists portray Catullus and Lesbia respectively. This story is based loosely on the factual relationship between Catullus and Clodia, with a text mostly constructed from the poems of Catullus, in which he did address Clodia by the pseudonym Lesbia. Catullus wrote many poems about this relationship and the ones selected for the cantata take the audience through its several phases.

In this listing, the poems are given the standard numbers.[4][5] Subject to occasional textual variants, the poems are as written by Catullus, except for some interpolations in Latin ('O mea Lesbia' and the like, and exclamations of approval by the old men) and the curious extra words in poem 109.

Act 1[edit]

Act 2[edit]

  • "Jucundum mea vita" (poem 109, with the apparently Italian words Dormi, dormi ancora interpolated)
  • "Desine de quoquam quicquam bene velle mereri" (poem 73)

Act 3[edit]

  • "Odi et amo" (poem 85)
  • "Amabo mea dulcis Ipsitilla" (poem 32)
  • "Ameana, puella defututa" (poem 41)
  • "Miser Catulle, desinas ineptire" (poem 8)
  • "Nulla potest mulier tantum se dicere amatam" (poem 87)
  • "Nunc est mens deducta tua mea, Lesbia, culpa" (poem 75)

This selection and sequence of poems is apparently intended to tell the young people on stage that love will not last forever.

However, in the postlude, the young people have clearly decided to ignore the message and the cantata ends with their continued exclamations of "eis aiona" (meaning "forever"), to the exasperation of the old men.

The music[edit]

The orchestra only plays in the prelude and postlude, whereas in the Catullus play itself, the soloists are only accompanied by the chorus, which takes the part of a Greek chorus. The piece experiments with repeated phrases and syncopated rhythms even more so than Carmina Burana. Scholars have debated the reason why this is such a lesser-known work, compared to its predecessor. It has been suggested that, with the fall of Nazi Germany and the depressed feeling of Europe in the aftermath of World War II, for a long time it simply did not have the opportunity to be presented to any large audience.



  1. ^ "Carl Orff: Catulli Carmina (1943) / Trionfo di Afrodite (1953). By Hans Jörg Jans, Orff-Zentrum, Munich". American Symphony Orchestra. Archived from the original on 2011-06-10. Retrieved 2009-06-18.
  2. ^ Helm, Everett (July 1955). "Carl Orff". The Musical Quarterly. XLI (3): 285–304. doi:10.1093/mq/XLI.3.285.
  3. ^ Orff, Carl (1943). Catulli Carmina (Klavierauszug [piano vocal score]) (in Latin). Mainz: B. Schott's Söhne. 3990.
  4. ^ "Catullus" (in Latin). Retrieved 27 December 2012. posted from the Whitman College Classics Department from a revised version of Mynors' Oxford text of 1958
  5. ^ Fordyce, C.J. (1966) [1961]. Catullus, a commentary. Gaius Valerius Catullus. Oxford at the Clarendon Press: Oxford University Press.
  6. ^ Wilfred Mellers, Review of Catulli Carmina (1968). The Musical Times, 109 (1499): p. 44
  7. ^ Robert Anderson, "Record Reviews: Catulli Carmina" (December 1971). The Musical Times, 112 (1546): pp. 1178–1179.

External links[edit]