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This is part of an authorized online posting of Harvey Reid's important book, "The Troubadour Chronicles," published in May 2020. It is available in paperback from this web site or from Amazon.com.

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“Minstrels were an order of men in the middle ages, who subsisted by the arts of poetry and music, and sang to the harp verses composed by themselves or others. They also appear to have accompanied their songs with mimicry and action; and to have practised such various means of diverting as were much admired in those rude times, and supplied the want of more refined entertainment. These arts rendered them extremely popular and acceptable in this and all the neighbouring countries; where no high scene of festivity was esteemed complete, that was not set off with the exercise of their talents..” [Thomas Percy (1765) ‘Reliques of Ancient Poetry’]

Chapter 10: Minstrels, Troubadours and Historians

Since most public discussion of troubadours for more than a hundred years has centered around the medieval version of the art form, we should review what we know and don’t know about that time. In case you are chapter-hopping, I’ll risk boring you by repeating that the standard story is that the classic troubadour art form happened during about two and one half centuries beginning around the year 1100, mostly in Southern France, but also in Sicily and parts of Italy. Dictionary definitions of “troubadour” stubbornly refer to this narrowly-defined group of European nobles who wrote and sang personal poetry that was primarily about love, and in doing so brought us our modern concepts of romance and the love song. We should keep in mind that our modern understanding of these troubadours consists of some genuine information wrapped in varying amounts of myth and speculation. We do know for certain that beginning with the time of Duke William IX, some Europeans became smitten with the idea of writing rhyming poetic songs, sometimes performing them on portable musical instruments. We cannot know the answer to the key question of whether these narrowly-defined, ground-breaking Occitan troubadours were the causes or effects of the broader spread of troubadour ideas into Europe. Even the royalty of a number of European countries practiced and encouraged minstrelsy of many kinds during a period of a few centuries following that time, and this era was possibly the heyday of the old troubadours as we like to envision them. A magical time when bards, troubadours and minstrel performers of all sorts were typically welcomed into the homes of the wealthy, it may have actually resembled our modern romantic notions of what it was like, though many of the chroniclers of that period seem to have shared a hyper-romanticized perspective. Historical accounts detail that troubadours were often very well paid and quite respected. We have the names, some poetry and scattered biographical details of 460 early troubadours, none of whom were peasants, who left us several thousand pieces of music and poetry. About 1400 include some written musical notation, though all of that comes from the latter part of the Troubadour Era.

The list of medieval troubadours is mostly men, though between five and ten percent are thought to have been women. In the Aquitaine region of Southern France, where the troubadour arts first flourished in Europe, women were allowed to own land, and enjoyed considerably more power, respect and legal rights than in most parts of Europe. This may have facilitated their activities as singers and poets. The number of documented female troubadours from that era varies between 23 and 46, depending on who you ask, though there is not much information about how many women in those times played music or wrote poetry. We will also never know how many women wrote under pseudonyms, as many did at other times in the past. Because women were likely not as caught up as the men in the strutting and the theatrics of “courtly love,” some consider their poetry to be more valuable because it more accurately portrayed both their real feelings and the cultural values of the time.
The medieval troubadours our dictionaries and poetry scholars describe were a beachhead and an important historical marker, but almost certainly were neither the origin or the culmination of anything. Our images and understanding of them come from what has always been the overwhelmingly white and male ranks of medieval scholars, who have portrayed a world that was itself dominated by white men. Evidence shows that there was measurable cultural and racial diversity in those times in Europe, and it is quite likely that our ideas about the past have been skewed accordingly, if not by Anglo-Saxon-centric scholarship itself then certainly by the portrayal of those times in white male-centric 20th century literature, television and movies. It has only been 150 years since the peak days of cowboys and Indians in the American West, yet the number and depth of the myths and misconceptions surrounding cowboy life that have sprung up in that short time is an indication of how easily the past can be romanticized and repackaged. What poets and musicians were doing in the Middle Ages could not have been fundamentally different from what modern singer-songwriters do as they play their instruments and sing their songs, or what any loosely-defined troubadours have done everywhere all through history. Human hands, ears and voices haven’t changed physically, and though the clothing and the scenery would have been different, the motor skills and basic activity of playing music and singing would not be totally unfamiliar to us if we were teleported back there. Instrument-making technology has certainly improved, especially the strings, though surviving instruments and what is depicted and documented indicate that a startling level of woodworking skill and craftsmanship was often involved at times in the quite distant past.

