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Le Roman de Fauvel or Mundus Inversus

Sunday, April 8 4pm
L'Église Française du Saint Esprit
111 East 60th Street

CorinaHeadshot small

Photo of Corina Marti by Dirk Loesch

Sometime between 1201 and 1232, Gautier de Dargies, a trouvère, or itinerant singer/composer/performer, set a text that laments “the world that is going down, severely going down.” Yet the melody to which he sets that text rises to an extreme height. What does that mean? That whenever something bad happens in a medieval text the melody rises? Not exactly. It is Mundus Inversus at its apogee.

Mundus Inversus means the world inverted. Everything is the opposite of what it should be. Foolish behavior comes to all things, animal, vegetable, and mineral. The apple grows in winter, the flower grows from bud to root, and kings become beggars because capricious Fortune turns the wheel. Today a beautiful town flourishes. Tomorrow a terrible government makes it a place of desolation.

In such times even an ass can rule the land. The satirical work Le Roman de Fauvel is the best example of Mundus Inversus and the political situation in France in the beginning of the 13th century. The main character is a horse of an off-puting apricot hue named Fauvel, who escapes from his barn and makes his way to the royal palace, marrying Lady Fortune after an initial rejection. In the ballade “Douce dame debonaire” she rejects him and in the refrain she sings: “Ja m’amour ne te lairai” I’ll never love you! So then Fauvel marries her maid Vaine Gloire (vain glory)

The most powerful men in the land worship the horse, and the natural order reverses itself. The king rises above the pope, women rise above men, poor people get rich, and the rich lose everything. Fortune spins her wheel and reveals Fauvel’s destiny – to sire more iniquitous rulers like himself who become harbringer of the Antichrist.

The Roman de Fauvel sparkles with wondrous music by Ars Nova composers such as Philippe de Vitry, Jehan de Lescurel, and Guillaume de Machaut, music which brings us deep into 13th and 14th century France, where new political problems arise. The real Mundus Inversus happened for many when the Papal schism led to a second pope in Avignon, and many satirical works of the time reveal a society struggling to accept what was then considered an absurdity. The story of Fauvel told through sacred pieces, dances, sweet little songs, satirical pieces offers a glimpse into a distant world not so different from our own, with beautiful music ushering forth the divine from the ridiculous.

– Corina Marti & Jessica Gould

CM Interview

Click above to read the complete interview with Corina Marti, who is performing on Sunday at L'Église Française du Saint Esprit.


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