A troubadour (, French: [tʁubaduʁ] (); Occitan: trobador [tɾuβaˈðu] ()) was a composer and performer of Old Occitan lyric poetry during the High Middle Ages (1100–1350). Since the word troubadour is etymologically masculine, a female troubadour is usually called a trobairitz.
The troubadour school or tradition began in the late 11th century in Occitania, but it subsequently spread to Italy and Spain. Under the influence of the troubadours, related movements sprang up throughout Europe: the Minnesang in Germany, trovadorismo in Galicia and Portugal, and that of the trouvères in northern France. Dante Alighieri in his De vulgari eloquentia defined the troubadour lyric as fictio rethorica musicaque poita: rhetorical, musical, and poetical fiction. After the "classical" period around the turn of the 13th century and a mid-century resurgence, the art of the troubadours declined in the 14th century and around the time of the Black Death (1348) it died out.
The texts of troubadour songs deal mainly with themes of chivalry and courtly love. Most were metaphysical, intellectual, and formulaic. Many were humorous or vulgar satires. Works can be grouped into three styles: the trobar leu (light), trobar ric (rich), and trobar clus (closed). Likewise there were many genres, the most popular being the canso, but sirventes and tensos were especially popular in the post-classical period.
The English word troubadour was borrowed from the French word first recorded in 1575 in an historical context to mean "langue d'oc poet at the court in the 12th and 13th century" (Jean de Nostredame, Vies des anciens Poètes provençaux, p. 14 in Gdf. Compl.). The first use and earliest from of troubador is trobadors, found in a 12th-century Occitan text by Cercamon.
The French word itself is borrowed from the Occitan trobador. It is the oblique case of the nominative trobaire "composer", related to trobar "to compose, to discuss, to invent" (Wace, Brut, editions I. Arnold, 3342). Trobar may come, in turn, from the hypothetical Late Latin *tropāre "to compose, to invent a poem" by regular phonetic change. This reconstructed form is based on the Latin root tropus, meaning a trope. In turn, the Latin word derives ultimately from Greek τρόπος (trópos), meaning "turn, manner". Intervocal Latin [p] shifted regularly to [b] in Occitan (cf. Latin sapere → Occitan saber, French savoir "to know"). The Latin suffix -ātor, -ātōris explains the Occitan suffix, according to its declension and accentuation: Gallo-Romance *tropātor → Occitan trobaire (subject case) and *tropātōre → Occitan trobador (oblique case).
There is an alternative theory to explain the meaning of trobar as "to compose, to discuss, to invent". It has the support of some historians, specialists of literature, and musicologists to justify the troubadours' origins in Arabic Andalusian musical practices. According to them, the Arabic word ṭaraba "music" (from the triliteral root ṭ–r–b ط ر ب "provoke emotion, excitement, agitation; make music, entertain by singing" as in طرب أندلسي, ṭarab ʾandalusī) could partly be the etymon of the verb trobar. Another Arabic root had already been proposed before: ḍ–r–b (ض ر ب) "strike", by extension "play a musical instrument". They entertain the possibility that the nearly homophonous ḍ–r–b root may have contributed to the sense of the newly coined Romance verb trobar.
Some proponents of this theory argue, only on cultural grounds, that both etymologies may well be correct, and that there may have been a conscious poetic exploitation of the phonological coincidence between trobar and the triliteral Arabic root ṭ–r–b when Sufi Islamic musical forms with a love theme first spread from Al-Andalus to southern France. It has also been pointed out that the concepts of "finding", "music", "love", and "ardour"—the precise semantic field attached to the word troubadour—are allied in Arabic under a single root w–j–d (و ج د) that plays a major role in Sufic discussions of music, and that the word troubadour may in part reflect this. Nevertheless, the linguistic facts do not support a hypothetical theory: the word trover is mentioned in French as early as the 10th century before trobar in Occitan (see above) and the word trovere → trouvère appears almost simultaneously in French as trobador in Occitan (see above).
In archaic and classical troubadour poetry, the word is only used in a mocking sense, having more or less the meaning of "somebody who makes things up". Cercamon writes:
Peire d'Alvernha also begins his famous mockery of contemporary authors cantarai d'aquest trobadors, after which he proceeds to explain why none of them is worth anything. When referring to themselves seriously, troubadours almost invariably use the word chantaire ("singer").
