Troubadour: Definition, Music & Instruments

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  • 0:00 Qualities of a Troubadour
  • 0:22 History of Troubadours
  • 1:19 Music of Troubadours
  • 2:10 Legacy of Troubadours
  • 3:01 Famous Troubadours
  • 3:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Charis Duke

Charis has taught college music and has a master's degree in music composition.

Troubadours were a highly respected group of poets and musicians who lived during the Medieval period. In this lesson, we will learn about their art and influence.

Qualities of a Troubadour

If you were a young man in medieval France, few occupations were open to you. There were the skilled trades, such as baker or stonemason. You could enter the service of the Catholic Church. However, if you were intelligent, witty, quick-thinking, musical, and enjoyed excitement and travel, troubadour was the job for you.

History of Troubadours

Troubadours were poet-musicians who first appeared in the late 11th century in Occitania. Occitania was the Medieval name for an area encompassing modern-day Southern France, Northern Italy, and Northern Spain. Minstrels, traveling musicians who performed in towns and courts for their living, had long been providing entertainment. However, as the Medieval period approached its creative zenith, troubadours elevated the art of the song to new heights.

Troubadours were highly skilled, often mentoring with older troubadours to learn songs and technique. They had books with song-writing rules which they had to follow. Troubadours could quickly write new poems to reflect current situations at court. Favorite poetry topics included love, chivalry, honor, war, political satire, and high ideals. They set these poems to music, either composing their own or using existing music, and performed them for the nobility.

Music of Troubadours

The music of the troubadours was monophonic, a single melody with no harmony. A popular melody would be shared among the troubadours and used with many different poems. The poetry was always secular and often bawdy. Troubadours might sing a cappella, or unaccompanied, but it was common for them to also play a stringed instrument while they sang. Among the many choices were lute, rebec, and cithern.

Common song forms developed as the troubadours traveled and were influenced by each other. The dansa and the balada were popular dance songs with refrains, a repeated chorus after each verse. The alba was a morning song in which a watchman warned two lovers that they must part. Many of these lyrics are preserved in songbooks called chansonniers.

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