PNB Company dancers in Carmina Burana © Angela Sterling.
“O Fortuna” is one of the most dramatic, and memorable, pieces of music in the modern classical canon. Based on a 13th century Medieval Latin Goliardic poem, and set to music in 1935 by composer Carl Orff as part of his cantata Carmina Burana, this piece has certainly stood the test of time.
Over the years, the refrain of the opening and closing of the cantana, “O Fortuna,” has become synonymous with tragedy and conflict. Adding in a snippet of this music is a quick way for filmmakers and commercial producers to tell audiences “this is a dramatic moment!” The music is also often used in comedy to emphasize moments that a character may be taking themselves (or a situation) too seriously.
Despite the use, and sometimes overuse, of the music in pop culture settings, Carmina Burana remains as powerful to experience in its entirety as it ever was. Especially when you add a 2,500-pound golden wheel rotating above more than 100 dancers, musicians, and singers, as is the case with PNB’s powerhouse production, choreographed by Kent Stowell.
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who couldn’t recognize the refrain of the piece, which has been featured in more commercials, TV shows, and films than anyone could count. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try! Here are just some of the notable uses of “O Fortuna” in popular culture.
1970-1980s: Old Spice uses the refrain in many of their European aftershave ads.
1981: In the film Excalibur, when King Arthur and his knights ride into battle.
1987: In the Ozzy Osbourne live album Tribute, compiled from recordings of his 1981 tour. Playing “O Fortuna” as he arrived on the stage was typical for Osbourne’s live performances of this era.
1991: In The Doors, Oliver Stone’s biographical film of the American rock band.
1996: Busta Rhymes samples the track in “The End of The World (Outro)” from his debut album The Coming.
1999: In the film The General’s Daughter.
1999: Used in a scene from the television program That 70s Show.
2003: In Cheaper by the Dozen, at the end of Dylan’s party scene.
2007: The video game “World of Warcraft” uses the song as the main theme for a log in screen.
2009: In the trailer for the film Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
2009: On Glee, Season 1, in scenes between Will Schuester and Sue Sylvester.
2009: At every Pittsburgh Pirates home game, in a video on the Jumbotron.
2011: In the video game “The Battle Cats,” there is a boss theme that closely resembles “O Fortuna.”
2014: In the How I Met Your Mother episode “Slapsgiving 3: Slappointment in Slapmarra.”
2014: In a commercial for Hershey’s Spread.
2015: For a Domino’s commercial that aired during Super Bowl XLIX.
2017: In the trailer for the film Fist Fight.
“O Fortuna” also plays at the matriculation ceremony of the University of Oslo every year.
Regardless of where you heard this tune first, the sheer power and force of PNB’s rendition, featuring the PNB Orchestra and the Pacific Lutheran University Choral Union, is sure to blow you away.