The early study of the troubadours focused intensely on their origins. No academic consensus was ever achieved in the area. Today, one can distinguish at least eleven competing theories (the adjectives used below are a blend from the Grove Dictionary of Music and Roger Boase's The Origins and Meaning of Courtly Love):
The earliest troubadour whose work survives is Guilhèm de Peitieus, better known as Duke William IX of Aquitaine (1071–1126). Peter Dronke, author of The Medieval Lyric, however, believes that "[his] songs represent not the beginnings of a tradition but summits of achievement in that tradition." His name has been preserved because he was the Duke of Aquitaine, but his work plays with already established structures; Eble II of Ventadorn is often credited as a predecessor, though none of his work survives. Orderic Vitalis referred to William composing songs about his experiences on his return from the Crusade of 1101 (c. 1102). This may be the earliest reference to troubadour lyrics. Orderic also provides us (1135) with what may be the first description of a troubadour performance: an eyewitness account of William of Aquitaine.
Then the Poitevin duke ... the miseries of his captivity ... before kings, magnates, and Christian assemblies many times related with rhythmic verses and witty measures.
The first half of the 12th century saw relatively few recorded troubadours. Only in the last decades of the century did troubadour activity explode. Almost half of all troubadour works that survive are from the period 1180–1220. In total, moreover, there are over 2,500 troubadour lyrics available to be studied as linguistic artifacts (Akehurst, 23). The troubadour tradition seems to have begun in western Aquitaine (Poitou and Saintonge) and Gascony, from there spreading over into eastern Aquitaine (Limousin and Auvergne) and Provence. At its height it had become popular in Languedoc and the regions of Rouergue, Toulouse, and Quercy (c. 1200). Finally, in the early 13th century it began to spread into first Italy and then Catalonia, whence to the rest of Spain and to Portugal. This development has been called the rayonnement des troubadours (pronounced [ʁɛjɔnmɑ̃ dɛ tʁubaduːʁ]).
The classical period of troubadour activity lasted from about 1170 until about 1213. The most famous names among the ranks of troubadours belong to this period. During this period the lyric art of the troubadours reached the height of its popularity and the number of surviving poems is greatest from this period. During this period the canso, or love song, became distinguishable as a genre. The master of the canso and the troubadour who epitomises the classical period is Bernart de Ventadorn. He was highly regarded by his contemporaries, as were Giraut de Bornelh, reputed by his biographer to be the greatest composer of melodies to ever live, and Bertran de Born, the master of the sirventes, or political song, which became increasingly popular in this period.
The classical period came to be seen by later generations, especially in the 14th and 15th centuries and outside of Occitania, as representing the high point of lyric poetry and models to be emulated. The language of the classic poets, its grammar and vocabulary, their style and themes, were the ideal to which poets of the troubadour revival in Toulouse and their Catalan and Castilian contemporaries aspired. During the classical period the "rules" of poetic composition had first become standardised and written down, first by Raimon Vidal and then by Uc Faidit.
The 450 or so troubadours known to historians came from a variety of backgrounds. They made their living in a variety of ways, lived, and travelled in many different places, and were actors in many types of social context. The troubadours were not wandering entertainers. Typically, they stayed in one place for a lengthy period of time under the patronage of a wealthy nobleman or woman. Many did travel extensively, however, sojourning at one court and then another.
The earliest known troubadour, the Duke of Aquitaine, came from the high nobility. He was followed immediately by two poets of unknown origins, known only by their sobriquets, Cercamon and Marcabru, and by a member of the princely class, Jaufre Rudel. Many troubadours are described in their vidas as poor knights. It was one of the most common descriptors of status: Berenguier de Palazol, Gausbert Amiel, Guilhem Ademar, Guiraudo lo Ros, Marcabru, Peire de Maensac, Peirol, Raimon de Miraval, Rigaut de Berbezilh, and Uc de Pena. Albertet de Sestaro is described as the son of a noble jongleur, presumably a petty noble lineage.
