Thursday, February 9, 2012

Traveling Musicians: The traditions of the Troubadours, Trouveres and Minnesingers in the Middle Ages

Secular music in the Middle Ages was performed for enjoyment by traveling musicians, the most significant body of which was cultivated in Medieval courts by nobles and aristocrats.

Troubadours and Trouveres
Troubadours ( and their female counterparts, the trobairitz) are often given the credit for beginning the tradition of the minstrels (specialized musicians). Troubadours were poets and musicians from southern France and spoke Occitan. Trouveres were their northern counterparts and spoke Old French. Most of the songs are strophic and instrumental songs contain refrains typically sung by the dancers. Genres of their repertoire include alba (dawnsongs), tenso (debate songs) and canso (love songs), and were recorded in manuscripts known as chansonniers. Both sang of fin'amors, or fine amour, sometimes known as "courtly love", which is an idealization of another person who due to circumstance is beyond reach, often lending themselves to extremely dramatic and unrealistic descriptions of the torment their lover put them through. A perfect example of this is Can vei la lauzeta mover by the troubadour Bernart de Ventadorn. The trobairitz the Comtessa de Dia also composed a canso, A chantar but her poetry is far more realistic and down to earth than most of the text by her male peers.
Troubadour and Trouvere songs are strophic, that is, each stanza is set to the same melody., and are mostly syllabic with the occasional embellishment of an important line. The melodies usually stay within a ninth and are arch-shaped. Though the composition of secular songs had nothing to do with sacred tradition, most of the songs were written in modes, especially the Dorian and the Mixolydian. The most common form of composition was the German Bar form AAB, which is true of A chantar.

The German tradition followed the French in the subject of most of their songs, love (minne), but they were also knights of noble birth. Perhaps because of this, the love of which they sang was often even more idealized and holy than their French counterparts, and also contained religious themes, detailing the duties a knight owed to God and to the Church. Part of this tradition was the Palastinalied, or crusader songs, which paid tribute to the experience of pilgrims in the Holy Land. An excellent example of this is Nu alrest by Walther von der Vogelweide, one of the best-known Minnesinger. Like most minnelieder, the piece is in Bar form, a form of composition with two A sections known as the Stollen, which contain the same poetic meter, rhyme scheme and melody, and a B section known as the Abgesang, which is longer and may end with the last part of the melody of the stollen.

Rhythmic notes
(no pun intended)
While Medieval secular notation includes pitch, it does not indicate rhythm, and scholars debate how they would have been performed. One could suggest that the subject matter, courtly love or dances, determined whether the music was performed freely or in a more metric style.

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