IIA: Troubadours, Trouvères and Minnesingers

We meet the figure of the knightly singer not only in such operas as Wagner's 'Tannhäuser' and Verdi's 'Il Trovatore,' but throughout all literature, Not only poets, but people of all times have been fascinated by the personification of noble blood and culture for which knighthood, with its dangers and adventures, became a symbol.

Knighthood began to express itself in poetry and music during the 12th Century in Provence, in Southern France. A precious art emanates from that period: the earliest secular lyric poetry of the West which, with great charm, is devoted to the cult of love. Its peculiarity is that the poet creates not only the words but the music as well. The word 'Troubadour' stems from the Provençal word 'trovar' which means 'to invent.' The Troubadour soon appeared all over Europe: in Northern France where he was called 'Trouvère,' in Germany where he was called 'Minnesinger,' and also in Italy and England.

This inventive art is strictly separate from the polyphonic music which began to blossom at that time, and in which the Troubadour was very seldom versed. The Troubadour did not perform his songs himself, but employed others called 'Jongleurs' in Provençal, 'Ménéstrel' in French, and 'Minstrel' in English.

It is characteristic of the romanticism of that time that such songs would be used as a medium of communication rather than letters, especially since the ability to read was not very widespread. The singing minstrel would thus express the Troubadour's devotion by singing to his lady love. There is a tale that the faithful Blondel de Nesle, servant of Richard the Lionhearted, put into song news from home while Richard was imprisoned in a tower. Alas, it appears not to be true.

The art of the troubadours flourished in France for four generations. Some 460 troubadours have been identified, and of these music by some 42 has survived. One of the last and most renowned troubadours was Adam de la Halle. He was not of noble blood, but come from a respected bourgeois family living at Arras. At Arras he was employed at various times by Count Robert II of Artois. In 1283, Adam moved to Naples with the Count, where he was employed and held in high regard by the French court of Charles d'Anjou of Sicily. He died there a few years later. While in Naples he created his famous 'Jeu de Robin et Marion.' It is a naive dramatic pastoral with many short songs sung by the leading actors. It went down in the history of French Literature as the secular Singspiel, or song-play. His gracefully turned melodies typify the charm of the art of the troubadours.

The Composers
Supplemental Materials
Poetry and Prose

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