Later troubadours especially could belong to lower classes, ranging from the middle class of merchants and "burgers" (persons of urban standing) to tradesmen and others who worked with their hands. Salh d'Escola and Elias de Barjols were described as the sons of merchants and Elias Fonsalada was the son of a burger and jongleur. Perdigon was the son of a "poor fisherman" and Elias Cairel of a blacksmith. Arnaut de Mareuil is specified in his vida as coming from a poor family, but whether this family was poor by noble standards or more global ones is not apparent.
Many troubadours also possessed a clerical education. For some this was their springboard to composition, since their clerical education equipped them with an understanding of musical and poetic forms as well as vocal training. The vidas of the following troubadours note their clerical status: Aimeric de Belenoi, Folquet de Marselha (who became a bishop), Gui d'Ussel, Guillem Ramon de Gironella, Jofre de Foixà (who became an abbot), Peire de Bussignac, Peire Rogier, Raimon de Cornet, Uc Brunet, and Uc de Saint Circ.
The Occitan words trobador and trobaire are relatively rare compared with the verb trobar (compose, invent), which was usually applied to the writing of poetry. It signified that a poem was original to an author (trobador) and was not merely sung or played by one. The term was used mostly for poetry only and in more careful works, like the vidas, is not generally applied to the composition of music or to singing, though the troubadour's poetry itself is not so careful. Sometime in the middle of the 12th century, however, a distinction was definitely being made between an inventor of original verse and the performers of others'. The latter were called joglars in both Occitan and Catalan, from the Latin ioculatores, giving rise also to the French jongleur, Castilian juglar, and English juggler, which has come to refer to a more specific breed of performer. The medieval jongleur/joglar is really a minstrel.
At the height of troubadour poetry (the "classical period"), troubadours are often found attacking jongleurs and at least two small genres arose around the theme: the ensenhamen joglaresc and the sirventes joglaresc. These terms are debated, however, since the adjective joglaresc seems to imply "in the manner of the jongleurs". Inevitably, however, pieces of these genres are verbal attacks at jongleurs, in general and in specific, with named individuals being called out. It is clear, for example from the poetry of Bertran de Born, that jongleurs were performers who did not usually compose. They often performed the troubadours' songs: singing, playing instruments, dancing, and even doing acrobatics.
In the late 13th century Guiraut Riquier bemoaned the inexactness of his contemporaries and wrote a letter to Alfonso X of Castile, a noted patron of literature and learning of all kinds, for clarification on the proper reference of the terms trobador and joglar. According to Riquier, every vocation deserved a name of its own and the sloppy usage of joglar assured that it covered a multitude of activities, some, no doubt, with which Riquier did not wish to be associated. In the end Riquier argued—and Alfonso X seems to agree, though his "response" was probably penned by Riquier—that a joglar was a courtly entertainer (as opposed to popular or low-class one) and a troubadour was a poet and composer.
Despite the distinctions noted, many troubadours were also known as jongleurs, either before they began composing or alongside. Aimeric de Belenoi, Aimeric de Sarlat, Albertet Cailla, Arnaut de Mareuil, Elias de Barjols, Elias Fonsalada, Falquet de Romans, Guillem Magret, Guiraut de Calanso, Nicoletto da Torino, Peire Raimon de Tolosa, Peire Rogier, Peire de Valeira, Peirol, Pistoleta, Perdigon, Salh d'Escola, Uc de la Bacalaria, Uc Brunet, and Uc de Saint Circ were jongleur-troubadours.
A vida is a brief prose biography, written in Occitan, of a troubadour. The word vida means "life" in Occitan. In the chansonniers, the manuscript collections of medieval troubadour poetry, the works of a particular author are often accompanied by a short prose biography. The vidas are important early works of vernacular prose nonfiction. Nevertheless, it appears that many of them derive their facts from literal readings of their objects' poems, which leaves their historical reliability in doubt. Most of the vidas were composed in Italy in the 1220s, many by Uc de Saint Circ.
A razo (from Occitan for "reason") was a similar short piece of Occitan prose detailing the circumstances of a particular composition. A razo normally introduced the poem it explained; it might, however, share some of the characteristics of a vida. The razos suffer from the same problems as the vidas in terms of reliability. Many are likewise the work of Uc de Saint Circ.