I keep saying this, but the surviving troubadour documents from that era were not the art itself; many of them were copied or written down long after things happened, in an attempt to preserve something that likely lived to a large extent off the page in oral form just as its modern counterpart does today. These documents are a container and a projection, not a reality, and the extent of the living music they truly capture is unknown. We cannot be sure of what was put into the container, or how well it was preserved. Words written on paper are not the same as words that are sung, and languages and even their translations have changed a great deal over the centuries. Song lyrics often do not always land squarely on the beats of the rhythm in music I encounter around me, and it is pure speculation but reasonable to assume that singers long ago also used rhythmic accompaniment that sometimes juxtaposed and intertwined the rhythms of the lyrics against those of the music. Complex rhythmic musical elements could not have been captured in any archival forms until the 20th century when recording technology arrived. When you listen to recordings of medieval lute music, it’s tantalizing to imagine what those same notes might have sounded like when played with rhythms, syncopations or grooves, since the way they have come down to us they are played and written in a very “straight” manner. (Though most of the music that has been preserved may have never had a secret rhythmic life before it was put on paper.) Because polyrhythmic elements have developed and been documented in numerous forms of 20th century troubadour music, and writers have tried to describe rhythms from long ago in words, we can imagine that rhythmic subtlety could have also been present in at least some of the past forms of the art, though it doesn’t appear when musicians play what is written in the manuscripts. Those things might have been African in origin, and may not have appeared in Europe, though Islamic, gypsy and North African music could have had some special ingredients that entered Europe but either didn’t survive the long centuries on paper or were never put there.

First A Look at Ancient Greece
We should probably back up another dozen centuries and start our voyage in ancient China, since vital elements of troubadouring, like rhyme and guitars themselves seem to have their origins there. Once again I’m going to step around that and leave it for someone else, since my story is overly ambitious already. There were several lute-family instruments in Mesopotamia and Egyptian civilizations long before Greek or Arabic societies, but it is not known how much direct influence those ultimately had directly on European and American musical development. So we will also skate over that, though I invite you to see what you can learn if this interests you. Western civilization does have many deep roots in cultural ideas from Classical Greek society, making that a reasonable starting place for this part of our historical timeline of the troubadour arts. (Remember that the ancient Greeks died out or moved away a very long time ago, and that modern Greek music probably bears little resemblance to what was done there thousands of years in the past.)

The ancient Greeks articulated a healthy appreciation of the idea of musical poetry, and seem to have understood and taken the position clearly that it had real personal, emotional and spiritual value. Good music, they said, combined rhythm, melody and words and in-the-moment interpretive performance. The word “music” itself comes from the Greek word “muse,” which was the name for the daughters of Zeus, implying that it was special and godly. Numerous written documents and pictorial depictions describe music from ancient Greece, and we know it was a big part of their life. They respected its power and beauty and its seeming connection to the divine, though we actually have no idea what their music sounded like or if they even embraced the concept of harmony. The poet Timotheus accompanied himself as he sang, and the playwright Sophocles was a brilliant musician as well as a champion wrestler. Pindar, Pericles, Anacreon, Damon, Arion, Antigenidas, Philoxenas, Dorian and Ismenias were all known to be skilled musicians. Plato, Socrates and Aristotle had a great deal to say about the power, beauty and uses of music, and even the dangers of its “dark side.” Pythagoras went into some extremely cosmic places in his inquiries into the nature of music, and people are still intrigued with his band of Pythagoreans, and their mathematical and mystical pursuit of understanding the kosmos and the holy spirituality of music.

