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Trouvères' songsconstitute an extraordinary body ofpoemsand ofmelodies, clearly defined and listed,   extensively explored and studied by musicologists for more than a century, butstill too little interpreted. The appearance, in France at the beginning of the 12th century, of thegenre song, that is to say of the strophic poem sung in monody, is afundamental eventof our artistic history. The word (“canso” in Occitan) and the concept wereinvented by troubadours in the south of France, under the influence of related liturgical or paraliturgical genres (trope, sequence, versus, conduit), secular Latin songs (carmina) and probably Arabic scholarly poetry as well. In line with the first troubadours,the minstrelsypracticed their art from the 1160s.Chrétien de Troyeswas no doubtthe first known findif, as is very probable, his songs were early works. At the end of the 13th century, the last trouvères were mostlyclerics writing poems dedicated to the Virgin Maryon already famous melodies (contrafacta), or polyphonic songs in langue d'oïl.


Our poets arefrom all the regions where the different dialects of langue d'oïl are spoken, which constitutes a vast geographical area encompassing all of northern France and the south of present-day Belgium. Some provinces have played a leading role in this matter, and we find their dialectal traits in the songs of poets from these regions: Picardy, Champagne, Lorraine...The repertoire is huge. Gaston Raynaud drew up a first list in 1884, completed by H. Spanke in the 1950s.No significant new manuscripts have since been rediscovered.If we add to these lists a few scattered pieces not cataloged by the two scholars, it isnearly 2200 poems that make up this magnificent corpus. Among these texts, two thirds have music (1362 according to Hans Tischler).


The directory is transmitted by22 singers(large collections of songs) of which 18 are provided with music, completely or most often partially. These singers are sometimes d'extraordinary ceremonial books intended for the greatest courts. Alongside these twenty-two prestigious chansonniers, there are other additional sources: a dozen manuscripts of clerical or monastic origin transmit religious counterfacta to trouvère songs, as well as a large number of literary manuscripts (novels, sayings, plays , etc.) including fragments or lyrical insertions belonging to this same trouvère repertoire.All our sources convey the melodies very clearly, the musical notation leaving no ambiguity on this subject.


The minstrels are about 250 in number.but half of them are known to us from only one or two songs. Conversely, some have been very productive:Thibaud de Champagne, Gace Brulé, Adam de la Halle, Jehan Bretelhave written over 60 songs each.All social categories are representedbut the nobles are the most numerous, whether grand princes (Thibaud of Champagne, Charles of Anjou) or simple knights (Gautier d'Epinal, Gace Brulé). We also find among the trouvères clerics (Gautier de Coincy, Guillaume le Vinier), simple jugglers (Colin Muset, Carasaus) or rich bourgeois (Jehan Bretel)... andeight womenonly. Trouvères' songs are written mainly by men, for men, and, as we will see, speak above all of male desire.


The talents of our poets have been expressed in very diverse genres,taking up styles of troubadour songs, or inventing new ones. Musicologists thus distinguish, according to the literary subject, fromsongs of love, of crusade, of women, of canvas, of dawn, silly songs, games-parties, reverdies, pastourelles, sirventois, pious songs… or according to the musical-literary form of strophic songs,lays, rings, songs with a chorus, or with choruses…


The trouvère song is thearchetypal artistic expressionof this very special moment in our history that we callfeudalism. Courtly love is the main subject. In the twelfth century,very favorable economic, social and climatic conditions give rise to a new art of living and strong amorous aspirations. The feudal society is then very pyramidal: the nobility drains towards it immense wealth. The patrimonies of the great families are constituted, crystallized. The question of the simple transmission of this heritage becomes essential and we then grantparamount importance to family alliances, marriages and therefore the supervision of women, while very many younger families are left in escheat, without much hope of making a rich marriage.Courtly love then plays the role of a kind of social game, of course reserved primarily for aristocratic circles. The courtly game allows a certain social control of the bubbling impulses of young nobles, sincethe courtly lover's lady is unreachable, being of a higher social rank.


The songs of troubadours and trouvères echo these amorous tensions, sublimated by lyrical poetry. Of course, in this “Male Middle Ages”*, theromantic imageryof the knight transfixed with love at the feet of his lady, and ready to endure the worst trials for a single benevolent look from his beloved, is aartistic fictione. The historical reality is much harsher andthe condition of women in the 12th and 13th centuries remains unenviable. Some women from the high aristocracy nevertheless encouraged and even directly participated in this very masculine courtly game.


The poems and music of the trouvères cannot be apprehended with modern criteria, irrelevant for a period so distant from us. The medieval artist is above all part of a tradition based on the Ancients. Originality, the expression of the artistic self are not his subject, which is undoubtedly difficult to understand for those of us who knowall subsequent forms of artistic expression.This tradition is essentially formal, made up of conventionsthat risk making 21st century listeners that we are, situations and feelings seem verystereotyped. However, this is exactly what the medieval public appreciates.All the clichés, the platitudes are in fact sources of emotion, of references, of evocations, which we have largely lost.The medieval public is greatly sensitive to the ingenuity, the virtuosity of the poet who creates, invents within the rigid formal framework governed by conventions, which Dante calls "convenience". As Dante himself points out, therespect for these conventions in no way curbs the genius of the greatest minstrelsy, in the forefront of which he places, thus joining the opinion of his contemporaries that we can only corroborate today, Thibaud de Champagne.


*     title of a famous book by Georges Duby




For coldness

Thibaud de Champagne


Jerusalem complains

Huon de St-Quentin

MERCI CLAMANT manuscrit Arsenal 104.JPEG

Thank you crying

Chatelain de Coucy


The sweet thought

Gautier de Dargies

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