As some of you may know, I studied musicology in grad school and taught music history for many years. My specialty was medieval music. Imagine my delight to discover the books of Christie Maurer, whose series uses the world of the troubadour as its backdrop. Christie shares a bit of historical context with us today.
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Troubadours in Life and Literature
by Christie Maurer
The hero of my medieval fantasy series is Sir Loriano of Vayne (pun intended), a whimsical, irreverent young troubadour with a superb tenor voice. The theme is the struggle of a repressed feminine (the Dark Lady) against an entrenched patriarchy (a god of Light and Fire). A troubadour bridges between both worlds—a man who writes poetry to an unattainable high-placed lady, and Loriano is sworn to champion oppressed women.
I wanted The Whitewood Kitarra to show how troubadours related to one another, their work, and their patrons. We meet a group of them on the way to a tournament of verse. The sharp-tongued Gillom is Marcabru, known for his caustic wit. Overweight Rikkert is Gaucelm Faidit, who was very fat and made fine verses but couldn’t sing, so he hired a singer ... At a party, a trobairitz (Comtessa de Dia) sings of her lover’s infidelity. They quarrel, put each other down, steal one another’s verse, and all seek the beautiful countess’s patronage.
The first known troubadour was Guillaume IX, Duke of Aquitaine (1071-1126), a Crusader and traveler who had two wives and took his neighbor’s wife for a long-term mistress. His poetry ranges from tender passion to outright raunchy.
Troubadours flourished—the 12th and 13th Centuries in Languedoc/Provence. The songs sound weird and plaintive to modern ears, but listen closely and study the text. You’ll discover passion, longing, subtle word plays, and laugh-aloud humor. For example, in Dona, tant vos ai preida by Raimbaut de Vaqueiras the poet courts a Genovese in elegant Languedoc and she tells him off in gutter Italian.
Bertran (Bernatz) of Ventadorn was the master. In The Dark Lady’s Stone Loriano’s poems are a paraphrase of his. My favorite Lancan vei la follhe winds its way through my later chapters. The son of palace servants, Bertran was banished from Ventadorn for making love to the countess. Henry II took Bertran into his house, and some of his poetry for Eleanor of Aquitaine (Guillaume’s granddaughter) was so passionate that scholars wonder if they had an affair. “I will kiss her on the mouth ... so that for a month the marks will be seen,” and “What is life worth if I don’t see in bed, under the window, my lady’s body, white as snow ...”
Jaufre Rudel de Blaye exemplifies amor de lonh, or distant love. He fell in love with the Countess of Tripoli for her reputation, and they exchanged letters and poems. He joined the Second Crusade to go meet her, but he fell ill on the ship and was dying when he reached port. She hurried to his side, and he died in her arms. When Loriano thinks of a lady he will never see again, I hear Lancan li journ en mai . . .
The brutal Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars (1209-1244) utterly destroyed tolerant culture of Languedoc. The troubadours fled to Italy and Spain and French laws, language, and lords replaced what had been, and the Inquisition broke religious resistance.
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To learn more about Christie Maurer and her series, visit her blog.