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Thread: The Troubadours

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    The Troubadours

    Introduction to the Troubadours

    Modern European literature originated in Occitania in the early 12th century. It was started by hundreds of Troubadours (poet-musicians), who sang the praises of new values and in a new way. Their themes were courtly love, and concepts such as "convivencia" and "paratge" for which there is no modern counterpart in modern English or French. "convivencia" meant something more than conviviality and "paratge" meant something much more than honour, courtesy, chivalry or gentility. Troubadours praised high ideals, promoting a spirit of equality based on common virtue and deprecating discrimination based on blood or wealth. They were responsible for a great flowering of creativity. The lyrics could be racy, even by modern standards. Woman troubadours as well as men were welcomed in Châteaux throughout the Midi. They were loathed by the Roman Church, though a number of priests and bishops had themselves been well known troubadours in their early years - including, famously, Fouquet de Marseille, Archbishop of Toulouse.

    The earliest troubadour whose work survives is William IX, Duke of Aquitaine, (1071 - 1127, also known in his native Occitan as as Guilhem de Peitieus, and in French Guillaume d'Aquitaine). Troubadours flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries in the Languedoc (Occitania). Their language Occitan (sometimes called the langue d'oc and occasionally Provençale) was the first literary language of Europe since classical times. Some 2000 of their works are known, from the short compositions like the "cansos", to book-long epics. All are expressed in Occitan, or as it was then called, "plana lenga romana" - the plain Roman tongue.

    In France to the north the idea was copied by speakers of French (the langue d'oil) who are generally known as Trouvères. This was probably accelerated when Eleanor of Aquitaine (the grand-daughter of the first known troubadour William IX of Aquitaine) married the King of France. She exported the same ideals of courtly love to England when she later married King Henry II. Her daughter Marie, Countess of Champagne took the same ideas of courtly behavior to the court of the Count of Champagne.

    Two common errors - repeated in the modern literature by scholars who really aught to know better - are that all Troubadours wrote in Provençale and that Provençale is a dialect of French. The first error arises presumably because the name Provençal is occasionally used, confusingly, to refer to the Occitan language. The second is inexcusable - a blind acceptance of French propaganda perpetrated by the same people who promote the fiction that Occitania was always part of France. The fact is that Provençale is a dialect of Occitan not of French, and relatively few troubadour works are written in the Provençale dialect. Most troubadour works date from a time before the Languedoc ( The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about occitan. Lengadoc), Provence ( The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about occitan. Proveça), the Aquitaine ( The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about occitan. Gasconha) or much of the rest of Occitania were annexed by France.

    Troubadours were well-educated highly sophisticated verse-technicians. The earliest lives of the troubadours (called "vidas") were compiled in the 13th and 14th centuries. They contributed a romantic air to troubadour mythology. We know that "Trobadors" were welcomed by noble courts throughout Occitania, including areas that are now regarded as Spanish, Italian or French. They were also welcomed in the courts of England, France and even Germany (as minnesänger).

    The rue des Troubadours in CarcassonneTheir influence was profound and far-reaching, giving rise to the development of virtually all modern western literature other than religious "legends". Dante can be classsed as a troubadour; and troubadour influences clearly aparent in writers like Geoffery Chaucer, John Gower, Marie de France, Chretien de Troyes, Gottfried von Strassburg and Thomas Malory. They shaped much of our modern romanticised concept of medieval life - right down to ladies awarding favours to knights bearing their colours in jousting tournaments. Among the many direct descendants of their work might be counted a range of modern genres, from biographies to novels; from war stories to political satires; and from soft pornography to Mills and Boon style romances. The very word romance with its modern connotations is a Troubadour invention. The word began as the name for a narrative poem about chivalric heroes.

    Troubadour Conventions and favourite themes

    Troubadours made great contributions to intellectual life with their new art, blending courtly love, eroticism, war, nature, political satire and philosophy - all of which (apart from war songs) excited the ire of the Roman Church. Courtly love (cortez amors , amour courtois) was condemned particularly strongly. It was a concept of love that appeared in Occitania at the end of the eleventh century - the same time as the First Crusade (1099) and the birth of the troubadour tradition where it found its first expression. Oddly, the term cortez amors occurs only once in medieval litterature, in a late 12th century lyric by Piere d'Alvernhe, but it denotes much the same idea as fin'amor ("fine love") which is much more common.

    Courtly love was contradictory as it encompassed both erotic desire and spiritual aspration. As one modern authority puts it "a love at once illicit and morally elevating, passionate and self-disciplined, humiliating and exalting, human and transcendent." The knight accepts the independence of the object of his desire and tries to make himself worthy of her by acting honourably and by doing deeds of heroism that might appeal to her. Rather than being critical of romantic and sexual love as sinful, troubadours praised it as the highest good. The woman was an ennobling morale force. This view was diametrically opposed to the clerical view, which held that women and sex were both inherently sinful. Clerics saw religion as the only route to salvation and regarded as blasphemous the troubadours' innovation that love might offer an alternative route to the same end. Matrimony had been declared a sacrament of the Church, at the Fourth Lateran Council, 1215, but even after this time the ideal state of a Christian was celibacy. Around the same time Courtly Love was condemned by the church as heretical. But there was a carrot as well as a stick. It is no coincidence that the cult of the Virgin Mary also began in the west around this time - fostered specifically to counter courtly views of women.

