Unrequited and Courtly Love Songs of the Medieval Period

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  • 0:05 Troubadour Definition
  • 1:38 Regional Titles
  • 2:18 Song Characteristics
  • 3:28 Common Song Topics
  • 4:49 Famous Troubadours
  • 6:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Liz Diamond-Manlusoc

Liz has taught music for K-12 and beyond. She holds a master's degree in Education Media and Design Technology.

Troubadours entertained the royalty of the mid- and late-Medieval Period with songs of love and chivalry. In this lesson, learn about the twelfth and thirteenth century poet-musicians and their musical contributions.

Troubadour Definition

Narrator: Like sand through the hourglass, so are the love songs of our medieval lives. Last time, on 'Songs of Our Medieval Lives.'

Troubadour: I know that I am only a troubadour, a poet-musician of the Royal Court, but I cannot deny my love for you, Countess.

Countess: My husband, the Count, must never know of this. I can never accept your love, but in our 12th and 13th century traditions, I will allow you to woo me with your songs of love and chivalry.

Troubadour: For you, I will always sing songs of unrequited love. As a troubadour, I know that I am here for musical entertainment and to inspire and celebrate crusaders, but like most troubadours, my heart sings for those I cannot attain. As you know, I'm also a knight and though I will stay around this court for a while, I will not be here forever, and I will travel to other courts in my life's journey of music and battle.

Countess: Yes, it is strange how in such a rigid social structure such as ours, you troubadours have such varied roles. You could have been from high nobility - even a king - or from lower social classes and enjoy the privileges of noble life just based on your talents. I wish you could stay forever, but I know you must go.

Regional Titles

Countess: Since we are here in the south of France, you are called a troubadour, but when you travel, how will you be known?

Troubadour: It depends where I go. If I end up in northern France, I'll be referred to as a trouvère. If I cross the hills to Germany, I'll be called a minnesinger.

Countess: But who will provide our music when you are gone?

Troubadour: Well, you could do it, but if you did, you'd be called a trobairitz, since a trobairitz is a female troubadour.

Countess: Eh, no thanks. I don't think I could make the songs sound as beautiful as you do. How do you do it?

Song Characteristics

Troubadour: Well, technically, my songs are known as chansons, which simply means 'song' in French. Generally, my songs are monophonic, meaning just one musical part without harmony. This allows me to give emphasis to the lyrics. Sometimes I add an instrumental part, but it often doubles the melody. I might use an instrument such as a lute, which would allow me to sing and play simultaneously.

Countess: But where do you get your melodies?

Troubadour: Some of my melodies are based on Latin sacred melodies. But more often than that, I tend to use more different types of notes than medieval church music, since we aren't tied to such stringent rules. I write music in several different forms, but the most common form is strophic, which means each stanza has the same melody, but with different text. The melodies are also written to accommodate the words, which I carefully craft to get my point across.

Countess: And exactly what do you write about? I mean, besides me.

Common Song Topics

Troubadour: I am most known for singing songs of unrequited love, from courting unattainable women who are either of higher rank or already wed. Sometimes the focus is on the joy of true love, and other times it is the sorrow from rejection. However, I also sing about chivalry and morals, something which is unconventional for our time period.

Countess: But don't you sing to entertain as well? These don't seem like the topics of entertainment for all of the royal court. You mustn't sing to me when others are around, or the king will have your head!

Troubadour: You're right. Fortunately, I also sing satirical songs, usually about politics. Some are racy and humorously inappropriate. I imagine this trend will continue in the future.

Countess: Oh my, the Church must not like that very much.

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