Leah Stuttard

Leah Stuttard is a medieval harpist, singer, composer, arranger and musicologist. She works globally with well known ensembles such as Hesperion XXI and Micrologus. In August 2019 she appeared on BBC Radio 4 talking to Roderick Williams about songs and singers in medieval Britain. Brighton Early Music Festival 2019 commissioned her to direct their last night medieval extravaganza, 'The Feast of Fools'.

Festa Fatuorum III – medieval satiric disruption

Posted by on 19 Oct 2019

Festa Fatuorum III – medieval satiric disruption

More musical ideas also surfaced in relation to the idea of subversion of order and disruption. I wondered whether we might include anything from the Roman de Fauvel for example. This is contained in a big, beautiful luxury manuscript and is essentially a long moralistic tale against the hypocrisy of government at the time it was compiled (early 14th century) – like a medieval French version of Private Eye. As Grove helpfully says, it is: “An extended medieval poem in two books, of which the second at least was written by Gervès du Bus, presenting an elaborate allegory of royal governance and the state in France in the second decade of the 14th century.” (or you can get a nice introduction from Ellen Hargis who was publicising her Feast of Fools performances back in January 2016). There are lots of amusing little musical interjections about farting and such like (as well as heavy-going-difficult-to-explain political satire) that I’m sad I didn’t seem to find a place for….. (the full version by the Clemencic Consort can be heard on youtube, can’t help enjoying those buzzy opening fart noises!)


Another place for possible disruption of order is the collection of poems in Latin and German known as the Carmina Burana. This manuscript has quite a complicated story to it too. Of course, most people will immediately think Old Spice and “O Fortuna” (apologies for the comedy video there). Carl Orff wrote his version before it was thought possible to reconstruct any meaningful original music for the texts (it’s basically a literary source). Then the Studio der frühen Musik came along and smashed that idea – here’s a version of “Ecce gratum” they recorded in the late 1960s.



Ecce gratum in the manuscript

Look at those squiggly neumes! Just over the first strophe though…

This particular song, obviously originally intended to be sung, doesn’t have any other concordant sources that we can compare with. So, essentially the Studio had to make some guesses at the tune, based on those weird squiggly hieroglyphs called neumes squeezed in over the text, and ‘compose’ it before they could actually perform anything. It’s more simple in other pieces because there are musical versions in other medieval manuscripts where the notes are on something more similar to a modern musical stave and thus the pitches are readable (though rhythm is a whole other can of worms we might want to avoid opening here!)





The collection includes Carmina moralica et satirica, Carmina amatoria, Carmina potoria and Ludi. That is, moral and satirical songs, love songs, drinking songs and plays. You can access the whole lot in Latin (with some macaronic and German moments) here. There’s even an “Office of the Gamblers” or Officium lusorum which is a very strict parody of an ecclesiastical ritual. (Interesting to see it forming a central role in a German ensemble’s Feast of Fools show!)






Follow my journey into the medieval Feast of Fools….. Festa Fatuorum IV – a medieval Feast day

For my discussion of the manuscripts of the Feast of the Circumcision, see Festa Fatuorum II – first steps, important manuscripts

For the introductory blog to my experience with the Feast of Fools, see Festa fatuorum I – introduction




To buy tickets for the first performance of the show, follow this link!

Find out more about the amazing events at this year’s Brighton Early Music Festival.