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Cameron Stahl

Music History I
Dr. Jones
September 28, 2015
Writing feedback for Troubadour Paper
Working on this paper has been a fun and interesting learning experience. I feel much
more comfortable with the troubadour style and am glad that I have a more educated opinion on
the performance of the music of this time.
The research for the paper was thankfully already done. I had a selection of books to read
from and I was able to easily narrow down what I wanted to write about. The feedback from my
first draft was that more sources were necessary, to give evidence to what I had written. I found
this difficult because what I had cited in the first draft was all I felt that was useful from the
sources. But, knowing that a good portion of my grade was to be on how I used the feedback
provided for me, I went back and found more evidence to support my writing. I did not use many
new ideas, but I used extra secondary sources to back each other, which in turns gives even more
credibility to what I wrote. I hope I have produced a product that is better than the last, but
looking at my paper right now I do feel that I probably could have found even more secondary
sources.
Writing is difficult. As I was working on the final draft I often wanted to scrap the whole
thing and start from scratch, but then I would have ended up with a paper haphazardly thrown
together and ultimately worse than if I had just continued with the first. Knowing that, I kept at it
and I now have a completed paper that I hope will be at least decent.
I am thankful for the writing help I have received and that this paper was included in the
course, because it has reminded me what it is like, and how much time it takes, to write a

research paper. I now look forward to making the final paper of the term something that I can be
proud of.

Cameron Stahl
Music History I
Dr. Jones
September 28, 2015
Performance of a Troubadour Song
Centuries ago musical notation was in its infancy and most music, especially that of the
vernacular style, were orally transmitted. This leads to enigmatic origins and cloudy precision,
but also to a wealth of variety and freedom of expression. The troubadours were a group that
formed out of modern day southern France.1 They traveled around Europe performing their
songs, most notably their songs involving a courtly love. Modern performers have the option of
either relying on evidence of historical performances, or making their own interpretations based
on whatever they like. The latter sounds far-fetched, and it is according to the more conservative
type, but some validity maybe found in this approach because the fact that there are only a
handful of surviving written sources indicates that there are most likely more written sources that
have merely been lost.2 These lost sources could have been similar or very different from current
sources; creating a radical new interpretation could be seen as a critical statement on the fact that
so many performers are basing the style of a large collection of music on only a handful of
sources.
"Can vei la lauzeta mover by Bernart de Ventadorn was one of the most popular troubadour
songs of its time and remains so today.3 By taking a look at five different modern interpretations
of the song, and finding out if the choices made are based in fact or fiction, judgment can then be
made about whether or not the performance was effective.
1 John Milson, The Oxford Companion to Music. Oxford Music Online (Oxford University Press).
2 Mary ONeil, Courtly Love Songs of Medieval France (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press), 1.
3 Peter Burkholder, Norton Anthology of Western Music Volume 1: Ancient to Baroque, 6th Edition (New York: W.W.
Norton & Company), 41.

The first recording to be discussed is one by the German early music group Ensemble fr
Frhe Musik Augsburg.4 This group, established in 1977 is well known, and well received, in
Germany. It is the most simple of the interpretations, as far as instrumentation is concerned, with
only guitar accompaniment. The guitar accompaniment is of a moderate difficulty, only the
melody with chords and some deviations of the melody. In regards to the historical accuracy of
this choice there is only scarce and ambiguous evidence to suggest that there was instrumental
accompaniment to songs, but it is not improbable that were a troubadour to be traveling and
encounter someone who knew how to play the lute that they might sing and play together.5, 6
There is something strange about the vocal line, or lack thereof. Everything is sung in an
accented type of way that eliminates any nuance of language or inflection. It is true that we will
never know the exact pronunciation of the language Occitan, but we do know that it came out of
southern France and looks similar to French.7 With this in mind it is safe to consider that the
words would have been sung in a much more legato manner and would resemble a more French
sound.
While the instrumentation is slightly questionable, for modern ears it adds much to the
somber love in the music. The accents on the vocal line take away from the performance, it
prevents any sort of legato and is out of place in comparison with the general mood of the music.
But overall, even with the vocal lack of legato, the expression of the piece is successfully
conveyed.

