A blog about the arts, books, flora and fauna, vittles, and whatever comes to mind!

Note: Comments are moderated. If you include a link, your comment will not be published. As you will note, I do not accept ads on my website and that includes in comments.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The First Women Composers of the West

In the Occitan during the 12th and 13th centuries, court women were expected to sing, play instruments, and write jocs partis or partimen (debates and dialogues written in poems.)  Women, at this time in this part of the world, had some power, some control over land ownership, and played a bigger role in society.  One reason for this was the crusades, when women had more responsibilities and took charge of running things while their menfolk were away.

Comtessa de Diá, Bibliothèque Nationale,
MS cod. fr. 12473, 13th C
Trobairitz were female troubadors who composed, wrote verses, and performed for the nobility. They are the first known female composers of secular music in the West, although there were female composers who wrote sacred music before them.  The trobairitz were from the courts and were born of nobility, as opposed to their male counterparts, the troubadors, who sometimes came from humbler beginnings.  Both trobairitz and troubadours wrote about courtly love, or fin' amors. Trobairitz mostly wrote tensos (debate poems) and cansos (strophic songs - ones whose verses share the same melody).  Tensos was a common form, for in the tradition of courtly love, poems were often written as an exchange of letters, or a debate. 

The majority of information on the trobairitz comes from their vidas (bios) and razós (explanations of their songs).  These were compiled in chansonniers, or collections of their songs.  The vidas are not reliable since they contain embellishments from info gathered from their poems.  Not much is extant of the troibairitz or their work:  about thirty-two works from twenty known trobairitz.  But it is hard to determine whether a piece was written by a man or a woman.

Since the poetry was so stylized, when a poet wrote as a woman it is not clear if the poet was actually a woman, or a man speaking as a woman.  Often times the poet’s name gave no clue as to gender, and could be an alias, or a poem was written by the ubiquitous “anonymous”.  The chansonniers who compiled the works did not seem to distinguish those from the trobairitz from those from the troubadours.  In the case of tensos between a woman and a man, credit is given to the man as the originator of the dialogue, which may not have been so.

There is a feeling of sexual equality, and sex as a mode of pleasure and not sin in their songs.  With women experiencing more freedom with their lords and masters off to war, it is not surprising to to think of them as wanting to express themselves creatively.  Their geographic proximity to Muslim Spain may have been an influence as well – Muslim Spain was more sophisticated and perhaps liberal in this age.
"A chantar m'er" in modern musical notation.  (Courtesy of Makemi.)

Only one set of lyrics survives with musical notation, "A chantar m'er..." by Comtessa de Diá. She lived in the 1200s, and was the daughter of Count Isoard II of Diá.  Her vida states that she was in love with Raimbaut of Orange, but married to Guilhem de Poitiers, Count of Viennois. She wrote the following song entitled "Estat ai en greu cossirier" ("I was plunged into deep distress"):

I was plunged into deep distress by a knight who wooed me,
And I wish to confess for all time how passionately I loved him;
Now I feel myself betrayed, for I did not tell him of my love.
Therefore I suffer great distress in bed and when I am fully dressed.

Would that my knight might one night lie naked in my arms
And find myself in ecstasy with me as his pillow.
For I am more in love with him than Floris was with Blanchfleur.
To him I give my heart and love, my reason, eyes and life.

 Handsome friend, tender and good, when will you be mine?
Oh, to spend with you but one night to impart the kiss of love!
Know that with passion I cherish the hope of you in my husband's place,
As soon as you have sworn to me that you will fulfill my every wish.


No comments:

Post a Comment