From the troubadour vantage point, it appears that the Greeks, in spite of being almost annoyingly analytical about music, seem to have understood that it had special powers to enchant and enhance us. They told us that musicians had access to or could cultivate skills that bordered on some kind of magic. We know that the celebrated poet Homer, if indeed he was actually a person, accompanied himself on a stringed instrument as he sang his epic story songs, making him an early prototype for the troubadour. In “A History of Western Music,” Donald Grout described Greek music: “the performer was… also the composer. This does not mean that what he did was completely spontaneous and unprepared; he had to keep within the universally accepted rules governing the forms and styles of music suitable for particular occasions, and he probably incorporated in his performance certain traditional music formulas; but outside these restrictions he had considerable freedom. He was not playing or singing something he had memorized or learned from a score, and consequently no two performances of the ‘same’ piece were exactly alike. Improvisation, in this or a similar sense, was characteristic of all ancient peoples. It prevailed also in our Western music up to perhaps the eighth century A.D., and the practice continued to affect musical styles for a long time even after precise musical notations were invented.”

Isn’t that exactly what you hope for when you go see any artist perform their music? That sounds like a very good description of a troubadour performance of any time in history. Plenty of musicians inhabit the moment, and deliver songs as they feel them, largely the same, but clearly alive and malleable as they unfold. Do you really want to see an artist accurately reading or reciting something, so as to make sure that their performance would be reproducible and almost identical each time? How did this thing that has come to be called “Western music” eventually dominate the “peasant music” and establish a rulebook of musical notation and reproducible performance standards, where the band members play the notes in the score and don’t create or improvise their own parts? It never officially started or ended, but an ongoing struggle between the legitimate and illegitimate, the high and the low, the noble and the profane music has continued in some form or another throughout the entire history of Western civilization. This gulf is still quite visible and relevant, especially from the troubadour view point, though it appears to have been mostly created during the past few centuries.

The “Official” Troubadour Period
Bernard de Ventadour left us the largest surviving number of medieval “first generation” troubadour songs written by those upper-class poets, and along with whatever lyrics we have from him and his ilk, there are also snippets of information called vidas, that tell us something about the poets whose names have come down to us from that era. That list includes Pons de Capdueil, Almucs de Castelna, Iseut de Capio, Tibors, Arnaud de Marveil, Geoffroi Rudel, Gavaudan the Elder, Peire Rogier, Folquet de Marseilles, the Dauphin of Auvergne, the Bishop of Clermont, Albert-Marquis of Malaspina, William Cabestaing, Jaufre Rudel, William Rainols d’Apt, William Raimond de Durfort, Bertrand de Born, Ogier, Peter d’Auvergne, Izarn, Girard Calanson, Gaucelm Faidit, Arnaud Daniel, Giraut de Bornelh, Rambaud de Vaqueiras, Nichatin de Darbesieu, Sordel, Blacatz, Blacasset, Savari de Mauleon, Folquet de Lunel, Raimond Gaucelm de Besiers, William Magret, Arnaud de Comminges, Donna Castelloza, William de la Tour, Azalais de Porcairagues, Raimond Berenger V, Aubert de Puicibot, Hugues de Saint-Cyr, Clara of Anduse, Nat de Mons, Peter Vidal, Bartholomew Giorgi, Boniface Calvo, Arnaud de Carcasses, Bertrand of Marseilles, Gui Decavaillon, Bertrand d’Avignon, Raimond de Miravals, William de Baux, William de Figueira, Germonda de Montpellier, Gui d’Uisel, the Monk of Montavdon, Amanieu des Escas, William Adhemar, Aimeri de Beauvoir, Frederick, King of Sicily, William de Mur, William of Montagnogout and Arnaud of Marsan. You could spend your whole life just trying to learn what there is to know about these people and their poetry, though it is unclear whether we need to know more, or whether we will ever be able to learn enough about the music that accompanied it or the way it was used.

There are enough surviving parchments to keep scholars busy studying and reinterpreting almost indefinitely, and the body of extant documents is essentially too large for anyone to really digest or know everything about, leading to the subject matter being divided into smaller, more manageable chunks. Because any meaningful research requires access to the old documents, written in several archaic languages or dialects, it is not a place anyone can easily jump in and start studying, rethinking or commenting. About 2500 poems in the Old Occitan language have survived, though only 253 of them have musical notation accompanying them. John Haines, in “Eight Centuries of Troubadours and Trouvères,” focused on the medieval troubadour period, giving an overview of the situation, but with virtually no hint of agreement with my idea that there isn’t a fundamental difference between what they were doing in the Middle Ages, what bluesmen in Mississippi were doing in 1925, or what your neighbor’s kid might be doing with a guitar in their basement today. On page 8 he mentions oral tradition music in passing: “The first creators, performers and melodies all belong to a period which predates extant sources,” and the entirety of his attention is devoted to written evidence. He reports that there are another 2500 pieces of trouvère music, which seems to be an arbitrary word that means they came from more Northern places than what are called troubadours. He draws his perimeter around a grand total of 2800 extant “Old French” melodies and 4600 different sets of lyrics that comprise the known body of “troubadour and trouvère music.”

A succession of writers, scholars and historians have created, interpreted, compiled, borrowed and sometimes greatly romanticized information from the accounts of what the early medieval troubadours did, and those analyses are themselves as different from each other as variants of the ballad “Mary Hamilton.” The celebrated poet Ezra Pound became fascinated with old Provençal troubadours, especially Guido Cavalcanti, and in 1912 Pound published an entire book of English translations of Cavalcanti’s poetry. The idea that scholarly writing about early troubadours and folk musics in general behaves and morphs in folkloric ways, like the content of folk songs, is amusing and even head-spinning. As we discussed in the disclaimer chapter, past researchers used whatever original sources they could get their hands on, tediously hand-copied documents, and relied on earlier accounts that may or may not have been accurate. The contexts of the old songs and the biographies of the early troubadours also have been gradually embellished and distorted over time, just like song lyrics. More recent attempts to make sense of whatever we know or don’t know about that era increasingly claim that most of the standard anecdotes about the lives of the early troubadours are not based entirely in fact. A consensus is building that questions the veracity of the plot of the “Song of Roland,” as well as the juicy song lyric that tells of the jealous Raymond de Seillans feeding to Tricline Carbonnelle the heart of her illicit lover Guillem de Cabestaing, asking her if she likes the nice meal he has served her.

The Music of the Lower Classes
I repeatedly remind you that we cannot know much about the extent to which commoners and lower-class people also participated as troubadours, though it is very easy to imagine that many of them sang and played stringed instruments, because nearly all music in those times was home-made. Anything the illiterate and the lower classes of people might have been doing with their guitar-family instruments and poetry between roughly 1100 to 1500 is nearly pure speculation, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speculate. The nagging issue of social class is inextricably connected to the troubadour storyline, and the two spiral and spin around each other like a Celtic knot, as they certainly have done throughout the entire history of the guitar. It is an eternal yet important question as to whether the first musicians who brought troubadour ideas to Europe from the Arabic culture were heads of state, upper-class people, commoners, or even prisoners. There must have been some music carried in and out of Mediterranean seaports by sailors, soldiers, gypsies, travelers and merchants of all nations and cultures, through all of antiquity. In 1856 William Chappell observed a large presence of peasant music being mentioned in literature: “Tinkers, tailors, blacksmiths, servants, clowns, and others, are so constantly mentioned as singing music in parts, and by so many writers, as to leave no doubt of the ability of at least many among them to do so.” It seems to have taken literate Europeans a very long time to appreciate and understand peasant music, especially after it went out of favor, and as we’ll explore in Chapter 13, a disproportionate number of those comments were derogatory and negative. The upper and lower social classes seem to have long maintained their own parallel traditions of troubadour music. It’s possible that peasants were working so hard they had little time for songwriting, or perhaps the rich poets were borrowing musical ideas from them all along. If the lives of sharecroppers in the American South after the Civil War are any model for how lower classes behaved, then the peasants in the Middle Ages may well have had some energy to play music even after working all day. American blues historians tell of very busy social gatherings and intense music after African-Americans in Mississippi finished their long days in the cotton fields. In “The Overworked American,” sociologist Juliet B. Schor made a comparative analysis of how much leisure time various societies have had throughout history, and concluded that feudal Spain had the largest amount of any culture in recorded history. The comfortable climate, political stability, ease of growing food, and the huge number of religious holidays gave them a startling amount of free time as compared with other cultures. This correlates with the presence of a great deal of home-made music and even the origins of the guitar itself in Spain during that same time frame.

