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Detail of a miniature of the Castle of Love, via the lover addressing 3 women. Master of the Prayer Books of circa 1500, England also, S. E. (London) and Netherlands, S (Bruges).British Library

Hear the term "romantic music" and Wagner's love duets probably involved mind—or perhaps Chopin's Nocturnes, or James Galway's shagadelic duets. You probably don't think of the medieval era...but you have to.

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Compared to music of later on ages, the harmonies of early music can sound meandering, and also specific medieval instruments—such as the shawm—are not exactly mellifluous. But in truth, medieval vocal music rivals 19th-century music in romanticism. Many secular medieval music centered on love, and many type of spiritual works offered the language of romance to describe spiritual devotion. By about 1100, courtly love, which expressed erotic desire while emphasizing the ennobling effect of loving, had actually come to be a renowned literary tradition throughout Western Europe.

Courtly love attributes prominently in the several thousand also enduring songs of medieval poet-composers, referred to as troubadours (or trobairitz for women) in southerly France and also trouveres in north France. These songs' repetitive melodic frameworks and also basic declamation formats serve to emphasize the ardor expressed in the messages.

For example, in his renowned song "Can vei la lauzeta mover" ("When I check out the lark beat his wings"), 12th-century troubadour Bernard de Ventadour writes, "I no longer had power over myself, or even belonged to myself, from the moment as soon as she let me gaze right into her eyes, right into that mirror which so delights me." The speaker's ardent, yet inevitably thwarted desire may have actually been motivated by events of the composer's very own life: after falling in love through his patron's wife, he was forced to leave Ventadour Castle and also spent the rest of his life traveling among courts.


13th-century trouvere Adam de la Halle might be best-remembered for his play Jeu de Robin et Marion, yet he was also a fine composer of love songs. Noncommittal lovers might draw impetus from the speaker of de la Halle's "Se li maus c'amours envoie" ("If the pain of love were not so pleasant"): "My lady, if I assumed that I would certainly live for one hundred thousand years, and even if you were no longer living, I can never before think of an additional."


These passionate troubadour poems prove that romance prevailed in music well before the moment of Verdi and Puccini. If you prefer the violin to the vielle, several Romantic-era composers attracted inspiration from the troubadours and also their music. Verdi's Il Trovatore centers on the love affair in between troubadour Manrico and noblewoman Leonora, and also minnesingers—Gerguy poet-composers—show up as personalities in both Wagner's Tannhauser and also Strauss's Guntram. Although fairly bit is recognized of the troubadours and their resides, their romantic legacy endures.

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Rebecca Wishnia freshly earned her Master's level in violin from University of California—Santa Cruz. A passionate chamber musician, she has actually perdeveloped in a range of Bay Area ensembles, and writes around classical music for a number of publications.