Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Gaudeamus Igitur

In an annual rite of passage, eager college freshmen are moving into dormitories on campuses all over the country. This raises a concern, namely, are they prepared musically for the oldest college student's song of them all? Probably not.

"Gaudeamus Igitur" is a traditional student song dating from the days when almost everyone studied Latin. It's been in its current form for well over two centuries. Christian Wilhelm Kindleben published his version of the verses in 1781 to be sung to a well-known melody of the time. The serious nature of some of the verses did not preclude its use as a drinking song. In fact, it is the first line that sets the devil-may-care tone of the piece, not the morbid musings on life's brevity.


My introduction to the song was in the operetta "The Student Prince" (1924). The score is by Sigmund Romberg and the lyrics are by Dorothy Donnelly, but in addition there is that one traditional student's song. It's quite enjoyable. Mario Lanza, who does not himself appear in the 1954 MGM movie, reportedly performed each track of the recording in just one take:
"Gaudeamus Igitur"
Mario Lanza (Voice of Prince Karl Franz)
"The Student Prince" 1954 MGM Film Soundtrack

Mario Lanza, "The Student Prince"

Is this traditional song still performed? Yes, I'm sure it is, but probably not as much as in years gone by and probably not too often with all ten verses. Even "The Student Prince" doesn't get past the first verse, which is sung a total of three times.

Speaking from my own experience, I'm pleased to report that "Gaudeamus Igitur" was performed at the Vassar College Fall Convocation on August 31, 1983. Don't worry if you don't have a program; I saved mine. Note that in this arrangement four verses were performed in the order 1, 4, 3, 10.

Vassar College, Fall Convocation, August 31, 1983

"Gaudeamus!" Vassar College, Fall Convocation, August 31, 1983

 A lovely sound can be heard from the men of the Robert Shaw Chorale, who consider "Guadeamus Igitur" to be a "Glee Club Favorite." The verses sung are 1 and 10.
"Gaudeamus Igitur"
Men of the Robert Shaw Chorale
From "23 Glee Club Favorites" (1962)

Men of the Robert Shaw Chorale
"23 Glee Club Favorites" (1962)

The famous student's song is even quoted in an orchestral showpiece. Brahms's Academic Festival Overture concludes with the triumphant theme "Gaudeamus Igitur," which begins in the finale at around 9:11 on this video recording.
Johannes Brahms, Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80, 1880
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, 1983
Leonard Bernstein, Conductor

Johannes Brahms, Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80, 1880
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, 1983
Leonard Bernstein, Conductor

In 1953, the year prior to the release of the movie "The Student Prince" when the operetta was on no one's mind in particular, The New Yorker published this cartoon of a monk singing in the shower by Eldon Dedini. At this point, I bet you can guess what he's singing.
Eldon Dedini, "Gaudeamus igitur,
Juvenes dum sumus;
Post jucundam juvenutem,
Post molestam senectutem

Nos habebit humus."
The New Yorker, February 14, 1953, page 40

The Robert Israel score to Harold Lloyd's "The Freshman" (1925) features the theme at about 7:01.
Harold Lloyd, "The Freshman" (1925)
Video added February 22, 2016

Most recently, the traditional school song appeared in the soundtrack for "Monsters University." The melody of "Gaudeamus Igitur" is prominent at the beginning of this clip as Mike and Sulley chase Archie the Scare Pig, the stolen mascot of Fear Tech, Monsters University's rival college. Got that?

"Monsters University" (2013) Animation Progression

Sulley and Mike chase Archie the Scare Pig to the tune of "Gaudeamus Igitur" in Disney/Pixar's "Monsters University" (2013). The traditional school music during the early part of the chase is a really deft touch, and it's too bad they didn't put the same care into crafting a satisfying ending for this movie.

OK, you now know what I know about this song, and if you're musically inclined, you can even sing it, which I can't do for love or money. All together, now!

Note:  Here's another handy Latin phrase for college kids: "Dimidus Asinus Genius." Does it mean half-assed genius? Not exactly, but still that might have been the inside joke among Disney's top brass. I am the current owner of former Disney President Donn Tatum's Ludwig von Drake cufflinks bearing those inspiring Latin words and if you agree that that's certainly worth a blog post, check it out here.

My pleas to have Attempted Bloggery's contents inform our nation's college curricula have gone unheeded, perhaps because I chose to run my entire academic campaign on April Fools Day and I don't think it was taken seriously. Nevertheless, I would love to hear all about it if this blog should ever be referenced in any college syllabus or other academic course materials. Look, it could happen. There's got to be secondary source material for a senior Comics thesis in here somewhere. Yes, they teach courses in Comics now. I believe the subject has replaced Latin.

Vivat Academia!


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