The new troubadour poetic love-song music gained and later lost some favor with gentry and those in the realm of the educated and literate, but may have remained more static in the lower classes, just as is the case today. Whenever there are multiple manuscripts in existence of old works, they are generally quite different from each other, suggesting that during the Golden Age of Troubadours they were not yet writing things down. As we noted, the large and important “Song of Roland” has been found in nine very different versions, making it very difficult to reach firm conclusions about it and suggesting that it was as fluid and alive as nine versions of “Barbara Allen” or “John Henry.”

A strange kind of almost-troubadour music called Geisslerlieder was known to have been sung by wandering penitents in 13th and 14th century Europe as they flogged themselves. Some of it was collected and transcribed by a priest, Hugo Spechtshart of Reutlingen, and published in 1349 in his “Chronicon Hugonis sacerdotis de Rutelinga,” marking the earliest known example of folksong collecting. That music was related to much older work songs and what we might think of as “field hollers,” featuring call and response singing, though the lyrics were apocalyptic and essentially what we would today call “punk.” Some of this music survived and was collected as European folk songs in the 17th century. (The British comedy group Monty Python parodied Geisslerlieder in their Holy Grail movie in 1975.) Instrumental accompaniment was expressly forbidden in this music, though there are also reports of other flagellants singing in Germany, Poland, Switzerland, England and Scandinavia, especially around the time of the Black Death. Interestingly, the movement began in Italy, where St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) was a very active flagellant and penitent, and may have inspired others. That somewhat perverse aspect of his character has not been popularized nearly as much as his gentler, poetic, altruistic and more thoughtful religious side.

High-Profile Troubadours
Anglo-Saxon King Alfred “The Great” (r. 871-901) was said to be a fine musician who won a famous battle by infiltrating the Danish invaders disguised as a minstrel. Sixty years later the Danish king Aulaff reportedly pulled the same trick against the Saxon leader Athelstan. In the year 495 the Saxon leader Baldulf may have also done it, disguised as a harper in a battle against the Germans, though of course these could all be folktales. Richard the First, the “Lion-Hearted” or “Coeur de Lion” (1157–1199), was an important figure in troubadour history. The great-grandson of our “First Troubadour” William IX Duke of Aquitaine, he was the King of England and was also a musician and songwriter. He was the son of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was one of the better-known figures from all of European history. Remarkably, she was married at different times to both the King of France and the King of England. It’s also not an insignificant detail in the troubadour lineage that Richard was the leader of the 3rd Crusade, and that he and his Christian followers battled the Arabic leader Saladin for control of Jerusalem. Richard’s known penchant for poetry, his popularity and renown, and his personal presence in the Middle East may have made him an “early adopter” of the troubadour arts. Richard spoke French and Occitan, and was already composing some troubadour music when he became king and embarked on the Crusade at age 32. His lifelong friendship with the minstrel Blondel is documented, but has also been greatly romanticized. Richard was a participant during the peak of the legitimacy of troubadour arts at the highest levels in society, though he seemed to be much more interested in warfare than music, and modern scholarship now seems focused more on his possible homosexuality than on his music. In 1634 St. Palaye said of him, “Whom the historians speak of only as a fierce warrior, and a debauched and avaricious tyrant. His poetic talents were concealed under his martial enterprises and his acts of oppression.” Though only two of Richard’s songs have survived, he and other contemporary troubadour knights and nobles wrote songs and perhaps played instruments in their spare time, in the manner of Arabic leaders before them who also mixed romantic poetry and songs with their conquering and pursuits of wealth and power. The possibility of Richard I personally encountering or being directly influenced by Arabic musicians or musical instruments might be considered a certainty. At least one account describes a tent meeting and dinner with Arab leader Saladin’s brother al-Adil on November 9, 1191, after what is called the Siege of Acre and Richard’s capture near Jerusalem of the port of Jaffa, a part of modern Tel-Aviv. It says that Richard requested some Arabic music, and was delighted with the singing of a girl who played a guitar-like instrument. Richard was a very popular ruler, a war hero and the fact that he was also somewhat a man of the arts no doubt did a lot to encourage others to explore this new idea of writing rhyming love songs, and perhaps play them on the lute or one of its cousins.

