Published on November 23rd, 2020 | by L'OR Artiste


Modern Troubadours, Legacy of The Medieval

During the Autumn of 2018, I advised Les Reverdies de Montréal on media for their workshop on Medieval music. The Québec Government had given them a grant to invite Anne Azéma of Boston Camerata to perform. Les Reverdies promotes medieval music in the Montréal area and is composed of Québec groups such as, Ensemble Scholastica (1). At that time I did not understand how the music of troubadours related to Québec culture, but I would learn that the Poitevin region in France was an epic center for the adaptation of troubadour lyric from the Occitan languages to the francophone. The Poitevin region contributed heavily to the dialect spoken in Québec. To know the history of the troubadours is paramount to appreciate how French parochial dialects came to be (2). 

Photo Credit: Arantele.org

Boston Camerata, with the assistance of the French Consulate of Boston, presented in 2019, a concert to benefit the renovation of the Notre Dame Cathedral (3). “Les Miracles de Notre Dame” incorporated works by 12th Century composers, Léonin and Pérotin. It is noteworthy that rhythmic notation is an innovation devised by the Notre Dame school of polyphony (4). Most of the performance was in Latin, however one was in the Langue d’oil. “Sur ce rivage” (5) was composed by French abbot, Gauthier de Coincy (1177-1236). 

Medieval music is a  genre offered as part of history and language studies (6). Professor Marisa Galvez illustrates projects done by her undergraduate students at Stanford (7). Graduates of Case Western Reserve University have formed several touring medieval ensembles. Thorton Prize winners Allison Monroe and Elena Mullins have teamed with fellow CWRU alum, Karin Weston to form Trobar. Debra Nagy is Artistic Director of Les Délices (8) and Executive Producer of SalonEraLes Délices had to cancel their 2020 tour because of Covid but Nagy notes that SalonEra has started a four-part series running to April 2021. They will also have a bi-monthly web featuring  remote artists and collaborations that’s essentially an early music variety show, called SalonEra

European groups often tour North America and visit university venues.  The University of Nebraska Lincoln and Omaha campuses collaborated in 2018  on the performance of Beowulf by Benjamin Bagby, formerly of the University of Paris-Sorbonne Dr. Bagby formed the European ensemble Sequentia in 1977. According to Seth Cooper, Sequentia’s North America representative, the group  since 2017 has toured 20 venues in the U.S. and Canada. Some of the venues have been university campuses but others have been hosted at private venues. The Toronto Consort which conducts its performances at Trinity-St. Pauls Centre in downtown Toronto performed jointly with Bagby.

In 2012, Alla Francesca performed “Thibaut de Champagne, the Manuscript of the King” at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art Medieval Sculpture Hall.  The reader should research the life of Thibault de Champagne, King of Navarre, to understand why medieval music is pertinent to the study of modern Romance languages. Medieval spoken languages in what is now modern France were categorized as either langue d’oil, or the Occitane languages, langue d’oc. Thibault was exposed to both languages but composed in langue d’oil (9). He would become king of Navarre during the Albigensian Crusade, which began a cultural suppression that has lasting repercussions. 

Professor Eliza Zingesser in her book, “Stolen Song, How the Troubadours Became French” examines the assimilation of Occitan songs. She argues that the troubadour culture migrated northward towards the francophone regions. First it dispersed into the regions, such as Poitevin (10) just south of the langue d’oil. Once adopted into francophone culture the songs lost all reference to composer and region of origin. The author argues that anonymity made the songbook acceptable to the francophone culture and it became part of French lyric history. I have read Professor Zingesser’s book three times. I struggled through the first reading; became intrigued after the second and enriched after the third. I was compelled to list terms and historical references requiring research, expanding my understanding of the history of the French language. My footnotes below should prepare the novice for Professor Zingesser’s book.

Almost a thousand years of cultural suppression has not erased the art of the troubadour in Occitane. Professor Galvez, author of “Songbook: How Lyrics Became Poetry in Medieval Europe,” organized a workshop concerning troubadour songs of Occitan origin. It featured “Troubadours Art Ensemble” from Occitane. She describes her motivation and expectations: 

“When I invited the Troubadours Art Ensemble to Stanford, I wanted to do two things: First, Introduce my students to the music of the troubadours as live performance, not just literary texts written in books. I also wanted them to be aware of Occitan music and culture as it has developed in Francophone culture (a regional culture that was once central in the Middle Ages via the art of the troubadours). Secondly, I wanted to see how musicians today interpret the troubadours for modern-day audiences, being aware of the historical differences, but also performing it as a live vernacular that adapts to the ears of a modern audience. What kinds of choices do they make? Most people are not aware of Occitan literature or the troubadours but they are able to access the music via early music or other traditions, even modern-day practices such as rap. There are many ways to present historical music and the Ensemble does just one version.

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBGkwpvdvDA  

2. https://quebeccultureblog.com/tag/poitevin/


3. Prior to the 13th century the reference to the Virgin Mary would have been foreign to  Western Christianity.  Listen to Susan Hellauer of Anonymous 4 interview on NPR “All Things Considered” (9-8-2002) https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1149642 

4. The Listener’s Club “Léonin, Pérotin and the Birth of Polyphony” (4-19-2019) 

5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70hPurTp5PM&list=LL92EioxFJx-7bt6-oKgWclg&index=103

6. 2009 article in EMAg, the Magazine of Early Music cites 24 Universities in Canada and the United States that offer degrees in historical performances.

7. https://trobar.stanford.edu/?page=1   

8. https://www.lesdelices.org 

9. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RR05zo9zmmg  ”Thibault de Champagne-Une Vie, une Oeuvre: La chanson du Mal Aimé (France Culture  Sept. 9, 1989)

10. http://www.arantele.org/carte.htm   

About the Author


was born in Montréal in 1960. She is an international artist primarily known for her nude figures. Her favorite model is her husband, who also serves as agent and publicist. Since their marriage in 2013 the two have worked as a team producing art exhibits in the U.S. that tell of French and Quebec contributions to American history and culture. These exhibits are of urban scenes that have a sense of motion and spontaneity of figure paintings. The artist adopted her initials to her professional name. She lives with her husband, an anglophone from Chicago in Longueuil, Québec.

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