A phenomenon arose in Italy, recognised around the turn of the 20th century by Giulio Bertoni, of men serving in several cities as podestàs on behalf of either the Guelph or Ghibelline party and writing political verse in Occitan rhyme. These figures generally came from the urban middle class. They aspired to high culture and though, unlike the nobility, they were not patrons of literature, they were its disseminators and its readers.
The first podestà-troubadour was Rambertino Buvalelli, possibly the first native Italian troubadour, who was podestà of Genoa between 1218 and 1221. Rambertino, a Guelph, served at one time or another as podestà of Brescia, Milan, Parma, Mantua, and Verona. It was probably during his three-year tenure there that he introduced Occitan lyric poetry to the city, which was later to develop a flourishing Occitan literary culture.
Among the podestà-troubadours to follow Rambertino, four were from Genoa: the Guelphs Luca Grimaldi, who also served in Florence, Milan, and Ventimiglia, and Luchetto Gattilusio, who served in Milan, Cremona, and Bologna, and the Ghibellines Perceval Doria, who served in Arles, Avignon, Asti, and Parma, and Simon Doria, sometime podestà of Savona and Albenga. Among the non-Genoese podestà-troubadours was Alberico da Romano, a nobleman of high rank who governed Vicenza and Treviso as variously a Ghibelline and a Guelph. He was a patron as well as a composer of Occitan lyric.
Mention should be made of the Provençal troubadour Isnart d'Entrevenas, who was podestà of Arles in 1220, though he does not fit the phenomenon Giulio Bertoni first identified in Italy.
The trobairitz were the female troubadours, the first female composers of secular music in the Western tradition. The word trobairitz was first used in the 13th-century Romance of Flamenca and its derivation is the same as that of trobaire but in feminine form. There were also female counterparts to the joglars: the joglaresas. The number of trobairitz varies between sources: there were twenty or twenty-one named trobairitz, plus an additional poet known only as Domna H. There are several anonymous texts ascribed to women; the total number of trobairitz texts varies from twenty-three (Schultz-Gora), twenty-five (Bec), thirty-six (Bruckner, White, and Shepard), and forty-six (Rieger). Only one melody composed by a trobairitz (the Comtessa de Dia) survives. Out of a total of about 450 troubadours and 2,500 troubadour works, the trobairitz and their corpus form a minor but interesting and informative portion. They are, therefore, quite well studied.
The trobairitz were in most respects as varied a lot as their male counterparts, with the general exceptions of their poetic style and their provenance. They wrote predominantly cansos and tensos; only one sirventes by a named woman, Gormonda de Monpeslier, survives (though two anonymous ones are attributed to women). One salut d'amor, by a woman (Azalais d'Altier) to a woman (Clara d'Anduza) is also extant and one anonymous planh is usually assigned a female authorship. They wrote almost entirely within the trobar leu style; only two poems, one by Lombarda and another Alais, Yselda, and Carenza, are usually considered to belong to the more demanding trobar clus. None of the trobairitz were prolific, or if they were their work has not survived. Only two have left us more than one piece: the Comtessa de Dia, with four, and Castelloza, with three or four. One of the known trobairitz, Gaudairença, wrote a song entitled Coblas e dansas, which has not survived; no other piece of hers has either.
The trobairitz came almost to a woman from Occitania. There are representatives from the Auvergne, Provence, Languedoc, the Dauphiné, Toulousain, and the Limousin. One trobairitz, Ysabella, may have been born in Périgord, Northern Italy, Greece, or Palestine. All the trobairitz whose families we know were high-born ladies; only one, Lombarda, was probably of the merchant class. All the trobairitz known by name lived around the same time: the late 12th and the early 13th century (c. 1170 – c. 1260). The earliest was probably Tibors de Sarenom, who was active in the 1150s (the date of her known composition is uncertain). The latest was either Garsenda of Forcalquier, who died in 1242, though her period of poetic patronage and composition probably occurred a quarter century earlier, or Guilleuma de Rosers, who composed a tenso with Lanfranc Cigala, known between 1235 and 1257. There exist brief prose biographies—vidas—for eight trobairitz: Almucs de Castelnau (actually a razo), Azalais de Porcairagues, the Comtessa de Dia, Castelloza, Iseut de Capio (also a razo), Lombarda, Maria de Ventadorn, and Tibors de Sarenom.
