Why choral music’s biggest hit rises above its dark history.

“O Fortuna”!There can be no denying that the arresting opening bars of Carl Orff’s masterpiece exert an instant thrall over all who hear them, whether in the concert hall, a big-budget television commercial, a techno remix or an epic Hollywood battle scene. The innate power of the pounding rhythms in Carmina Buranahas made it not only ubiquitous in advertising and popular culture but also vulnerable to exploitation in propaganda, not least by the Third Reich in the years after the work’s 1937 premiere.

There has been a performance of this choral blockbuster somewhere in the world every day for the past 30 years, with the Sydney Philharmonia adding its voices to the fray this week and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra to follow in June.

As Philharmonia conductor Brett Weymark asserts, “there is more to the music than just the oft-quoted chorus.

“Orff fuses together this amazing medieval text and various techniques inspired by medieval music – dance, drones, folksong elements – with the power of the modern symphony orchestra, chorus and soloists. The result is accessible and instantly appealing.”

But can mass-media adoption of the work detract from its effectiveness...