Skip to main content

The unbearable appropriateness of being Carmina Burana

Anyone who is an aficionado of The X-Factor (or even hears the start of it as they rush out of the room screaming) will be aware of its producers' tendency to use a striking bit of classical music as a background, typically at the beginning and as the judges come on stage. The older members of the audience may recognise it as 'that music they used to have on the Old Spice ad' - not to mention in numerous movies. What it really is, of course, is 'O Fortuna', the opening and closing chorus of Carl Orff's choral masterpiece, Carmina Burana.

What I wonder, though, is whether those involved in the X-Factor know just how appropriate this particular number is, for two reasons, to their peculiar form of entertainment/torture. I suspect not.

The first appropriate aspect is that the chorus is about the wheel of fortune in the sense of the random hand of fate meaning that at one moment we might be on top and the next on the way down. Spookily accurate. But even more interesting is the second aspect, which used to really depress me as a student.

I first came across Carmina Burana when we performed it in a concert at my college music society, and it rapidly became one of my favourite pieces. But this didn't stop me finding the ending, in my idealistic student fashion, rather unpleasant. The second half of the piece is largely the story of a seduction, with the antepenultimate section being an electrically soaring climax from the soprano soloist. We then have the penultimate section, Ave Formosissima, celebrating love to a rising, uplifting ending... which crashes into the final, grinding repeat of O Fortuna. The message is clear. You go through this apparently life-changing experience and afterwards the world goes on and everything is just the same.

I have to say I find it less depressing now (perhaps because as an older person I am more accepting that this is a realistic rather than a cynical view). But oh how it should resound for those X-Factor entrants who tell us that they don't want to be a cleaner or a van driver or whatever it is anymore. And the judges, putting them through, tell them 'You can say goodbye to all that.' But actually the Carmina Burana music is much more honest. They might be going through an apparently life-changing experience, but afterwards, for most of them, the world will be exactly the same.

I really would encourage you to listen to this clip to hear that transition from affirmation to inevitability. It is quite spine tingling:


Popular posts from this blog

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Which idiot came up with percentage-based gradient signs

Rant warning: the contents of this post could sound like something produced by UKIP. I wish to make it clear that I do not in any way support or endorse that political party. In fact it gives me the creeps. Once upon a time, the signs for a steep hill on British roads displayed the gradient in a simple, easy-to-understand form. If the hill went up, say, one yard for every three yards forward it said '1 in 3'. Then some bureaucrat came along and decided that it would be a good idea to state the slope as a percentage. So now the sign for (say) a 1 in 10 slope says 10% (I think). That 'I think' is because the percentage-based slope is so unnatural. There are two ways we conventionally measure slopes. Either on X/Y coordiates (as in 1 in 4) or using degrees - say at a 15° angle. We don't measure them in percentages. It's easy to visualize a 1 in 3 slope, or a 30 degree angle. Much less obvious what a 33.333 recurring percent slope is. And what's a 100% slope