Troubadour Song as Performance: A Context for Guiraut Riquier’s “Pus sabers no’m val ni sens”

Boynton, Susan Leslie

The songs of the troubadours present the fundamental challenge of understanding
poetry as music. Although the Old Occitan lyric corpus was a sung
tradition from its origins in the twelfth century, we do not know exactly
how it sounded; the poetry and musical notation of troubadour song are
only skeletal vestiges awaiting completion by the imagination. Miniature
biographies of the troubadours known as vidas, which combine elements
of fact and fiction, describe some poets as performers who sang and played
instruments, while others apparently did not. Most manuscript sources of
troubadour song lack musical notation; the few chansonniers that do include
it provide the pitches and text underlay for one strophe of melody, with the
remaining strophes of text laid out in prose format.
The absence of music from so much of the written transmission of the
corpus can be attributed to factors such as predominantly oral transmission
of the melodies (resulting in their loss as the tradition waned) and the
circumstances of compilation, which favored the presentation of the songs
as poems. The repertory travelled in the thirteenth century to northern
France, Italy, the Iberian peninsula and beyond through the movement
of poets, singers, patrons, and not least, the formation of the manuscript
tradition. As Marisa Galvez notes, the very concept of a troubadour corpus
as an authorial tradition emerged from the chansonniers. The constitution
of poetic personae in these manuscripts stands in for the construction of
poetic agency and voice that would have occurred in performance (2012:
59–64). Many nonmusical, nonverbal components of performance that
are now irrecoverable were as much part of the song as the melody and
text, and were probably embedded in its early reception: the performers’
appearance and gestures, their relationship to the audience, their present
or absent patrons.



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Columbia University
Published Here
October 1, 2014