Carmina Burana


(2015, 10′)

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

Program Notes

This work was commissioned by Hong Kong Voices, an ensemble of local musicians who often highlight 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 work, I chose two poems from the Carmina Burana, 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 similarly 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).

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