History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

12 October 2006

Lascivious Lais and Lovesick Laments

Lynna Banning here. My new medieval romance (Crusader's Lady, March '07) is set in the 12th century. In the story, King Richard the Lionhearted (a minor character!) sings lais during his travels with hero Marc and heroine Soraya. The lais are often bawdy, but some are laments about love or romance stories of knights and ladies or famous heroes such as Tristan and Roland.

Traveling musicians (a trouvere or troubadour if male; a trobaritz if female) sang such songs at castles along their way, which served a dual purpose: (1) local "news" traveled from duchy to duchy; (2) romance tales, such as those about King Arthur and knights of the Round Table, spread across Europe.

What is so different about 12th century music? Almost everything.

1. For most songs, neither the tune nor the words were written down until decades later, if it all. What songs have been preserved (dug out of old manuscripts such as the Bamburg or Montepellier codexes) are single-line melodies either sung a capella or accompanied by the singer on his/her harp, lute or vielle (fiddle).
Troubadours usually wrote their own songs, and most troubadours were fine poets first, musicians second.

2. What did this music really sound like? We don't exactly know, although many early music ensembles of today are busy recreating their own versions of tunes using scholarly research and "best guess" approaches. Song lyrics were often a melange of Old French, Ladino (Sephardic Spain), medieval Latin, etc. The written-out music looked like square and diamond-shaped "notes" arranged on a four-line staff, with dots, flags,
inverted commas, and other squiggles indicating time values and rising or falling pitch.

3. Tonal orientation was based on church modes developing out of chant, not on our modern western "keys" and "scales." Musicians were expected to know these modes (Dorian, lydian, Aeolian, etc.) well enough to not only stay in tune with fellow players but to improvise along the way.

4. The modern acoustic standard of A + 440 vibrations/sec was unknown. If playing with two or more musicians, you agreed on the mode and the starting pitch, which often depended on an instrument's tuning.

5. Skilled impromptu improvisation was highly valued. Thus, few songs were ever sung or played the exact same way twice.

6. Multiple parts, or written-out harmonizing lines, grew out of French medieval church chant (known as the "Notre Dame School") and slowly spread to other parts of Europe.



Blogger Unknown said...

Wow, Lynna. You've moved into territory that I know NOTHING about.


I didn't know there was a form or female troubadour. Let alone that there was a specific name for them.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Cool, Lynna. I write stories set in the 12th and 13th century, too, and I’ve struggled with how the tunes might have sounded. So I take lots of liberty as a writer...in a feast scene in my upcoming book DARK RIDER (Sept 2007), I have the troubadour sing a bawdy, impromptu lais...it rhymes, though in your opinion, should it? Some of lyrics written in the 12th and 13th century don't seem to rhyme or to even tell a cohesive story (lost in the translation? my lack of familiarity with old English?).

Can you debunk the myth that troubadours were handsome playboys, prone to having love affairs and getting into scandals? That's my long held impression . . . a sterotype, but I blame it on reading romance!

And, I would like to listen “best guess” sounding period music circa 12th and 13th century, England. Can you recommend some?

Thanks you. Looking forward to reading CRUSADER'S LADY.


1:50 PM  
Blogger Angie said...

Haha...how funny is it that I recognize these terms from my current Music Appreciation class? Great post! I wish more historical authors included the music of the period in their work or wrote musician heroes and heroines. They were the rock stars of their eras.

7:24 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I'm so ignorant of this period, and so fascinated by it, Lynna. Years ago I struggled through a book called LOVE IN THE WESTERN WORLD, by Denis de Rougemont, that traced the whole of the western understanding of romantic love back to the Cathars (or Albigensians), a heretic sect in southern France in around your period, and also to the troubadours.

I found the book fascinating, but in the end I thought Rougement's answers weren't as compelling as the original question he posed, which was why so much of western art is obsessed with the question of unhappy, frustrated love.

And in the last few years I've begun to look at Rougement's questions from a different point of view -- now that I know that 39.3% of fiction in this country is constituted of guaranteed-happy love stories.

7:42 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Lynna, what is your own musical background? And if you could recommend one book on the subject of the history of music what would it be? Fascinating subject. I don't suppose they did any work on 12 and 13th century music (history) in the regency? LAIS -- a new word for my musical vocabulary...


8:45 AM  
Blogger Lynna Banning said...

I'm trying to send you an email response; keeps getting bounced as failed mail.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Lynna Banning said...

Dear Lascivious Lais commenters,
I wrote each of you an email answer to your question(s), but
perhaps should have posted them here instead.

Is there any way you can cut/paste
email into this spot??

Sorry to be such a dunce.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Doreen is working on a composer hero, I can't wait to read the book!

7:08 PM  

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