The Roman de Fauvel: Politics and Counterpoint in Medieval France

April 22 – 24, 2022
St. Mark's Church and on-demand
TICKETS:
$35 (in-person); multiple pricing options for on-demand

In-person performances have ended. On-demand streaming access is available for purchase.

In 14th-century Paris, Fauvel is a mythical horse embodying all of man’s vices. In a world turned upside-down, Fauvel the horse experiences a meteoric rise to political power in the French royal court where he is visited far and wide by clergy and noblemen who debase themselves to clean and brush him – or “curry favor,” a phrase originating from this manuscript.  Fauvel's story sees him followed by his courtiers (the Vices), a journey to the land of Macrocosmos to woo the female ruler of the universe, and a raucuous wedding celebration with his eventual bride, Vainglory.

 

Woven into Fauvel’s tale are 169 richly imaginative musical works whose astounding variety ranges from monophonic chants to contrapuntally complex motets with multiple – occasionally profane – texts sung simultaneously. In these performances, Fauvel's narrative and the eccentric Medieval music of the Roman de Fauvel are supplemented with the world premiere of new settings by composer Juri Seo. Highlighting the dangerous political tendencies of mankind, the Roman de Fauvel is part of the long tradition of animal allegories that includes Reynard the Fox and Animal Farm. With a medieval instrumental ensemble, vocalists, and a narrator, Folger Consort shares the satire, delirium, and allegory contained in the Roman de Fauvel. 

 

Scroll to the bottom of this page for a detailed look at Fauvel's tale with images from the manuscript.

 

Join Folger Consort Artistic Director Robert Eisenstein for a related Early Music Seminar on Wednesday, April 20, at 6:00pm. Access to the Early Music Seminar is free for Folger Consort subscribers.
 
The following playlist offers a preview of some of the music on the program. Folger Consort arrangements heard in concert will vary from these recordings.
 
We look forward to welcoming you to in-person performances. Please note: Attendees 12 years old and over are required to show proof of vaccination with a photo ID. All attendees are required to wear a mask. Fully vaccinated musicians will not be wearing masks while performing. The Folger is committed to maintaining the highest level of health and safety precautions around COVID-19. Click here for more information on how we are keeping our audience and performers safe.

 

Who's Who

Peter Becker
Voice
Artistic Director, Vielle
Vielle
Brian Kay
Tenor
Artistic Director, Lute
Dan Meyers
Winds, Percussion
Lute, Voice
Juri Seo
Composer

Meet Fauvel, the horse at the center of Le Roman de Fauvel, whose story is an allegory representing the rampant corruption in the church and monarchy of 14th-century France. His name derives from the French “faux voile” (“false veil”), and forms an acrostic of some of mankind’s vices: Flatterie (Flattery), Avarice (Avarice), Uilénie (Villainy), Variéte (Variability, or inconstancy), Envie (Envy), Lâcheté (Lechery). He is the incarnation of pure evil.

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(1/23)

Book I of Le Roman de Fauvel describes a world in which all segments of society are corrupt and the end of the world nears. Perplexingly, Fauvel begins to gain status beyond his beginnings in a humble stable. People from all levels of society make pilgrimages to brush and clean Fauvel from head to tail, to “curry Fauvel” (which survives today as to “curry favor”). Everyone from the king, the pope, to the peasants become eager to serve him.

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(2/23)

 

Fauvel’s story is generally attributed to Gervais du Bus, an official from the court of Philip IV (“Philip the Fair”), though the manuscript likely had other contributors. One can imagine a group of young artists and intellectuals gathering in secret to assemble this collection of poetry, music, and visual art to create a satirical yet pointed critique and testimony against the corruption and injustices they bore witness to at the start of the 14th century. This image depicts a layperson, a king, and a cleric, showing that the authors wished to create an indictment of all of society. The narrator describes that “everyone contorts themselves to please Fauvel.”

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(3/23)

Book 1 ends with Fauvel installed as a monarch. The world is turned upside-down and foolish behavior comes to all things – even a horse can become a king. In the remainder of the manuscript Fauvel is illustrated alternately as a horse and as a man with a horse's body.

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(4/23)

The Fauvel manuscript contains 169 works of music. Most often these are pre-existing motets in Latin which were selected and inserted as commentary on the story. However, some of the music was written specifically with Fauvel’s story in mind. Here an unknown composer has written a melody to the words: “Porchier mieus estre ame roie que Fauvel torchier” – “I’d rather be a swineherd than curry Fauvel.”

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(5/23)

Book II of Le Roman de Fauvel opens with a lengthy description of Fauvel in his palace with his courtiers, depicted here. Nearly fifty allegorical characters surround him, such as Envy, Laziness, Vanity, Falseness, and Hypocrisy.

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(6/23)

In consultation with three of his most trusted counselors – Carnality, Covetousness, and Avarice – Fauvel plots the ways in which he might stay in power. He decides he needs to ask Lady Fortune, the ruler of the universe, for her hand in marriage. Although her turning of her wheels of fortune is what led to Fauvel’s ascendancy, he knows that she has the power to bring about his undoing. Fauvel travels with his courtiers to Lady Fortune’s domain, known as Macrocosmos.

