Le Molière Imaginaire for eight voices, opus 99 (2015)
Text by Timothy Knapman, after the final scene of Molière’s Le Malade Imaginaire. Composed for I Fagiolini, as part of Musica Viva Australia’s 2015 International Concert Season. Commissioned for Musica Viva Australia by Geoff Stearn. World premiere performances throughout Australia in July and August 2015.
Do you like the sight of blood
In a trickle, spurt or flood?
You could learn to be a doctor.
Causing pain’s their stock-in-trade!
Molière hated doctors and it seems the feeling was mutual. Molière’s play Le Malade Imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid, 1673) was his last. He was seriously ill when writing it and died a few hours after a performance in which he had played the major role of Argan, the wealthy hypochondriac. Throughout the play, Molière heaps scathing wit on the money-raking quackery of some of his medical contemporaries. Some 25 years later, an English doctor visiting Paris spat on his grave and wrote that Molière, ‘had as much malice as wit.’
The last scene of the play is in fact a musical interlude – one of three in the play. It consists of a faux medical graduation ceremony in which a budding doctor is put through his paces by the medical fraternity and tested on his capacity to provide the right solutions to various hypothetical scenarios. In keeping with the spirit of farce the ceremony is enacted in bizarre pig-Latin – not quite Latin, French or Italian, but a mixture of all three signifying the pomposity of the occasion. The medical ceremonies of the time were apparently quite elaborate with music, costumes, processions and speeches in Latin.
Whilst living in Paris at the Cité des Arts in 2014, I became interested in the fact that neither of the two main English translations of the play attempted an English version of this last scene; both leave the final scene in its original form. Perhaps this was because of the devilish dexterity of the language or the idea that the Latin would be known and understood. So, after much encouragement and support from I Fagiolini’s erudite artistic director, Robert Hollingworth, and the aid of some Latinisti and Molière enthusiasts a new and contemporary version of the scene has been created for unaccompanied voices by the English writer, Tim Knapman, and myself.
© Andrew Schultz, 2015.