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Anonymous, Trouvères

The term trouvere was used most widely in northern Europe, troubadour in the south. Musically, there are relatively few differences, those mostly centered on relative popularity of different types of songs, though the trouvere period lasted slightly longer than the troubadour period, which began to decline around the time of the Albigensian Crusades.

While many trouveres' works were collected and published, often with biographical information, a good deal of trouvere music is anonymous. However, trouveres were such a large part of medieval life during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, there is a good idea of what even the anonymous trouveres' lives were like. Most trouveres were attached to a wealthy household, as much in the role of poet as of composer. (Jongleurs or menestrels were the strictly performing group, often wandering from area to area and frequently taking up residence in different households. Jongleurs often performed the service, invaluable to history, of writing down trouveres' music and poetry.) A trouvere might spend his [very rarely her] lifetime with just one or two different households. While it seems odd at first that the lord of a household would hire somebody to publicly court his wife, a trouvere's devotion to the lady of the house was in many ways a highlighting of her beauty and virtues and thus, an indirect tribute to her husband for owning such a possession. While there are stories of trouveres and noblewomen actually having affairs, they are rarer than the texts and music would suggest. In the early period, trouveres were typically themselves of the upper classes, usually younger sons rather than heirs, or from impoverished households, and most were well-educated. Toward the thirteenth century, as the bourgeois class began to accumulate power and wealth, this was reflected in the rise of middle-class trouveres, usually university graduates and even the occasional member of the clergy. Not surprisingly, these trouveres formed guilds and assembled for competitions (called puys), during which a judge would select the best songs and performers. (Wagner captured this, albeit in a highly romanticized way, in the song competition in Tannhäuser.) While trouvere music was inextricably linked to the new fashion of courtly love, trouveres wrote on a wide variety of themes, including war, the deeds and riches of their patrons, and religion. Trouveres were more likely than troubadours to compose chansons de geste (war epics), which were typically written in ten-syllable lines and grouped in irregular stanzas, and lais, which originally were narrative forms like the chansons de geste, but evolved into the lyrical love poetry most associated with trouveres. ~ Anne Feeney, Rovi
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