    Many songs focus on the concept of Courtly Love (in French l'amour courtois) often featuring extravagantly artificial and stylized relationships and characterised by five attributes:

    Literary. Before it established itself as a real-life activity, courtly love was a theme in imaginative literature. Courtly love between noblemen and noblewomen was popular in song and fable before real knights and ladies started to behave in the same way (rather like to bored young rich of today aping what they see in films).
    Aristocratic. Courtly love was practiced by lords and ladies typically in a royal palace or court.
    Secret. Courtly lovers were pledged to strict secrecy. A critical element of their affair, and the source of its special attraction, was that no-one else should know about it. The lovers comprised their own closed universe with its own secret meeting places, rules and codes of conduct.

    Ritualistic. Couples engaged in a courtly relationship exchanged gifts and tokens of their love. The lady was the exalted domina, the commanding mistress of the affair. He was her servus, her lowly but faithful servant. She was wooed according to elaborate conventions of etiquette and was the recipient of songs, poems, bouquets, sweetmeats, favours and gestures. For all these attentions, she was expected to return no more than a hint of approval or affection. Unrequited desire was part of the fun. (One might observe that this aspect has developed in a specialist trade in more cynical modern times)

    Adulterous. "Fine love", fin d'amour, almost by definition, was extramarital. One of its attractions was that it offered an escape from the routine and confinement of noble marriage - accepted by all as a political or economic alliance for the purpose of producing dynastic heirs. Troubadours scoffed at conventional marriage, dismissing it as yet another religious swindle. In its place they exalted their own ideal of a relationship the objective of which was not mere sexual satisfaction, but sublime and ethereal intimacy. According to tradition, great ladies like Eleanor of Aquitaine presided over Courts of Love - one of which passed judgment that a wife could never be the object of her own husband's fine love. A troubadour addressing a similar question pointed out that a wife might have two lovers - her husband and one other - but that three was one too many.

    Poets adopted the conventions of feudalism, declaring themselves the vassal of the lady and addressing her as an overlord (midons, literally "my lord"). One advantage of this was that it provided the poet with a way of avoiding the lady's name, and at the same time flattering her. In a way. The lady was noble, rich and powerful and the humble poet gave voice to the aspirations of the courtier class - even if the poet was himself a senior nobleman - perhaps even a member of a royal house. Only those who qualified as noble could engage in courtly love, but the qualification was not the one promoted by the Church. According to the troubadours real nobility is not based on wealth or birth, but on character and action. Contempt for class distinction in Occitan and Troubadour culture is well illustrated by the mixed social standing of the troubadours we know of. As well as many commoners and minor nobles, known troubadours include five high born ladies, five viscounts, ten counts and a countess, five marquises, a duke, seven kings and an emperor.

    Troubadour Lyrics

    The main topic of troubadour poetry is love, and it was the need to express works as succinctly as possible that led to the establishment of genres, distinguished less by form than by content or situation. The most common forms were;

    sirventes (satirical political poems),
    planhs (laments),
    albas (morning songs - generally about having to separate after a night together: typically lovers are warned by a watchman that morning is approaching and that they both risk discovery by their spouses),
    pastorals (amorous encounters between a knight and a shepherdess),
    teux-partis (disputes),
    cansos (courtly love-songs, consisting of five or six stanzas with an envoi - a short stanza at the end used either to address an imagined or actual person or to comment on the body of the poem.),
    dansas or baladas (dance songs with a refrain, mock-popular songs based on an establised dance form)
    descorts (literary jokes discordant in verse form or feeling),
    escondigs (lovers' apologia),
    gaps (a challenge),
    tensos, partimens, joc-partits (songs of debate)
    trobars clus (cryptic poems)
    razos (reasons) prose explanations accompanying poems, often added at the end.

    Troubadour Music

    An extract from the first line of chantar m'er by the Comtessa de Dia : The only surviving song by a trobairitz that survives with its music.Troubadour lyrics were sung and accompanied by instruments that are thought to have duplicated the melody - partly on the grounds that all the music that has survived is monophonic. As Grove points out "most troubadour songs are strophic, based on stanzaic patterns repeated throughout the song to the melody of the first verse in widely ranging schemes, always devised with a great awareness of technical accomplishment". Troubadours themselves were intensely conscious of everything to do with form and style.


    Music survives for only some 282 out of more than 2500 troubadour poems, though most of the circa 2100 trouvère poems have music. The same text often survives with several different melodies, making authorship uncertain. Melodies use a much greater modal variety and flexibility than their liturgical counterparts, some displaying the equivalent of modulation. Only a small proportion of the repertoire survive with sophisticated notation, making rhythmic interpretation difficult. A few later examples are however notated in modal rhythm.

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    Fascinating subject! I recently read that Chrétien de Troyes and his successors had Eleanor of Aquitaine in mind when they portrayed Guinevere, but it sounds somewhat doubtful.
    “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.”
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    Senior Member SaxonPagan's Avatar
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    Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of the most beautiful-sounding names I've ever heard.

    She had immense wealth and power with several of her offspring becoming monarchs, including the no less romantic-sounding Richard the Lionheart.


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    Quote Originally Posted by SaxonPagan View Post
    Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of the most beautiful-sounding names I've ever heard.

    She had immense wealth and power with several of her offspring becoming monarchs, including the no less romantic-sounding Richard the Lionheart.

    I agree, Eleanor of Aquitaine is a beautiful name. She was a remarkable woman, and very determined! Eleanor's determination reminds me of Eschenbach's Condwiramurs, who boldly appeared in Parzival's chamber at night to beg for his aid. Many of these women depicted in the stories and songs, though virtuous, were very brave, too. Oh, I adore Parzival and Condwiramurs; they are my favourite literary couple.
    “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.”
    ― Flannery O'Connor

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    Whether Aquitaine was an English or a French possession depended purely on who Eleanor was married to at the time

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