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

  • Introduction
  • General Studies
  • Musical, Literary, Social, and Political Studies
  • Regional Studies
  • Music and Grammar Treatises
  • Music and Text
  • Contrafacta
  • Music Notation
  • Oral and Written Transmission
  • Performance
  • Instrumental Accompaniment

Music Troubadours and Trouvères
Ardis Butterfield, Elizabeth Hebbard
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 April 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0288


In the 12th and 13th centuries, the troubadours in Occitania and the trouvères in northern France composed songs with texts in the vernacular and monophonic melodies. For the troubadours, the vernacular was Old Occitan; for their northern counterparts, Old French. This difference in idiom is sometimes held to mark a distinction between two separate but analogous traditions of medieval song. The medieval practices of compiling multilingual lyric anthologies and of borrowing melodies seem instead to affirm the contiguity of song culture across different languages. The term “lyric” during this period typically designates a text set to melody, but not all manuscripts of troubadour and trouvère lyric preserve song melodies. Music survives for nearly half of the trouvère repertory (about three thousand songs) but only about 10 percent of the twenty-six hundred extant troubadour songs. The compositional period for troubadours and trouvères is conventionally defined rather rigidly as 1100–1300, and the songs themselves as strophic and monophonic. However, the troubadours and trouvères also composed in non-strophic genres (lais and descorts), and the trouvères composed in non-musical lyric genres (congés, dits) as well as in polyphonic forms. Adam de la Halle and Jehan de Lescurel, for example, produced small but significant collections of single-text polyphonic pieces. Of course, the composition of French and Occitan song also continued beyond 1300, albeit in different social and cultural contexts, by which point the long history of its study and reception had already begun. Some of the most important reference works, such as the Pillet-Carstens Bibliographie, date from the early 20th century and come from France and Germany, while Anglophone publications on troubadour and trouvère music only began to emerge in the second half of the 20th century. Modern scholars continually renew this material by bringing it into conversation with critical theory (Giving Voice to Love: Song and Self-Expression from the Troubadours to Guillaume de Machaut, cited under General Studies), feminist theory (Songs of the Women Trouvères, cited under Anthologies), and social history (The Owl and the Nightingale: Musical Life and Ideas in France 1100–1300, cited under Musical, Literary, Social, and Political Studies; The World of the Troubadours: Medieval Occitan Society, c. 1100-c.1300 and Parler d’amour au puy d’Arras: Lyrique en jeu, both cited under Regional Studies). The vibrancy in troubadour and trouvère scholarship also comes from interdisciplinary collaboration and exchange among musicologists, historians, paleographers, and literary scholars. Despite their shared primary sources, the fields of musicology and of literary studies have approached troubadour and trouvère material differently, and with different emphases. In part, these differences can be ascribed to the difficulty of defining a corpus of study, which does not always overlap for the two fields. The organization of this article echoes some of these tensions between older but fundamental reference works and newer directions of inquiry, and the sometimes separate, sometimes unified, treatment of troubadour and trouvère song.

Reference tools

The corpus of troubadour and trouvère song is vast. Different kinds of reference tools offer many points of access into these songs. Below are described a number of indispensable sources for the study of the lyric in all its aspects: form, melody, and language.

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