Most of what we know of high-profile medieval troubadours comes from France and Italy, though because of the survival of the “Codex Manesse,” a 14th century German illuminated manuscript, we know that the idea spread to Germany and beyond. The Codex documents that the son of Frederick Barbarossa, who became King Henry VI, and was himself Holy Roman Emperor and King of Germany, Italy and Sicily (1165–1197), was also a poet and musician. Three of his songs are known, and the one in the book tells how his love for a woman is so strong that he would forsake his crown for her. German troubadours are usually called minnesingers or minnesangers though there are few clues as to what inspired German nobility to partake in romantic poetry and rhyming. What we now call Germany at that time was a loose federation of fiefdoms, and Henry’s life when he wasn’t warring all over Italy was spent mostly in Western Germany, along what are now the French and Dutch borders, not in the region of the modern capital of Berlin. The town of Aachen, where he was crowned, is over 400 miles from Poitiers, France, where William “The First Troubadour” died, and over 600 from Toulouse, the hotbed of early French troubadouring. It is interesting that Henry famously held Richard the Lionhearted prisoner at Trifels Castle in Annweiler, in what is now southwest Germany just over the modern border with France, after the failed Crusade and Richard’s capture by Duke Leopold V of Austria. Richard was not released until after a huge ransom was paid, and with the help of an intervention by Richard’s mother Eleanor. Modern researchers are beginning to deem fictional the wonderful story of the minstrel Blondel rescuing Richard from the castle by singing a song outside the walls that only the two of them knew.

Several later kings and queens of England, including James I (r.1567-1625) and Charles I (r.1625-1649), Elizabeth I (r.1558-1603) and King Louis XIII of France were known to play a good deal of music and either guitar or lute, but they came several centuries later and are not considered to be part of the Age of Troubadours. They may have even disliked lower-class music personally, though Louis was known to like simple songs.

The French Nationalist Connection
A key reason why most of us have a mental image of the medieval troubadours, and why dictionaries to this day have assigned the meaning of that word to French noblemen may be that nationalistic French historians in the 17th and 18th centuries went out of their way to collect and write about the early French troubadour era. It is possible that they seized on the “troubadour era” as a way to demonstrate and possibly exaggerate the idea that France played as much a part in the development of Western music as Italy, England, Germany and even the Netherlands. The French were apparently feeling quite left out of the musical Renaissance, at about the time when what we call “classical music” really took hold. Non-French orchestras, operas, virtuosos and composers claimed more and more importance, with Italian and German musicians and composers being by far the most prominent. The headquarters of lute-making in Europe was established in the 16th century in Bavaria, the organ was developed and first took hold of church music in Germany also, and few if any prominent musical names, trends or art forms were coming out of France. Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), little-known today, was hailed as the best French musician and composer of his day, though he was Italian by birth.