Three main styles of Occitan lyric poetry have been identified: the trobar leu (light), trobar ric (rich), and trobar clus (closed, hermetic). The first was by far the most common: the wording is straightforward and relatively simple compared to the ric and literary devices are less common than in the clus. This style was the most accessible and it was immensely popular. The most famous poet of the trobar leu was Bernart de Ventadorn. The trobar clus regularly escapes modern scholarly interpretation. Words are commonly used metaphorically and symbolically and what a poem appears to be about on its surface is rarely what is intended by the poet or understood by audiences "in the know". The clus style was invented early by Marcabru but only favoured by a few masters thereafter. The trobar ric style is not as opaque as the clus, rather it employs a rich vocabulary, using many words, rare words, invented words, and unusual, colourful wordings.
Modern scholars recognise several "schools" in the troubadour tradition. Among the earliest is a school of followers of Marcabru, sometimes called the "Marcabrunian school": Bernart Marti, Bernart de Venzac, Gavaudan, and Peire d'Alvernhe. These poets favoured the trobar clus or ric or a hybrid of the two. They were often moralising in tone and critical of contemporary courtly society. Another early school, whose style seems to have fallen out of favour, was the "Gascon school" of Cercamon, Peire de Valeira, and Guiraut de Calanso. Cercamon was said by his biographer to have composed in the "old style" (la uzansa antiga) and Guiraut's songs were d'aquella saison ("of that time"). This style of poetry seems to be attached to early troubadours from Gascony and was characterised by references to nature: leaves, flowers, birds, and their songs. This Gascon "literary fad" was unpopular in Provence in the early 13th century, harming the reputation of the poets associated with it.
In the late 13th century a school arose at Béziers, once the centre of pre-Albigensian Languedoc and of the Trencavel lordships, in the 1260s–80s. Three poets epitomise this "school": Bernart d'Auriac, Joan Esteve, Joan Miralhas, and Raimon Gaucelm. All three were natives of Béziers and lived there. All three were members of the urban middle class and no courtesans: Miralhas was possibly a potter and Bernart was a mayestre (teacher). All three were supporters of the French king Louis IX and the French aristocracy against the native Occitan nobility. They have been described as "Gallicised". Raimon Gaucelm supported the Eighth Crusade and even wrote a planh, the only known one of its kind, to a burgher of Béziers. Joan Esteve and Bernart both composed in support of the French in the Aragonese Crusade. The Béziers are a shining example of the transformation of Occitania in the aftermath of the Albigensian Crusade, but also of the ability of troubadours to survive it.
Troubadours, at least after their style became established, usually followed some set of "rules", like those of the Leys d'amors (compiled between 1328 and 1337). Initially all troubadour verses were called simply vers, yet this soon came to be reserved for only love songs and was later replaced by canso, though the term lived on as an antique expression for the troubadours' early works and was even employed with a more technically meaning by the last generation of troubadours (mid-14th century), when it was thought to derive from the Latin word verus (truth) and was thus used to describe moralising or didactic pieces. The early troubadours developed many genres and these only proliferated as rules of composition came to be put in writing. The known genres are:
All these genres were highly fluid. A cross between a sirventes and a canso was a meg-sirventes (half-sirventes). A tenso could be "invented" by a single poet; an alba or canso could be written with religious significance, addressed to God or the Virgin; and a sirventes may be nothing more than a political attack. The maldit and the comiat were often connected as a maldit-comiat and they could be used to attack and renounce a figure other than a lady or a lover, like a commanding officer (when combined, in a way, with the sirventes).
Peire Bremon Ricas Novas uses the term mieja chanso (half song) and Cerverí de Girona uses a similar phrase, miga canço, both to refer to a short canso and not a mixture of genres as sometimes supposed. Cerverí's mig (or meig) vers e miga canço was a vers in the new sense (a moralising song) that was also highly critical and thus combined the canso and the sirventes. Among the more than one hundred works of Cerverí de Girona are many songs with unique labels, which may correspond more to "titles" than "genres", but that is debatable: peguesca (nonsense), espingadura (flageolet song), libel (legal petition), esdemessa (leap), somni (dream), acuyndamen (challenge), desirança (nostalgia), aniversari (anniversary), serena (serene).
