Fri, 17 Nov 2000

Twilite Chorus comes of age without the orchestra

By Y. Bintang Prakarsa

JAKARTA (JP): The Twilite Chorus, formed five years ago to complement to the Twilite Orchestra under Addie MS., has come of age at last with a debut concert without the orchestra at Gedung Kesenian Jakarta, on Nov. 8 and Nov. 9.

Under Avip Priatna, its conductor since 1999, they sang as their main offering Carl Orff's world-famous Carmina Burana. The choice itself was quite symbolic, for the text of the work as chosen and ordered by Orff (1895-1982) speaks about the new life that buds in the spring and culminates in the celebration of love and passion between the youthful of opposite sexes.

The text is a part of a collection of songs and poems coming from an unexpected source: the old abbey of Benediktbeuern, near Munich in Bavaria, Germany, which kept it for centuries in its library. When it was dissolved in 1803, the Bavarian State Library took over its library, and since then the public was made aware of the collection through an edition by Johann Andreas Schmeller (1847) titled Carmina Burana.

Who wrote these poems then, the monks themselves? If not, how did they find their way into the monastery, and what would the monks do with the collection?

These questions might remain unanswered forever, but it is certain that they originated from the Goliards -- rowdy intellectual outcasts in the 12th century who sang and begged. There is more than just love and passion in this collection. It contains also jokes with political and religious overtones that ridicule those in power, both sacred and secular. (These unruly bands, which many monks and priests joined, were of course outlawed by the church.)

Orff's ordering begins with a welcome to spring, which brings back life, warmth and color to the world, turns to the desire and lust of human beings who then engage in unrestrained pleasures. The first orgy happens in a tavern, where people of virtually all social classes meet, gamble and drink. In piece number 14, In taberna quando sumus (When We Are In the Tavern), the inebriation climaxes with rhythmic repetitions and superlatives, apparent in the compact and rhymed Latin.

The irony of the morally loose is described in the way they drink. First they take a drink of wine, then a second, then a third and so on for different intentions, imbibing endlessly at the climax in a toast for the pope as well as the king. Then come the detailed list of those libertines, and nobody escapes from it save the highest persons on the hierarchical ladder (because they, of course, never visit the tavern). The repeated word bibit (drink) suggests the suffocating disorder in this crowded and noisy tavern: Bibit hera, bibit herus, bibit miles, bibit clerus (The mistress drinks, the master drinks, the soldier drinks, the priest drinks -- translation taken from Classical Net Website cb/carmlyr.html.)

Next comes the love scene, the text of which, at least some of it, must be classified as outright obscenity by contemporary readers. The scene in piece no. 19, Si Puer Cum Puellula (If A Boy With A Girl), would be considered indecent by many of today's parents: If a boy with a girl/tarries in a little room,/happy is their coupling./Love rises up,/and between them/prudery is driven away,/an ineffable game begins/in their limbs, arms and lips. The desperation of the desirous lover is captured in the babble "hyrca, hyrce, nazaza,/trillirivos" no. 20, Veni, veni, venias (Come, come, O come), confirmed by the reiterating chorus in no. 22 Tempus es iocundum (This Is The Joyful Time): Oh! Oh! Oh!/I am bursting out all over!/I am burning all over with first love!/New, new love is what I am dying of!

One might wonder why Orff, a devout Catholic, had no scruples in setting these poems. But he selected the mildest texts whose unpolished humor would seem to offend nobody. In the remaining poems there is much, much more immodesty, like that in Sic mea fata (This Is My Fate), which describes graphically how a man imagines kissing, fondling and licking his lover. Even the selected texts are still very compelling in their sensuality, with suggestive "oh" and "ah" interjections added by the composer.

Underlining these poems, there are some techniques that contribute to its fantastic sound effects: repetitions of simple rhythms, abundant staccatos and powerful accents, orchestra with an enlarged percussion section. Those who are familiar with harmony will notice, for instance, that the music uses many parallel movements that was avoided by composers from the Renaissance until the 19th century, involving voices with five notes (fifth) or eight (octave) notes apart moving in the same direction. Because the last mentioned feature is found also in medieval and folk music, the arrangement evokes the aura of antiquity, primitiveness and folksiness, and compels the listener to sense instantly its direct rawness and sensuality.

The Twilite Chorus and the accompanists managed to hold together under Avip, especially on the more difficult passages that often push the human vocal range to the limit (many compliments for soprano Binu D. Sukaman for her fine solos).

There were also enough stirring generated by the instrumentalists in the reduced accompaniment of two pianos and percussions. The mood of the text and music, however, calls for still more passion and power, roughness and fierceness. This performance was a bit tidy and tame, and it was understandable when one tracks Avip's record as an expert in the Western tradition of "groomed" sacred and secular choral music. Hopefully, there is still much chance to work the "symphonic" or "big" choral style with the Twilite Chorus, with which it seems to be at more home.