In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Troubadours and Trouvères

  • Introduction
  • Manuscripts
  • Language
  • Music
  • Transcriptions
  • Bibliographies

Medieval Studies Troubadours and Trouvères
Matthew Steel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 May 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0148


The troubadours and trouvères were medieval poet-musicians who created one of the first repertories of vernacular song to be written down. Their legacy is vast, existing today in many dozens of late medieval manuscripts that contain thousands of poems and hundreds of melodies largely attributed to individual troubadours and trouvères. The study of this repertory is often divided along geographic and linguistic lines. The troubadours, considered the earliest vernacular song composers, resided in the south of what is largely now France, spoke the regional vernacular now known as “Occitan,” and chiefly wrote their texts in the Old Provençal dialect. The trouvères lived in the north of France, writing poetry in Old French. Although the repertories of the troubadours and trouvères appear to have much in common, i.e., themes of love and betrayal, similar poetic genres and even melodies, the songs reflect the considerable differences in politics, religion, and social history between the two contiguous regions. The historical era of the troubadours and trouvères is fairly well defined. Guilhem (b. 1071–d. 1126), seventh count of Poitou and ninth duke of Aquitaine, emerged as the first troubadour. By mid-12th century, troubadour ideals had spread north, spawning the trouvère movement. The troubadour art had reached its high point by the end of the 12th century and suffered a near-fatal blow with the destruction of many Occitan courts, sources of troubadour patronage, during the Albigensian Crusade (c. 1209–1229). At that time many troubadours left to find havens at courts in Italy, Spain, and as far east as Hungary. Meanwhile the trouvères experienced great social change as feudalism waned in the 13th century and gradually more trouvères began leaving the aristocratic courts and estates to work in burgeoning urban centers such as Arras. By the 14th century, as the viable tradition of both the troubadours and the trouvères withered, societies and academies were established to preserve and promote the art. The tradition of published scholarship on the troubadours and trouvères dates back to the 14th century, at least to Dante’s De Eloquentia. Into the 19th century it was largely focused on finding and cataloguing the manuscript sources. Barring unexpected discoveries, the repertory is well established now and scholarship has turned toward evaluating the repertory within its known parameters. Today cogent research on the troubadours and trouvères requires an interdisciplinary approach. Among the philologists, musicologists, paleographers, and historians who are devoted to this repertory, a high degree of specialization and cross-disciplinary cooperation is required.

General Overviews

Because of the cross-disciplinary nature of troubadour and trouvère research, general sources on medieval history, literature, and music are necessary to lay the groundwork for serious study of the repertory. To facilitate finding relevant sources both general and specific, the online resource ARLIMA: Archives de littérature du Moyen Âge can be a good start. Source studies such as McGee 1998 and Seay 1974 help to reveal the performance practices and music analyses contemporaneous with the era. Essays in Van Deusen 1994 help provide a cultural context and musical background for the troubadours and trouvères within their social history. Aubry 1981 and Aubrey 2009 introduce the troubadour and trouvère repertory and its performative essence, and Stevens 1986 stresses the relationship of prosody to melody in the repertory. Switten and Chickering 2001 provides an appealing multimedia, interdisciplinary model for introducing college students and medieval enthusiasts to the troubadours and trouvères.

  • ARLIMA: Archives de littérature du Moyen Âge.

    This is a free online site providing bibliography on medieval authors and texts. In French, it is easy to navigate and provides links to a host of research sites of use to troubadour and trouvère scholarship. Among these are ARTFL, Ménestrel, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Medieval Studies Online (Leeds), and many others.

  • Aubrey, Elizabeth, ed. Poets and Singers: On Latin and Vernacular Monophonic Song. Music in Medieval Europe. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009.

    An anthology of twenty-four reprinted articles by prominent scholars arranged around five themes: (1) history and society, (2) women, (3) poetry and music, (4) transmission, and (5) performers. The majority of the articles concern the repertoire of troubadours and trouvères.

  • Aubry, Pierre. Trouvères et Troubadours. 2d rev. ed. Les Maîtres de la Musique. Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms Verlag, 1981.

    Originally published in 1910, an English translation was published by G. Schirmer in 1914. This is a classic study that treats the troubadours and trouvères as two parts of a single movement, discussing the nature of the movement and the manuscript tradition it generated. Aubry explains various genres and breaks the movement into three periods.

  • McGee, Timothy J. The Sound of Medieval Song: Ornamentation and Vocal Style According to the Treatises. Oxford Monographs on Music. Oxford: Clarendon, 1998.

    Examines the music notation of medieval manuscripts, drawing upon some fifty medieval theoretical treatises spanning a period from 600–1500. Clues to vocal style and use of ornaments in performance are revealed, suggesting local performance practices and a general affinity to those of the Middle East.

  • Seay, Albert. Johannes de Grocheo: Concerning Music (De musica). Colorado Springs: Colorado College Music, 1974.

    The most accessible English translation of De musica (c. 1300) of Grocheo. His De musica is the only significant medieval discussion of secular and instrumental music. Reference is made to specific trouvère songs and genres.

  • Stevens, John. Words and Music in the Middle Ages: Song, Narrative, Dance and Drama, 1050–1350. Cambridge Studies in Music. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

    Stevens’s focus is on text, and he explores how text manipulates music and performance in medieval lyric. Of special interest are number symbolism, emotion and meaning in the interpretation of various vernacular genres, and rhythm and genre.

  • Switten, Margaret, and Howell Chickering. The Medieval Lyric: A Project Supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and Mount Holyoke College. 2d ed. South Hadley, MA: Mount Holyoke College, 2001.

    This is an excellent resource for teaching undergraduate classes. Interdisciplinary in its approach, materials include CD recordings with outstanding performances of troubadour and trouvère songs and other medieval lyric repertories, anthologies with music scores, text translations and essays on language, performance, music, poetry and manuscripts.

  • van Deusen, Nancy, ed. The Cultural Milieu of the Troubadours and Trouvères. Ottawa, ON: Institute of Medieval Music, 1994.

    Eleven essays on a wide variety of topics concerning the songs of the troubadours and trouvères and the environs they were written in. The essays are by experts in their particular disciplines. Topics include literacy, rhetoric, wordplay, modal rhythm of trouvère melodies, and post-Albigensian Crusade activities.

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