Most "Crusading songs" are classified either as cansos or sirventes but sometimes separately. Some styles became popular in other languages and in other literary or musical traditions. In French, the alba became the aubade, the pastorela the pastourelle, and the partimen the jeu parti. The sestina became popular in Italian literature. The troubadours were not averse to borrowing either. The planh developed out of the Latin planctus and the sonnet was stolen from the Sicilian School. The basse danse (bassa dansa) was first mentioned in the troubadour tradition (c. 1324), but only as being performed by jongleurs.
Troubadours performed their own songs. Jongleurs (performers) and cantaires (singers) also performed troubadours' songs. They could work from chansonniers, many of which have survived, or possibly from more rudimentary (and temporary) songbooks, none of which have survived, if they even existed. Some troubadours, like Arnaut de Maruelh, had their own jongleurs who were dedicated to singing their patron's work. Arnaut's joglar et cantaire, probably both a singer and a messenger, who carried his love songs to his lady, was Pistoleta. The messenger was commonplace in troubadour poetry; many songs reference a messenger who will bring it to its intended ear. A troubadour often stayed with a noble patron of his own and entertained his court with his songs. Court songs could be used not only as entertainment but also as propaganda, praising the patron, mocking his enemies, encouraging his wars, teaching ethics and etiquette, and maintaining religious unity.
The court was not the only venue for troubadour performance. Competitions were held from an early date. According to the vida of the Monge de Montaudon, he received a sparrow hawk, a prized hunting bird, for his poetry from the cour du Puy, some sort of poetry society associated with the court of Alfonso II of Aragon. The most famous contests were held in the twilight of the troubadours in the 14th and 15th centuries. The jocs florals held by the Consistori del Gay Saber at Toulouse, by Peter IV of Aragon at Lleida, and the Consistori de la Gaya Sciència at Barcelona awarded floral prizes to the best poetry in various categories, judging it by its accordance with a code called the Leys d'amors.
Troubadour songs are still performed and recorded today, albeit rarely.
Troubadour songs were usually monophonic. Fewer than 300 melodies out of an estimated 2500 survive. Most were composed by the troubadours themselves. Some were set to pre-existing pieces of music. Raimbaut de Vaqueyras wrote his Kalenda maya ("The Calends of May") to music composed by jongleurs at Montferrat.
Beginning in the early 13th century, the spread of Occitan verse demanded grammars and dictionaries, especially for those whose native tongue was not Occitan, such as the Catalan and Italian troubadours, and their imitators. The production of such works only increased with the academisation of the troubadour lyric in the 14th century.
Some 2,600 poems or fragments of poems have survived from around 450 identifiable troubadours. They are largely preserved in songbooks called chansonniers made for wealthy patrons.
Troubadour songs are generally referred to by their incipits, that is, their opening lines. If this is long, or after it has already been mentioned, an abbreviation of the incipit may be used for convenience. A few troubadour songs are known by "nicknames", thus D'un sirventes far by Guilhem Figueira is commonly called the Sirventes contra Roma. When a writer seeks to avoid using unglossed Occitan, the incipit of the song may be given in translation instead or a title may even be invented to reflect the theme of the work. Especially in translations designed for a popular audience, such as Ezra Pound's, English titles are commonly invented by the translator/editor. There are examples, however, of troubadour songs given Occitan titles in the manuscripts, such as an anonymous pastorela that begins Mentre per una ribeira, which is entitled Porquieira.
The number of Occitan parchment chansonniers given as extant varies between authors, depending on how they treat fragmentary and multilingual manuscripts. Conventionally, fragments are classified as fragments of the surviving chansonnier they most closely resemble and not as chansonniers in their own right. Some chansonniers have received both Occitan and French letters: troubadour D is trouvère H, W is M and X is U. The lettering (siglas) was introduced by Karl Bartsch, who placed sources he considered more reliable higher in the alphabet. This system is imperfect, however, since many of the chansonniers produced for an Italian audience are heavily edited and do not necessarily more closely resemble the original compositions. While parchment chansonniers are more durable, paper ones also exist and have received lower-case siglas.