The Carmina Burana, also known as the Codex Buranus, is a 13th-century collection containing 228 medieval poems and songs, written in Latin, German, and French, that can be categorized into four basic themes. Fifty-five of these texts are satirical poems and songs about morals and mockery, 131 of them are lyrics of courtly love and springtime, 40 of them are songs about drinking and gaming, and 2 of them are long, spiritual theater pieces. This collection shows that music flourished even outside the church. The poems and songs in this manuscript were written by numerous different authors, many of which are unidentifiable. The only authors that scholars seem to have identified for certain who made contributions to this collection are the fifteen poets that either had their name cited in the text or were identified through comparisons with other manuscripts. Even still, it is wise to assume possible mistakes could have easily been made when identifying authors by using only stylistic comparisons. The obvious reason to consider this possibility is that authors may have lyrical styles similar to those of other authors either by coincidence, stylistic trends, or by having been influenced by another lyricist.
The majority of the scripture of the Carmina Burana is attributed to two primary, unknown scribes. Three additional scribes also contributed to the manuscript at different points throughout the thirteenth (and possibly early fourteenth) century. This is inferred because the script seems to be written in a gothic minuscule (or possibly in continental protogothic book script) which was the most popular type of script of the thirteenth century. Some scholars believe that the poems were written by traveling poets called goliards.
Additional proof that the script was from this time period, and one of the features that I personally find most interesting, is also demonstrated in the early musical notation that accompanies some of the songs in the manuscript. For instance, if you take a look at folio 4 verso, you can see that the musical notation is written in the Gothic style of notation. It starts with a few simple virga above about the first four syllables and then adds the use of multiple-note neumes such as the climacus above the word that looks like "floruit" and the clivis above "licuit." Although the notation does not provide the location of the starting pitch, it does provide some detail about the melodic direction as well as about the relationships between the pitches. For instance, the climacus represents a group of pitches that descends in a step-by-step fashion. In other words, if the first note of the climacus is sung on the musical note E, then the next two notes in the text would be sung on a D and a C. This style of medieval notation provides little to no information about the song's rhythmic patterns, however, rhythmic patterns can be seen in later versions of the songs.
When thinking about these songs in terms of performance, it is important to remember that around the the high middle ages, troubadours had become very popular. Common troubadour themes included songs of courtly love as well as vulgar satires, which together make up well over half of the songs in the Carmina Burana. From this, we can obviously infer that these songs might have been inspired by troubadours and definitely sung by them. Troubadours may have even written many of the lyrics and notations in the collection.
An interesting fact about this manuscript is that it seems to have been hidden or received little attention up until the 20th century, when a German composer by the name of Carl Orf expanded upon and develop the written notation and composed an opus that he also named the Carmina Burana. In his opus, the composer used twenty-four of the original poems and songs in the original 13th-century Carmina Burana. He connected all of them together with a repeating motif. This made the Carmina Burana very popular. One of the songs that Orf adopted is titled “O Fortuna” or “Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi” and contains lyrics which compare fortune to the moon, saying it is “statu variablis” which translates to “always changing.” A miniature exists in the original manuscript that parallels a part of the song which compares fortune to a whirling wheel that causes poverty and power. The miniature depicts a king at four instances on the wheel: climbing up the spokes of the wheel, sitting atop of it having conquered it, falling down the other side, and finally being crushed underneath and held down by the wheel. Other depictions include one of courtly love which illustrates two lovers lying side by side, cheerful springtime scenes, scenes of gamblers, and two scenes from Virgil’s Aeneid.
As you can see, the Carmina Burana covers a wide range of topics using many songs and poems. It shows that they held courtly love important and enjoyed mockery and gambling and it provides general insight into the lives and the views outside of the church of those who lived in the thirteenth century.