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Bernart de Ventadorn

1135 - 1190
composed during the Medieval period
Bernart de Ventadorn is, like Josquin Desprez some centuries after him, a composer, or in Bernart's case more properly a troubadour, with the distinction of having his name spelled a dozen different ways in as many historical sources -- For Bernart we often read Bernatz or Bernard, and for de Ventadorn we might find de or del Ventador or Ventedorn, and so on and so on. But, peculiarities of nomenclature aside, Bernat still is of great interest to fans and students of Medieval music: nearly 20 of his songs survive with both poem and melody intact, quite a considerable number in comparison to other twelfth-century troubadour songs that have come down to us.

According to tradition, Bernart was born sometime around 1135 in Ventadorn castle (hence the "de Ventadorn," which is not properly a last name) in the south of France. Very little is known for sure of his life, but he does seem to have served the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine in Normandy for many years, and possibly also that of Count Raimon V of Toulouse. Legend has it that he died in a monastery sometime around 1195, but no documentary evidence supports the legend.

Bernart's songs are fine representatives of the monophonic melodic style of Western Europe in his day; in fact, they are better than "fine" -- Bernart's music was extremely well-known during the Middle Ages (which is no doubt one of the reasons that so much of it has survived), and his touch was felt by many generations of musicians after him. Many today believe the eight-stanza song "Can vei la lauzeta mover" (also spelled "Quan vei la lauzeta mover") to be both the best-preserved and very possibly the most influential of all medieval songs, and certainly of all songs written in the langue d'oc, or Provençal, language. Each rhyming stanza is set to the same four phrases of music, and this musical paragraph itself is completely through-composed, so that no two phrases sound alike save for the repetition of some basic melodic gestures. ~ Blair Johnston, Rovi
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