Carl Orff: “Auf Dem Anger” from Carmina Burana

Carmina Burana held me under its spell during most of the Spring Semester of my sophomore year at Indiana University in 1975.   The section of Carmina devoted to spring is divided into two parts, the second of which is called “Auf dem Anger” (On the Lawn).

The first piece is an orchestral interlude called simply “Dance,” which always buoys my spirits. At just under two minutes, it’s an incredible tour de force. It starts out with three trumpet blasts followed by drums-a mini tattoo. The violins then start playing a wonderful syncopated rhythm that carries you along like a galloping horse. It stops and there is a beautiful little flute solo, before the trumpets and horns return playing the galloping themes. The horns build to a climax and then the dance ends abruptly with a short drum roll.

The second song in the “On the Lawn” section is given to the sopranos and chorus. It is called “Chramer, gip die varwe mir” and goes:

“Shopkeeper, give me color, to paint my cheeks,
that young men may not resist my graces.
Young men, look here,
do I not charm you?
Make love, good men and gracious women.
Love will ennoble you.
Hail, o world so rich in joys.
I will obey you always
and accept your bountiful gifts.”

This seems like a fitting way to express the feelings invoked by Spring.  And because of its title, it brings backs memories of unrequited love and something that happened “on the lawn,” of my dorm that semester.

Around this time, PBS devoted a number of weeks to showing a series of classic Japanese films. A venerable old Orientalist named Edward Reischauer presented them, giving a little talk about the historical, political or philosophical significance of each. When I was a boy, my father took me to see a number of Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns, which my brother Bob later told me were based on a couple of the samurai films in the series.

So every Thursday night, I’d go plop myself down in front of the television in the lounge of my dorm to watch the weekly film. No one in the dorm thought this was odd. In fact, one of the girls from my dorm named Andrea used to come down and we would watch together. Eventually, we became friends after a fashion. She studied karate and talked about the Zen Buddhism. Sometimes Andrea would invite me back to her room after the film and brew up a pot of jasmine tea, and we’d talk until the wee hours. To vary things a bit she would sometimes throw a section of orange or a handful of raisins into the pot.

Andrea occupied the large end room on the second floor of the dorm that looked out over the meadow and the creek. She had hung posters of the Matterhorn and bamboo reproductions of Japanese scrolls on her wall. Her bookshelf was lined with an eclectic blend of novels that indicated her major: comparative literature. She had long, straight, dark hair, and an athletic build. She really looked like she could have stepped off a Swiss hiking trail, which she had in fact hiked the year before. Of course I fell for her, but, some part of her must have sized me up for not being outdoorsy enough, so we just stayed friends.

But she did introduce me to Haiku, which I immediately took a liking to. In my French literature classes, we had to read a lot of poetry, stuff by Hugo and Ronsard, some of which were so artificially contrived that you wondered what effete snob read this stuff. Haiku, by contrast, was direct and immediate. Though highly stylized–in Japanese you can only use something like 17 syllables and it must contain a reference to the observer, the season and nature–these poems seemed to have the uncanny effect of telegraphing the poet’s experience and emotions right into me. Someone once told me that dolphins can reproduce the sound pattern that they hear using echolocation and broadcast it to other members of their pod. In that way, they can completely reproduce for another being their sensory impression of the world. And that is how I feel when I read Haiku.

So one day during my “Japanese” period, I trudged off to the library and went looking for a book of Haiku. In the Japanese literature section, I discovered a five volume set that had been collected, translated, and commented on by an Brit named R.H. Blyth living in Japan after World War II. He had devoted one volume to each season, and the fifth to miscellaneous poems. There I read the work of Basho and other poets. I checked out books of Japanese artists like Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Utamaro. The emphasis on nature and the desire for ever simpler ways to express complex ideas had a profound impact on me. Here’s a sumptuous one by Basho:

The butterfly is perfuming
It’s wings in the scent
Of the orchid.

The reigning clique in our dorm–the one that hung out in Mark Z***’s room–respected Andrea, though she was a bit too outdoorsy and down to earth to be a full time member. She also had some odd habits. One day near the end of the semester, a number of us got a bottle of gin, several more of tonic, and a bunch of limes and went down to have a “garden party” on the lawn by the banks of the creek. It was a warm, overcast day, and we were drinking like fishes and carrying on. Suddenly, the window to Andrea’s room flew open.  She stuck her head out and yelled at us: “Would you people shut up. It’s two o’clock in the afternoon. People are trying to sleep!” We laughed at this odd notion and invited her down, but she slammed the window back down. End of party.

After that, Andrea was somewhat cooler to me. She left the dorm the next year to live with her boyfriend, an outdoorsy type who always seemed to be wearing shorts and hiking boots.  I guess I identified with the woman in “Auf Dem Anger.”

“do I not charm you?
Make love, good men and gracious women.
Love will ennoble you.”

Buy CD or Download MP3s from Orff’s Carmina Burana


About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

One Response to Carl Orff: “Auf Dem Anger” from Carmina Burana

  1. kvennarad says:

    Two things that might appeal to you. The first is author Sam Snoek-Brown whose novel ‘Hagridden’ is due out in August. The story is set on the periphery of the (American) Civil War, in the bayous of Louisiana, and deliberately pays tribute to ‘Onibaba’. It is very much in the tradition of ‘Western’ adptations from Japanese originals. I am definitely going to buy it!

    The second is my quarterly e-zine for haiku and similar words, ‘the zen space’.

    Thank you for the continued snatches of Carmina Burana and further tales from your alma mater.


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