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(7/23)

Lady Fortune is a woman of dualities. She rules over the universe with a crown in each hand, and her two wheels determine the fate of all of humanity. She can turn kings to beggars, or a beautiful and prosperous town to a place of desolation and corruption.

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(8/23)

Fauvel makes his marriage proposal, which a composer treats as a quick back-and-forth between Fauvel and Lady Fortune. Fauvel pleads with her, “Sweet gracious lady! I give you my heart forever!” Lady Fortune responds, “You worthless piece of wickedness, I’ll never give you my love.”

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(9/23)

After rebuffing Fauvel’s marriage proposal, Lady Fortune explains the complexities of the universe to him. She talks about the necessity for humanity to accept what fate brings, and the relationship between the Macrocosmos (the World) and Microcosmos (the life of Man). Fortune turns her wheels and reveals Fauvel’s destiny – to sire more just like him. She denounces him as a harbinger of the Antichrist.

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(10/23)

Although she scoffed at Fauvel’s marriage proposal, Lady Fortune does not dismiss him empty-handed. She allows Fauvel to marry one of her escorts, Vainglory, whose nature distracts those who climb highest, blinding them to their certain fall.

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(11/23)

One version of Le Roman de Fauvel was compiled by Chaillou de Pesstain and expands the work of Gervais du Bus. In addition to adding much of the music, he added an additional 3000 lines of verse, including a eulogy for Paris. It describes the wonders of the city and extols its virtues, including the beauty of its palaces, the strength of its fortifications, and the flowers of its culture. The text appears to be more of an ode than a eulogy, until its final, foreboding line: “It is here that Fauvel has chosen to take up residence.”

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(12/23)

Having settled himself in Paris with his bride, Fauvel and Vainglory's wedding festivities begin with a magnificent banquet.

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(13/23)

The wedding festivities are accompanied by a charivari, a raucous mock parade with cacophanous music. In this image, parade-goers are seen playing pots and pans to add to the hullabaloo. In Folger Consort’s performances, composer Juri Seo has written a wedding processional inspired by this image which asks for a percussionist to play an assortment of kitchen instruments, including a cast-iron pan, a metal spoon, and a wooden cutting board.

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(14/23)

The charivari festivities are beastly and profane. Throughout, several “sotte chansons” (“dirty songs”) are sung. Some are simply blasphemous, and others are a repository of potty humor.

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(15/23)

The charivari continues on and descends further into depravity. The narrator describes it a noise that is as violent as it is unusual, as horrible as it is dreadful, and they describe riders of the final passing chariot letting their buttocks out in the wind, throwing excrement into the faces of on-lookers, and singing songs of the devil.

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(16/23)

As the climax of the wedding festivities, a tournament has been organized between the Vices and the Virtues. Descending the ladder of heaven, the Virtues arrive to try to overthrow Fauvel.

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(17/23)

The tournament between the Vices and the Virtues is underway. Lust against Chastity, Humility against Pride, Honesty against Falseness. At the end of the tournament Lady Fortune descends to decide the winner. She chooses not to pronounce a winner, and instead declares that Fauvel’s fate is already determined: when his day of reckoning comes, he will face eternal punishment with the prince of demons.

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(18/23)

Despite the proclamation of Lady Fortune, Fauvel feels no shame and returns to Vainglory and his wedding bed. As prophesied by Lady Fortune their future includes an incalculable number of little Fauvels. One of the Vices, Heresy, is appointed to prolong the existence of Fauvel, his wife, and his children, and he escorts them to the fountain of youth.

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(19/23)

Bearing witness to the destruction that Fauvel has wrought, the author and narrator of Le Roman de Fauvel first addresses Lady Fortuna before offering prayers to Mary and then to the Holy Trinity, seen here.

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(20/23)

The composer Philippe de Vitry contributed some of the music that appears in the Fauvel manuscript. The motet written by him seen here appears toward the end of the manuscript and laments the fate of France. The two side-by-side text settings are to be performed at the same time, and the two texts complement and comment on each other. Both settings are built on overlapping patterns of melodic and rhythmic repetition. Having grown out of a technique of elaborating on Gregorian chant melodies by adding additional vocal lines, this type of complex and highly-organized polyphonic composition is typical of the Ars Nova style started by composers at Notre Dame Cathedral in the 13th century. In the text on the left, "Garrit Gallus," France is a rooster, the foxes are its ruling class, and the henhouse has been left unguarded.

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(21/23)

Le Roman de Fauvel ends with Lady Fortune fortelling that Fauvel’s reign will not last forever. The author realizes that Fauvel will eventually pay for his misdeeds and injustices. He puts down his pen, closes his book, and decides he is thirsty and needs a drink. The manuscript closes with a set of songs – including a drinking song – by the composer Jehan Lescurel.

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(22/23)

From April 22-24, 2022, Folger Consort will present a performance based on Le Roman de Fauvel. A narrator will recite the highlights of Fauvel’s story in English translation of the original medieval French verse, with musical selections from the manuscript. The music will also include newly commissioned music by the composer Juri Seo: she has written an opening processional based on the acrostic of Fauvel’s name, music for the wedding charivari, and an elaboration on Philippe de Vitry’s “Garrit Gallus/In nova fert” with the addition of modern texts.

Image from manuscript BnF146, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The full manuscript is viewable on their website.

(23/23)