Led by Fauchet and Pasquier around 1600, French historians began to lay their claim to the troubadour corner of musical antiquity, and as a result may have managed to popularize that era forever. In his 1871 book William Chappell said about the mid-1600s, “France had then produced fewer good musicians than any country in Europe.” It is quite plausible that the motives of those French historians were competitive and nationalistic as much as purely academic. This greatly helps explain why the academic attention to troubadouring focuses so much on France, when there was an almost equivalent amount of similar but much less heralded activity in Italy and in Sicily, a lot of music and some rhymed poetry in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, plus unmeasurable amounts of early troubadour music nearby in Spain. Chopin and Berlioz were the biggest-name composers France came up with prior to about 1890, though they came much later than Fauchet or Pasquier. The neo-classical and Greek Revival movements were quite prominent in all of Western society, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the celebration of antiquities was a crucial part of what we call the Renaissance. Those aforementioned patriotic French academics were very anxious to show that old French epic troubadour poetry was as worthy as anything Homer wrote. The 4000-line poem “Chanson de Roland” (Song of Roland) became their primary “cause celébre” since it was deemed to be of French origin. It is easy to overlook that the original versions were probably sung by minstrels of that era from memory, without reading or writing anything.

The “Golden-Age” Troubadour Archive
The academic world’s entrenched belief is that troubadours were just those French noblemen in the 12th and 13th centuries, connecting to an established tradition of scholarship dating back well into the 19th century, mostly centered in the poetry departments of universities. I can’t find much evidence that students are learning about the troubadour poets in public schools, and this academic enclave seems to occupy a place where an esoteric corner of the poetry world intersects an esoteric corner of the lute and early music worlds. Since I use the word “troubadour” much more loosely, to refer to all individuals playing self-accompanied music, I am in the unenviable position of being an outsider with no academic credentials that mean anything to the community of troubadour scholars, trying to tell them they are paying far too much attention to poetry from 800 years ago, and that they need to change the definition of the primary word in their discipline.

My modern troubadour gut says that the known group of early French troubadours, the ones the dictionaries are talking about, were neither the original nor the only such European people to create and perform solo musical works that combined rhymed lyric poetry and musical instruments. Whether or not anyone has kept singing those songs from the 12th and 13th centuries is not the point. The very written pages that serve as proof to the troubadour scholars that this body of music was real may actually have been what killed it. It could easily have been much like contemporary rap and hiphop music when it first arrived, though it appears certain that we will never have a clear idea of what it really was, where it came from or how it evolved into its various modern versions. The end of the medieval Troubadour Era, in the eyes of scholars, is generally assigned to the time about 250 years after Duke William IX, at a time when no one seemed interested any more in performing, respecting or learning the earlier troubadour music in the antiquated dialects of the French language in which it began. I found a quote in an online college course in music that said, “The art of the troubadours declined in the fourteenth century and eventually died out around the time of the Black Death (1348).”

Nothing died out, folks. It just evolved, changed clothes and hit the road. Maybe rich Caucasian men writing romantic poetry on parchment in the Occitan dialect of French died out, but troubadouring as we know it certainly didn’t. People all over Europe began to be found playing rhythmically on their stringed instruments as they sang romantic rhymed lyrics. We all know that they and their disciples and descendants have never stopped.
Let’s look some more at what is known about how this new troubadour music spread around Europe from its launching pad in Southern France and Italy, since that will in turn help us understand how it evolved into new forms in North America and took its modern shape heading into the 21st century.

Read Chapter 7

Read Chapter 13

I'm trying to raise issues, questions and awareness in the world of modern troubadours... I want people to find this in web searches and to read it.  I don't have a way for you to comment here, but I welcome your emails with your reactions. Feel free to cheer me on, or to disagree...

Chordally yours,