Trouvères and troubadours in the Middle Ages

Trouvères and troubadours in the Middle Ages

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In the Middle Ages, troubadours and finders are lyrical poets who accompany their poems with music. One of the particular aspects of their art is to be secular and entirely monodic, whereas the Christian music of the time becomes a polyphonic art. Since time immemorial, these melodic compositions have spread, most often celebrating nature, history, love or trades. Sometimes accompanied by dance, they all present a charming simplicity and a real freshness of feelings. But it is necessary to arrive at the IX E century to see appear in great number of the non-religious creations which express the desire to widen the field of art.

Trouvères and troubadours in France

The initiative for this poetic and musical movement has its source in the south of France. The first to embark on this route are the “trobadors” of Provence, then the pays de langue d'oc (south of the Loire between the sea, the Alps and the Pyrenees). The founders or poet-musicians of the north continue the work begun by the troubadours. This art, particularly flourishing in the 12th and 13th centuries, of which we have preserved manuscripts, reveals around two hundred troubadour songs and nearly two thousand songs from the founders (the chansonnier de st-Germain, the chansonnier du Roy and the chansonnier d ' Arras).

Most troubadours are in fact lords (Bertran de Born), and some, like the oldest known troubadour William IX of Aquitaine, or Jaufré Rudel, are even dukes, princes or kings. Others are bourgeois (Peire Vidal), clerics (Foulque de Marseille) or humble (Bernard de Ventadour). There were also women poets, the trobairitz, such as the Countess of Die. Arnaut Daniel, one of the most skillful troubadours, inventor in particular of the sextine, was recognized as the "greatest master of love" by his fervent admirers Petrarch and Dante. The court of Eleanor of Aquitaine, in Poitiers and that of the Counts of Toulouse, among the most brilliant, took under their protection many troubadours whom they relieved of their financial worries so that they could devote themselves entirely to their art.

These poets of verses and sounds, inventors of new forms always written with the greatest care, `` sigh '' after their lady, pay homage to their overlords, sing their native lands or proclaim the glory of God, either in the language of the country or in Latin. They are accompanied by a plucked string instrument, the “rote” (modified from the 11th century by the playing with bow, the viol) which doubles the melody and which one finds represented on the stained glass windows of the cathedrals.

Jugglers and Goliards

Their compositions were often performed by “jugglers”, a sort of professional traveling musicians and entertainers of all kinds who, with the fiddle on their backs, the satchel beside them, strolled from chateau to chateau, from village to village, with their lively musical repertoire. of pranks. In winter, during Lent, these jugglers, later called minstrels, went to the “Ménestraudie” schools where they learned the rules of their art, the playing of the viol and new songs.

The itinerant poet-musicians Goliards lived on the fringes of the institutions which had formed them. Composed of student clerics and monks, they derided the dominant values ​​of their time by their satirical and parodic creations. They led an existence of dissolute morals. A manuscript kept in a Bavarian monastery "Benedictbeuren" from where its name Carmina Burana (song of Beuren) contains the immense repertoire of goliards. There are pieces from all over Europe written in Latin, Old German and Old French (from the 11th to the 14th century). There are graceful love songs, drinking songs and anticlerical and irreverent satires.

Types of compositions

Almost all the works proceed from the strophic genre, with or without refrain and remain the reflection of the civilization of the Middle Ages, of its social and literary history: it is the expression of the Christian faith, of the chivalrous spirit at the time. crusades and all the nuances of courtly love.

- The most common is the Canso (song) whose six verses are built on the same rhymes.

- La Séréna (serenade) describes the lamentations of the knight in love.

- The Plahn is a song of mourning.

- The Dawn (or aubade) speaks of the sadness of two lovers forced to separate at daybreak.

- The Siventès are political satires.

- The Ballad is meant to be danced.

- La Pastourelle reveals the love inspired by a shepherdess.

- The Song of the Crusades highlights the prowess of the Crusaders in the service of the faith and the urgency of the amorous quest exacerbated by danger.

- The Partimen (game-party in the language of oïl) and the Tenso are works created by several troubadours they usually speak of love.

Courtly song in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, the cult of women is the center from which all poetry emanates and is presented as a kind of transposition of deified love, with a natural and captivating grace, the melody retains a rather restricted ambiguity. The langue d'oïl is rougher, less fluid but more nervous, making the intonation clear and frank, while the singing and caressing langue d'oc is embellished with expressive and flexible melodic ornaments which gives it a particular charm. Note the Rondeau which was very popular from the beginning of the 13th century where the chorus is repeated at the end of each stanza and is inserted in the middle of each verse.

These poet-musicians are found in all classes of society: monks and counts, farmers, marquises, merchants or clerics (there are even women composers).

Let us quote some troubadours: Guillaume IX count of Poitiers who was one of the first to go on crusade. Marcabru Gascon from the 11th century author of the song of the Crusades, who became a monk, Bernard de Ventadour at the end of the 12th century, Gaucelm Faidit author of the Planh on the death of Richard the Lionheart, Hambault de Vaquaires paying homage to an exquisite delicacy to the lady of his thoughts in the lovely “Estampiella Kalenda Maya” and especially Jaufré Rudel author of the delicious “Canso à la Princesse Lointaine” which was later sung by Rostand.

Among the founders, Chrétien de Troyes and Gautier d'Epinal, the lord of Coucy, with original melodies, Thibault IV Count of Champagne in the 13th century whose works are distinguished by the delicacy of feeling and the grace of expression. The humble minstrel Colin Muset admirably handles the satirical genre. Arras sees the development of the style of the founders-bourgeois (the game-party of the pastourelle). The best known is Adam de la Halle, author of the game of Robin and Marion, and very beautiful rondeaux.

The learned song abroad

The Germanic countries also have their founders and troubadours: these are the "Minnesänger" (from the old word Minne indicating sentimental thought (whose object is the beloved woman) and Sänger the singer. This art developed from the end of the 13th century. century and takes off in the following century. Among the most famous are: the Duke Henry IV of Breslau, the Margrave Otho of Brandenburg, the monk of Salzburg. We also find bourgeois finders, the Meistersinger, popular master-singers whose slower and more religious songs already announce the Lutheran chorale.

In the nineteenth century Wagner illustrates in Tannhauser a famous tournament at Wartburg and in "the blackmailers of Nuremberg" stages this corporation, in particular an illustrious name: Hans Sach.

In his "divine comedy", Dante quotes the French troubadours who have become famous. King Denis of Portugal introduced Provencal poetic culture to his country by calling French composers to his court. In Italy, St. Francis of Assisi, whose “Canticle of the Creatures” was probably sung, marks the starting point of the religious lyric movement in popular language. Finally in 1252, Alfonso X, King of Castile, a great lover of music and poetry, made himself famous for his hymns to the virgin.

A large number of works by founders and troubadours still exist today. If they sometimes seem simple and naïve to us, we cannot deny their great poetic charm, their lively spontaneity and their rhythmic flexibility. This art represents for medieval music an original tradition based on the chivalrous spirit on the one hand and on the Crusades on the other. All the manifestations of these musical and sung forms consist in `` serving '' (serving God, serving the overlord, serving women) but also in disseminating information and a bit of dreams in an attractive way in all social strata ...


- Brief history of music in the Middle Ages by Olivier Cullin. Fayard, 2002.

- Music from the Middle Ages by Albert Seay. South Acts, 1992.

- Songs from the Finds of Samuel N Rosenberg. Pocket, 1995.

- At the time of the troubadours by Geneviève Brunel-Lobrichon. hatchet, 1999.

Video: LiliumLyra - Bem Volgra - Troubadour Medieval Dance Song