How You Know ‘Carmina Burana’

Brandon Patoc

There are pieces of classical music so closely entwined with pop culture that, if we hear just a few bars, we know a lot about where we are and what’s happening. “Morning” from Grieg’s Peer Gynt, for example, paints a peaceful, tranquil scene. Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” from the Ring cycle is for someone(s) on the warpath. Then there’s Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, which has become musical shorthand for “something super scary or incredibly dramatic is about to happen (or be spoofed).”

More specifically, it’s the ‘O Fortuna’ section of Orff’s cantata that has become a cultural touchstone. Below, here are just a very few of this impressive, expressive choral piece being used to its full entertainment potential. Refresh your memory below, and then hear the full, glorious piece performed by the Seattle Symphony, joined by the Seattle Symphony Chorale and Northwest Boychoir, from April 3-6.

It was featured in the 1989 Civil War movie Glory, starring Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick and Morgan Freedom (and featured even more heavily in the movie’s trailer).


Late night host Conan O’Brien often uses the theme when a picture of former Vice President Dick Cheney is shown:


And of course, it’s part of that benchmark of class, Jackass the Movie.