4 Bernart de Ventadorn, Can vei la lauzeta. Performed by Ensemble fr Frhe Musik Augsburg.
5 Elizabeth Aubrey, The Music of the Troubadours (Bloomington:Indiana University Press), 255.
6 Aubrey, The Music of the Troubadours, 261.
7 Milson, The Oxford Companion to Music. Oxford Music Online.

The second recording is by the early music tenor Olivier Marcaud.8 This example is simple, a
light drone and soft chordal guitar arpeggiation. Unfortunately, the plucked accompaniment is
not quite true to the time period. It is more simple to play than the prior, but it is outlining chords
and the lack of solid instrumental evidence leads one to believe that any accompaniment
would not deviate much from the melody.9 Because of the nature of chord arpeggiation the
melody is not even present. The vocal line, on the other hand, is much more likely to be an
accurate representation of the original singing style. Marcaud sings in a smooth and clear way
that is reminiscent of chant, which is valid because the troubadour songs evolved directly out of
the chant tradition.10
Interesting to note is the difference of manuscripts used for the performance. The previous
example used the Paris manuscript, while this one is from Milan. The reason for multiple
manuscripts is that the troubadours used oral transmission to spread their song. This method has
serious draw backs; it leads to ambiguity of melody and an eventual loss of the original. At some
point in time the songs were notated and with the alterations introduced by oral transmission we
are left with multiple versions of this song.11 The reasoning for choosing one over the other is
completely up to the performer as many are accepted. This is a well-conceived example that
beautifully expresses the text, and though the accompaniment is not one based in evidence its
mellow simplicity adds to the performance.
This next recording is by the conductor/baritone Paul Hillier who specializes in early music
and contemporary art music.12 The complexity here is a bit greater than the other two, but still

8 Bernart de Ventadorn, Can vei la lauzeta. Performed by Olivier Marcaud.


9 Aubrey, The Music of the Troubadours, 261.
10 Jeremy Yudkin, Music in Medieval Europe (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall), 253.
11 Burkholder, Norton Anthology of Western Music Volume 1: Ancient to Baroque, 6th Edition, 41.
12 Bernart de Ventadorn, Can vei la lauzeta. Performed by Paul Hillier. ecm records.

simple enough to be believable. A not so inconspicuous drone sets the tonal foundation while a
guitar introduction plays the melody with some harmony of chords and counter melodies. Hillier
comes in to sing the first verse and the guitar drops out, there is some scant guitar imitation of
the vocal line, but it is mostly the drone and voice. With every verse the guitar gains some
confidence with its imitation of the vocal line and eventually begins doubling the melody while
also assisting with chords. It seems less likely that this is a historically authentic rendition of the
song, because of the complexity of the drone and guitar accompaniment, but it is not so
complicated that it is impossible to imagine. Regardless of evidence based choices Hillier does
an excellent job of delivering the emotion of the text, and the instrumentation serves to further
that delivery.
Alla Francesca is a French group that specializes in medieval music. Their recording is
different than those discussed so far, because it has three accompaniment instruments.13 A drone,
fiddle, and flute. The playing of these instruments while the singer is performing is highly
unlikely, because of the complexity it takes to coordinate them with the voice.14
This recording is similar to the Hillier with the way the instrumentation is used. The imitation
of the voice and counter melodies are numerous, and it for this performance it occurs with the
flute as well as the fiddle. The entire issue with complexity of instrumentation in the Hillier
example is expanded with the French group; one can say with much certainty that this is not an
authentic representation of what this song would have been performed like in medieval times.
That being said it is still expressive and resonates with listeners in a way that the text and

