MSC 1003 - Music in Civilization

Sections meet in-person on Wednesdays (or on zoom, if necessary)
12:50-2:05 is in Vertical Campus Room 6-170
2:30-3:45 is currently zoom only 🙁
4:10-5:25 is in VC Room 12-150

Minstrels and Troubadours
Here we will continue our focus on secular music, which was usually intended to entertain the aristocratic class at "court" (i.e. up in the castle.)

We'll learn about two different waves of secular entertainers, the minstrels and the troubadours.

Exercise #9 will ask you questions about this. (As always, that link will open itself in a new tab, and you should go back and forth between both sides and do this "open book.")


The first flowering of secular entertainment at court seems to have occurred around the 900s and 1000s. This music would have been provided by minstrels, who had a relatively low status in society.

I have a clip from Terry Jones' Medieval Lives on the minstrel:

Among other things, we learned here that a minstrel's job was to sing chansons de geste, or "songs of great deeds," and we even heard a mock-minstrel do a little bit of the Song of Roland.

Troubadours and Trouvères

In the 1100s a new wave of secular musicians emerges, and they are a little bit different. This clip tells us three different ways that troubadours contrast with the minstrels - in social status, preferred subject matter, and language.

The video speaks exclusively of the troubadours from the southern region of France (the Pays d'Oc). In northern France such entertainers were known as trouvères. Both words are based on the verb "trouver" (to find).

Most troubadour-type music is still monophonic on paper, though we know that these songs were frequently accompanied by instruments such as lute or harp. Thus, many performers will add extra parts today.

Guillaume de Machaut, "Douce dame jolie"

Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300-1377) is probably the most accomplished Medieval composer of all. He is active at the very end of the era and benefits from everything that came before, and also he does a lot to push his art form forwards. In addition to being an innovative musician he was considered an important poet as well.

We are going to listen to Machaut's "Douce dame jolie" as an example of a troubadour-type song. (Machaut is from Northern France, however, so technically this is a trouvère song.) A translation of the lyrics is included in the embedded youtube video below.

We'll see that each verse follows a fixed musical pattern (ABBA), over and over again. This is known as strophic form. (The opposite, when each verse flows out differently is called through-composed form.)

Track Links: Spotify YouTube Naxos Apple Music
Album Links: Amazon CD Amazon Mp3 Spotify

Obviously this song is on the subject of love, as was promised by our Terry Jones video. However, the overall feeling is maybe not what you might expect. This is a profoundly sad song, as our protagonist suffers from unrequited love (i.e. loving someone who doesn't love you back.) He called his beloved his "sweet Enemy" and even wishes that he might die.

This seems typical of the Medieval concept of love - they really liked to whine about it! Every example of a troubadour song I've ever seen has been like this.

Exercise #9

OK! Exercise #9 asks you some questions about this. As always, the link should open in a new tab.

back to blog