In France in the Middle Ages, especially from around 1100 to 1350, there were minstrels who composed verses and sang them to their own accompaniment, usually on harp. The minstrels in Southern France are the most familiar to us: the troubadours.
But Northern France, including Paris, had their own variant of the troubadour: the trouveres. The troubadours sang in the language known as Occitan, or langue d’oc; the trouveres in Old French, or langue d’oil.
Usually the troubadours are considered to be the earliest exemplars of this style of mostly secular music, in part because the Southern French were seen as perhaps more licentious than the sober Northerners. The very first troubadour is considered to be Eleanor of Aquitaine’s grandfather, William IX, Duke of Aquitaine.
I studied both the troubadours and the trouveres last year when I took Gothic Paris: 1100-1300 at The Ohio State University in Columbus from Professor Kristen Figg. It was a most wondrous class. I still look back at my notes and dream of all the amazing things we were introduced to in that one short semester!
The class covered almost everything imaginable that impacted Paris during those two centuries, including politics (the Capetian dynasty, especially Louis VII and his wife for a time, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who upon their divorce married Henry II of England, bringing Henry her vast wealth and holdings in what we now consider Southern France);
The Crusades–Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine went on the Second Crusade together, which was not the resounding success that the First Crusade had been, especially in terms of their marriage (she turned out to be the better warrior and strategist);
The architecture–the advent of the Gothic cathedral and how it displaced the Romanesque building style that had been prevalent before that, and the struggle between the major clerics who championed each style;
The literature and philosophy–think Chretien de Troyes, Marie de France, and Abelard and Heloise;
The founding of the University system in Paris, with its core subjects of the trivium and the quadrivium, to which law and medicine were added as subjects of lesser stature, but to which theology was superior to all;
The many civic improvements made to the City during the reign of Philip Augustus (whose city walls we had to draw by memory for a test, and my drawing was considered “too oval,” LOL). No trace of his walls exists today, although the Louvre, which at that time was outside the walls and was built for warfare is, of course, a major cultural draw today;
And, of course, all of the arts, along with so many other subjects.
We had to choose an “Experiential Project” to research and bring before the class at the end of the semester. Mine was researching and playing a trouvere chanson. I played it on my harp, although without lyrics, because although I pored over nine huge volumes of trouvere lyrics and associated melodies, I couldn’t find any melodies that approximated the harp music provided in my well-researched and -arranged book, Early Music for the Harp, by Deborah Friou (Friou Music, 1988. Brunswick ME, 76 pp; ISBN No. 0-9628120-2-1). Very frustrating indeed.
Interestingly, though, I did find a couple of chansons by Abelard, although they were written in honor of the Virgin Mary and not in honor his beloved but besmirched (by him) Heloise. Maybe he was in too much trouble over his treatment of Heloise to want his lyrics dedicated to her to be memorialized… hahaha!
Although, considering the awful retribution taken on Abelard for his behavior towards to his young brilliant female student by her enraged uncle, maybe he had had trouble enough. Still, if you read their Letters to each other, I think that you will agree with me that he continued to treat her pretty shabbily throughout their lifetimes. On top of which, their child conceived out of wedlock was named Astrolabe. What?!?!?
The trouvere chanson that I elected to play for the class was from the 1200’s and was anonymous. I recorded this version of it last month in my living room with a little Zoom H1 stereo practice recorder: