The Carmina Burana, or Codex Buranus, is a medieval manuscript of 254 poems and dramatic texts dating to about 1230 AD. Several more pages were bound with it into a small folder in the Late Middle Ages.
The authors were theological students who worked within and satirized the Catholic Church. They protested through song, poetry, and performance the growing contradictions within the Church, such as financial abuses and the failure of the Crusades. Pieces also address everyday subjects such as 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."
The poems and songs were written when Latin was the lingua franca of Western Europe for traveling scholars. Not all were in Medieval Latin, however, and the appearance of regional languages in the manuscripts reflect the travels of the authors, with songs originating from Occitania, France, England, Scotland, Aragon, Castile and the Holy Roman Empire.
In 1803, the codex was discovered among the old papers of a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria. The Carmina Burana still resides in Germany today in the Bavaria State Library in Munich.
From 1935 to 1936, inspired by the ancient work, Carl Orff composed a cantata showcasing 24 of the poems. [lyrics and translations (pdf)]
The Carmina Burana composed by Carl Orff now appears in its entirety on the Free Music Archive in a performance by the MIT Concert Choir under the direction of Dr. William Cutter in 2006 at MIT. The choir is accompanied by David Collins on piano, and showcases baritones Joshua Li, Stephan Jung, David Cunningham; bass Michael Johnson; tenor Sudeep Agarwala; and soprano Elisabeth Hon.
album: MIT Concert Choir: Carmina Burana
license: Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States
The Free Music Archive is also home to an interesting interpretation by Dr. Phibes and The Ten Plagues of Egypt of several movements of Orff's Carmina Burana that leans toward heavy metal. The interpretation calls to mind '70s Italian horror movies with powerful organs and guitars. Dr. Phibes shares a member of the group Stealing Orchestra, a long-time favorite at Oddio Overplay. Both acts are on the diverse and high quality You Are Not Stealing Records free netlabel of Portugal.
album: Dr. Phibes and The Ten Plagues of Egypt: Carmina Burana
license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (aka Music Sharing)
cover art: I used a detail from one of the eight illustrations within the actual Carmina Burana from c. 1230AD