Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

Medieval Women in Music: Trobairises

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Comtessa Beatriz de Dia, medieval composer

Comtessa Beatriz de Dia, medieval composer

When I was researching my post for International Women’s Day, I came across a fascinating topic:  trobairises.

Trobairises (singular trobairitz) were female troubadours, primarily of southern France where the Occitan language was/is spoken, of the 12th and 13th centuries.  They are the first recorded female composers of secular music.  The names of about 20 trobairises are known, and around 32 works have been attributed to them.  These consist of only lyrics.  There is only one for which we also have the musical notation, A chantar m’er by the Comtessa Beatriz de Diá.1

Here is an image of the manuscript

Music manuscript of A Chantar by Beatriz de Dia

Here is a link to an a capella performance.

You may hear it here with instrumental accompaniment.

The earliest work attributed to a trobairitz, a woman named Tibors de Sarenom, is Bels dous amics, for which only the words survive.  This song dates from around 1150.2

The name of only one female composer of this period from northern France is known (in northern France, a troubadour was known as a trouvère; there is no female counterpart to this term).  Marie de France was active in the period 1160-1215, and it is believed she did her writing in England.3  Texts of her poetry, the Lais of Marie de France, may be found in an English manuscript of the 13th century (coincidentally, this same manuscript also contains the song Sumer Is Icumen In, long held as the oldest secular song in English).

Here you can find a list of known trobairises with links containing more information about them.

[Postscript:  I thought the absence of female trouvères was odd, so I dug a little deeper.  I turned up a book, Songs of the Women Trouvères, which documents eight named female trouvères, and a wealth of songs and motets that may have been written by women.]

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trobairitz
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibors_de_Sarenom
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_de_France
  4. Bruckner, Matilda, Shepard, Laurie, and White, Sarah, Songs of the Women Troubadours. Routledge, 2000. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0815335687/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0815335687&linkCode=as2&tag=medievalistsn-20&linkId=VQVFQAAVBQ6O5IVH

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Image attribution: Image of Comtessa Beatriz de Dia, [public domain] Bibliothèque Nationale, MS cod. Fr. 12473, via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=342295.  Image of A chantar m’er, [Public domain] Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, fr. 844 via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_chantar_pg._1.jpg and https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_chantar_pg._2.jpg

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3 thoughts on “Medieval Women in Music: Trobairises

  1. Neat stuff! Notable of course that the trobairises were on the whole nobility- that remains true pretty much through the Baroque (availability to the upper classes of education and cultural “permission” to be creative). And on the sacred side were by definition nuns or abbesses (Hildegard was not the only one, though she was special). I wonder if there’s anything known about the personal relations, if any, between the troubadors (like Bernard de Ventadour or Bertran de Born) and the trobairieses. And I wonder why there appear not to have been female trouveres (I’ll bet there were, as the trouvere culture was widespread). Look up some of Pound’s very free translations of Bernard and some of the others- fine stuff. Great info on the Occitan region/history/culture available out there- thanks! Name is from “how we say Yes around here,” as I recall: “langue d’Oc.” As against “langue d’oeil” (or in modern French “oui”).

    Thanks!

    Tom

    Liked by 1 person

    • I always marvel at the detail of the genealogical information found in this time period, for the nobility, that is. Family relations were politically important, and so were documented. The identities of some of the trobairises are known, or there is strong evidence to identify them as specific women. And there are some interesting posited links between folks: the trobairitz Almodis de Caseneuve is said to possibly have been married to Guiraut de Simiane, and Guiraut is a witness to the will of Tibors de Sarenom (a trobairitz, or her mother), who was the mother (or sister? same name) of troubadour Raimbaut d’Aurenga. I couldn’t find any links for Bernard de Ventadour or Bertran de Born.

      I thought the absence of lady trouvères was odd too. A subsequent search turned up a book, Songs of the Women Trouvères (Doss-Quinby et al, 2001), which documents eight named lady trouvères, and a wealth of songs and motets that may have been written by women. Marie de France is an interesting figure, as she may have been the half-sister of England’s Henry II, and she did her writing in England.

      Like

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