We had an awesome Master Chorale rehearsal Tuesday evening! We began the process of turning those notes in the score into music. One hundred sixty voices strong, we rehearsed several choruses. Section by section, we dissected the music, focusing on the intonation, phrasing, articulation and dynamics required to convert spots on a page into a memorable performance.
Being in a choir, we address a component of the music that many of our orchestral colleagues may not give a lot of thought to...the words. Choir singers, must give careful consideration to them. Failure to devote the proper amount of attention can lead to a sound that is unintelligible to the audience. The words also give meaning to the music and we use them to convey the poetry and drama that resides in the text.
Since the words convey a message, I use my score study time to understand precisely what I am singing about. With “Carmina Burana”, this is great fun, as the texts reveal a lot of “interesting” thoughts. Written by the Goliards, traveling scholars who were clerics, the earthy and ribald poems reveal facets of life in the 12th and 13th centuries, the time long past that comes alive once again for us.
The chorus entitled “Were diu Werlt alle min” is a good example. The translation reads in part: “Were all the world mine from the sea to the Rhine…I would starve myself of it to have the Queen of England lying in my arms!” What?? This Goliard probably wrote these words after having a few too many flagons of mead! Instead of coveting the buxom maid delivering those flagons to his table, he decides that he would rather have the Queen of England as his paramour! Indeed!!
Then, I gave this a second thought. Some of the Goliards did travel throughout Europe, so perhaps he would have encountered the Queen, but which Queen? Andreas Capellanus, a 12th century French Chaplain mentioned in his book that there was one Queen who maintained what was known as “The Court of Love” at her castle in Poitiers from 1168 to 1173. She lived from 1137 to 1204. She was very well-educated; spoke multiple languages, and studied math, history, astronomy, and music.
Renowned for her beauty, Bernard de Ventadour, a noted troubadour, called her "gracious, lovely, the embodiment of charm". She was married to two kings, the first being King Louis VII of France. The marriage was later annulled because she bore him no sons. She then married King Henry II of England. With Henry II she had nine children, including three English Kings. She was even rumored to have had an affair with Geoffrey Plantagenet, Henry’s father prior to their marriage. Geoffrey, the story goes, warned Henry to stay away from this woman, whom he viewed as dangerous. She was by all accounts the most famous, beautiful and powerful woman in all of Europe.
Now this is someone I can picture as I sing this chorus! Can you imagine the conceit of this poet as he fantasizes being with the most famous woman in all of Europe? Now here is somebody with real ambition, a sense of vision, if you will. Hey I can relate to this poet! As I sing this chorus, I will think of only you, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine!
“Were all the world mine from the sea to the Rhine…I would starve myself of it to have the Queen of England lying in my arms!” “Hey!!”