Carmina Burana


(2015, 10′)

Three songs for chorus (SATB)
Commissioned by Hong Kong Voices in celebration of its 15th anniversary

Program Notes

I first collaborated with Hong Kong Voices in 2007 with a work that commemorated the tenth anniversary of the Hong Kong SAR, setting two Chinese poems by my friend Lap Lam. Hong Kong Voices, an extremely talented ensemble of local musicians, often highlights the rich sacred choral tradition in their performances; I wanted to respond to their repertoire by writing a work that uses a sacred Latin text (or at least one that references the church), but also write specifically for a chorus that can speak and sing in fluent Cantonese.

For this new work, I chose two poems from the Carmina Burana (Latin for “Songs from Beuern”), the same set of 254 poems from an 11th- or 12th-century manuscript that Carl Orff used for his famous 1936 cantata.

The original Carmina Burana manuscript included poems that can be roughly divided into three thematic areas: songs about morals which sometimes also satirize the church, songs about love, and songs about drinking and general merriment. The three movements of my Carmina Burana reflect these themes; I used a poem that warns of a corrupted clergy (Recitative: Ecce sonat in aperto) and a lively dance-song about students taking the day off to play and celebrate (Primo vere: Tempus hoc letitie). For “love”, I turned to a beautiful poem of unrequited love by Song-dynasty poet 賀鑄 (also from the 11th and 12th century), with the help of my friend Lap Lam, a scholar on classical Chinese poetry in his own right. I enjoy the challenge of setting the Cantonese language to music, using the rising and falling tones of the language to shape a melody so that the text can be intelligible. I hope to continue experimenting with music that makes use of my native Cantonese.

This Carmina Burana is dedicated to Hong Kong Voices. “Tempus hoc letitie dies festus hodie!” To the next fifteen years and beyond!

Thumbnail image and select photos from the June 2017 concert by Tang Ho-ching.

Performance Notes

In the second movement, grace notes are used for all words in the 2nd and 5th (rising) tones. The grace note should be sung on the beat, and the emphasis should be placed on the “non-grace” note (the “main pitch”). The important thing here is to make sure that these words are sung with a rising tone that rests on the notated main pitch, in the same manner that canto-pop singers sing rising tones in the context of a given melody.


June 20, 2015  Hong Kong Voices, China Congregational Church, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong

June 3, 2017  Hong Kong Voices, St Andrew’s Church, Kowloon, Hong Kong