13 Bernart de Ventadorn, Can vei la lauzeta. Performed by Alla Francesca.


14 Aubrey, The Music of the Troubadours, 261.

meaning are successfully understood. The fact that its meaning is so well conveyed is in a way
better than a completely historically accurate performance where the message is not perceived.15
The last example is from the CD Music of the Troubadours by the group Ensemble
Unicorn.16 This group is made up of five musicians who specialize in early music. Their aim is to
present early music to the public in a lively and authentic way; they perform new compositions
as well as early music. This rendition is certainly the most striking of them all; there are many
variables to consider. The first is the most likely aspect about the piece to be accurate, the singer
is a woman. While most troubadours were men there were some woman, so this is a completely
understandable performance choice.17 The rest of the ensembles choices are not based in
evidence. There is a plethora of instrumental colors and a rather thick texture of various
percussion, wind, bowed, and plucked instruments. Many historians agree that the use of
instruments for this music is not improbable, but the complexity of instrumentation here would
certainly not have been seen in the time period the song was originally performed.18
In regards to the vocal line the singer is leaving out most of the melismatic notes and only
singing syllabically on a handful of pitches. This is the opposite of what is expected, performers
sometimes add notes, but to take the majority of them away is not common practice.19 Keeping
with the discussion of the vocal line a great deal of inflection is added to the language and there
is no evidence for this. As already discussed, we will never know the proper pronunciation of
Occitan, so to give it a made up expressive inflection with no evidence is in some ways
disrespectful to the language.20 It is certainly expressive though. It does not express the more
15 Ian Parker, Early Music, V/2 (Oxford University Press), 1.
16 Bernart de Ventadorn, Can vei la lauzeta. Performed by Ensemble Unicorn.
17 Yudkin, Music in Medieval Europe, 255.
18 Aubrey, The Music of the Troubadours, 261.
19 Ibid, 269.
20 Milson, The Oxford Companion to Music. Oxford Music Online.

subtle courtly love of the original context, but one may argue that it's almost painful expression
is an interesting take on the agony one in love might experience.
After researching what evidence is left to us from medieval times, and listening to the great
variety of song interpretations, it is clear that there are no strict guidelines on how to perform this
music. There is serious debate about everything from the singing, instrumentation, inflection, and
expression. There are many different choices one can make as a performer based on evidence;
performances based in evidence are likely to be accepted by those who are familiar with the
style. There are unlimited choices a performer can make if he or she decides to forgo evidence as
we saw most plainly in the Ensemble Unicorn example. Those performances can be fun and
entertaining, but in no way will they ever be accepted as authentic. What can still be authentic is
the expression though and much can be said for that aspect. As it always is, the decisions lie in
the hands of the performer and he or she can choose to be authentic or not authentic depending
on the audience desired, what the performer feels, and what he or she wants to highlight in the
music.

References
Aubrey, Elizabeth. Performance, in The Music of the Troubadours. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1996.

Burkholder, Peter. Norton Anthology of Western Music Volume 1: Ancient to Baroque, 6th Edition.
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010.
Milsom, John. "troubadours." The Oxford Companion to Music. Oxford Music Online. Oxford
University Press
ONeil, Mary. The Melodic Art of the Trouvres: Orality and the Question of Melodic
Variants, in Courtly Love Songs of Medieval France. Oxford, UK: Oxford University
Press, 2006.
Parker, Ian. The performance of troubadour and trouvre songs: some facts and conjectures.
Early Music, V/2. Oxford University Press, April 1977.
Ventadorn, Bernart de. Can vei la lauzeta. Performed by Alla Francesca.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=Lbj51yQV9Ug&index=5&list=PL9QqOmeUfHk9aty1VdQVBdBpiv-K1uHz6
(acceded September 28, 2015).
Ventadorn, Bernart de. Can vei la lauzeta. Performed by Ensemble fr Frhe Musik Augsburg.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=bUbr6LE3Qbw&index=4&list=PL9QqOmeUfHk9aty1VdQVBdBpiv-K1uHz6
(accessed September 28, 2015).
Ventadorn, Bernart de. Can vei la lauzeta. Performed by Ensemble Unicorn.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=VfCkmiQ0nDs&list=PL9QqOmeUfHk9aty1VdQVBdBpiv-K1uHz6&index=3
(accessed September 28, 2015).
Ventadorn, Bernart de. Can vei la lauzeta. Performed by Olivier Marcaud.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=I9gzaauL67s&list=PL9QqOmeUfHk9aty1VdQVBdBpiv-K1uHz6&index=2 (accessed
September 28, 2015).
Ventadorn, Bernart de. Can vei la lauzeta. Performed by Paul Hillier. ecm records, 1989.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=frBGQAC2qaY&index=1&list=PL9QqOmeUfHk9aty1VdQVBdBpiv-K1uHz6
(accessed September 28, 2015)
Yudkin, Jeremy. The Vernacular Tradition, 1000-1300, in Music in Medieval Europe.
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1989.