Recorded January 1991
Erato CD 4509 96392 2
Reissued by Warner Classics as Apex CD 2564 62038-2
THE BOSTON CAMERATA
Anne Azéma (soprano, narration)
Joel Cohen (baritone, percussion)
Cheryl Ann Fulton (harp)
Steven Lundahl (slide trumpet)
Patrick Mason (baritone)
Dan Stillman (shawm, slide trumpet, recorder)
Dominique Visse (countertenor, narration)
ENSEMBLE PROJECT ARS NOVA
Laurie Monahan (mezzo-soprano, organetto)
Michael Collver (countertenor)
John Fleagle (tenor, hurdy-gurdy)
Shira Kammen (vielle, rebec, harp)
Directed by Joel Cohen
Playing time: 66'
About Fauvel -- from the Erato CD liner notes:
Le Roman de Fauvel
In the year 1310 manuscript copies of a scurrilous satirical poem, the Roman de Fauvel, began circulating around Paris. Corrosive, pitiless, the poet, a mid-level government functionary named Gervais de Bus, attacked what he saw as the pervasive corruption of society's institutions -- both church and state -- and of the men who wielded power within those institutions. The poem's central metaphor for moral rot and decadence was a fallow-colored horse named Fauvel, symbol of everything wrong with France, her society, and her system of governance.
Like the anti-government political polemicists of late-twentieth century America and Europe, Gervais de Bus seems to have found an audience. So much so that a second book of Fauvel, due at least in part to the hands of other authors, was soon produced. More astonishing still, considering the violently anti- establishment tone of the writing, a luxurious presentation edition of Fauvel, including numerous illuminated miniatures and 167 musical interpolations, was prepared for an unknown but presumably wealthy and well-placed patron in 1316. It is this expanded Fauvel, now preserved in the Paris Bibliothèque Nationale, that forms the basis for our present recording. The expanded text of the Paris manuscript includes the story of Fauvel and the Goddess Fortune, Fauvel's marriage to Vain Glory, a raucous wedding-night charivari, and an Armageddon-like confrontation of Vice and Virtue. The music of the manuscript, chosen with great care at every point to complement the literary text, encompasses every sort of then-current musical composition : Gregorian chants, courtly songs, narrative lais, obscene street calls, and exquisite examples of polyphony in the avant-garde Ars Nova style. Our selection of text and music from this puzzling and magnificent book aims to capture the spirit of the original Gesamtkunstwerk . By turns truculent and lyrical, comic and tragically earnest, scatalogical and devout, formally daring and populist, the source reflects the strengths and contradictions of the age. Even more surprising, the work has many resonances for its own time. As we struggle to make sense of our own disillusioned cynicism, our own yearning for a better Way, the songs and stories of Fauvel seem to resonate with all the intensity and color they originally had nearly seven centuries ago. Ci commence le livre de Fauvel...
On performing Fauvel
The illustrated Fauvel manuscript of the Bibliothèque Nationale intrigues the contemporary imagination. Its effervescent mixture of words, music, and image seem to prefigure the "multimedia" concerns of our latter 20th century. And yet, it is a difficult work to translate into contemporary terms. Attempts have been made in recent decades to create staged versions of Fauvel -- yet a poem whose only characters are metaphors is hard to translate into acted drama. In fact, the "theater" of the original Fauvel was probably not some public proscenium, but the theater of the mind. The big Fauvel book was, I think, an end in itself, intended for the delectation of those privileged few who got to see it. Paradoxically, and fortunately, the modern CD player or the VCR make it easier to approach the original, medieval experience than a public performance ever can.
The original Fauvel poem, it must be remembered, began life in the literary underground. It employed symbolism and metaphor to hide its references to actual political events. Its subversive truths were, it seems, meant to be whispered into the mind's ear rather than shouted from the rooftops. And the wonderful music, frozen by the scribe on the manuscript page, sings out to us in this special context with voices at once intensely present, yet disembodied and suggestively unreal. The practice of singing several texts simultaneously, employed in the majority of the polyphonic motets, may add to the listeners' sense of unreality; and in fact, the motet form itself was a kind of elaborate mind game. In the present recording, performances of the motets have been entrusted to the Ensemble Project Ars Nova, while the monodic songs have been assigned to various combinations of voices and instruments. For this production, new editions of the monodies were prepared from the original manuscript notation by Anne Azéma, Joel Cohen, and John Fleagle.
These notes are (c) by Joel Cohen.
Livre 1 - Portrait de Fauvel
Livre 2 - Fauvel et Fortune
a review from Répertoire (Paris, France), July 1995
rating: 10 (highest possible)
Written by several authors between 1310 and 1316, the Roman de Fauvel is a virulent pamphlet against the corruption that reigned at the royal court of France, and at the Papal court in Avignon. But the story of the donkey Fauvel is also a fascinating manifesto concerning music and literature at the dawn of the fourteenth century. All the main genres current at the time are to be found in it, mixed together in a most appealing way. There are gregorian chants, and complex motets of the Ars Nova, not to mention courtly love songs, and scatological street cries. This is an important manuscript, one that has nonetheless been short-changed in recordng.
...We have been waiting for a new vision of this work, whose full potential has not been fully exploited by the earlier recorded versions. Joel Cohen has not disappointed us. His "take" on the Roman de Fauvel is ferocious. It lives, it explodes in all directions; it's full of color and rhythm, and everywhere the words give forth energy. The voices are chosen with care for their perfect diction, in speech as well as song. Dominique Visse, that subtle narrator, by turns vehement, pained, sweet, and seductive, presents the various episodes with an innate theatrical sense. And when the narrator strikes up a tune, it's true happiness -- completed by our pleasure on hearing the clear and supple voice of Anne Azéma. These two exceptional singers are complemented by those of the musician-singers of the young P.A.N. ensemble, who have a perfect knowledge of the medieval repertoire. They show themselves at their best in their interpretations of the polyphonic motets.
The instrumental accompaniment, confided for the most part to strings (vielles, hurdy-gurdy, rebec, harps...) is exemplary in its discretion, swelling only on occasion to accompany some exaggerated image of the literary text. Although Joel Cohen correctly says that the Roman de Fauve l was not intended for public performance, he has here succeeded, with great subtlety, in producing a totally convincing mise en scène....A beautifully successful project....