Friday, May 19, 2023

The Female Troubadour

The word "troubadour" was masculine, and the feminine form was "trobairitz" (both singular and plural). The term was rarely used, and was first seen in a 13th century Occitan romance, Flamenca. Trobairitz wrote and performed for Occitan noble courts from 1170 to about 1260—significant because up until then known female composers only produced sacred music.

Almost all information we have about them comes from their own biographical lyrics. We know of only 20 or so female poets. They were outnumbered by troubadours by 20 to 1, and their surviving works are about 1% of the total musical works from the 12th and 13th centuries. In fact, of the works of trobairitz that have survived, we have perhaps only a single work from each, except for two women.

The Comtessa Beatriz de Dia (pictured here from a 13th century codex; Dia was a town in southern France) was born c.1140 and died c.1212. She left us 5 works—four cansos and one tenson—one of which is the only trobairitz work with musical notation. (In the case of troubadours, about 10% have musical notation intact.)

The other trobairitz who left us more than one composition was Castelloza, the wife of Lord Turc of Meyronne (in southwestern France). She wrote several cansos about Arman de Brion, whose status was higher than hers. She describes the pain of betrayal:

My handsome noble-natured dear,
I’ve loved you since the day you pleased me.
How great a fool I am is clear.
For you held back, while such love seized me
That I not once have turned away.
Though you repay my good with ill
I’ll stand my ground and love you still,
For love so has me in its sway
That I now doubt my life can offer. [source]

Cansos and tenson were only a few of the types of songs composed by the troubadours and trobairitz. There were also alba, devinalh, gap, planh, ensenhamen, and many others. I'll give you a list next time, in case you want to try your hand at some different styles of song.

1 comment:

  1. I wish I'd had this information when I was teaching a Women Poets course.