Melanie Spiller and Coloratura Consulting

Escapades in Early Music, Writing, and Editing

Composer Biography: Trobairitz, The Female Troubadours

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Only a few women are known to have produced troubadour music. As a species, they’re called the trobairitz, and there are probably more women among the unattributed troubadour music that haven’t yet been identified. The truth is, we don’t know who wrote most of the poems and songs.

There are 2100 troubadour pieces preserved, only 1400 of which include the music. Only 460 troubadours have been identified, and so far, the one who produced the most music (45 pieces) is Bernart de Ventadorn. That means that loads of the remaining pieces could have been written by women; we just haven’t identified them yet. Certainly, most of the pieces are ABOUT women. Which doesn’t preclude women from having written them.

The term trobairitz wasn’t used by these female troubadours themselves, but came up in 13th century Flamenca, which is now in Spain. Trobairitz comes from the same word as troubadour, “trobar,” which means “to compose” or “to find.”

The trobairitz composed, wrote poetry, and performed for the Occitan noble courts. They were part of courtly society—some of the troubadours, such as Bernart de Ventadorn, were of lower class, but the trobairitz weren’t. They were all nobility. They were also the first known female composers of western secular music.

Women at court were expected to sing, play instruments, and write poetical debates. And noblewomen in southern France had more control than elsewhere regarding land ownership because so many of the men were away on the Crusades. That led to the existence of the (somewhat) free-spirited trobairitz—educated, monied, and uncommitted.

We have records of their lives from something called vidas, which were loosely based the hagiographies called vitas. It’s interesting that most of these vidas were produced after the troubadour period ended. They’re pretty unreliable sources, as they often consisted of romanticized extrapolations from the poetry that the trobairitz (and troubadours) produced. But they name 23 female poets with 32 works attributed to them, so we have to be grateful for that.

The number of songs attributed to trobairitz is somewhere between 23 and 46, depending on your sources. There are many reasons for the discrepancy. It’s hard to know from the poetry itself whether or not it was written by a woman, a man speaking as a woman, or a woman speaking as a man. Some songs were presumed to be written by a certain person regardless of whether they were or not. Others were part of an exchange where two people wrote back and forth and perhaps only one got credit, or credit was given to two men when one of the writers was female. Some modern editors attribute the exchange only to the originator, male or female. And of course, many were anonymous.

The most famous trobairitz was Comtessa Beatriz de Dia, but you should know some other names, too.

Alamanda (fl. late 12th century)

Not much is known about Alamanda, but it’s thought that she was from Castelnau (near Montpelier).

She exchanged a tenso (argument song) with with Giraut (or Giraut) de Bornelh (c1138-1215) called S’ieus quier cossella bel ami Alamanda. The music survives in one manuscript and is the only example of her work that exists. Giraut wrote love songs to her.

Alamanda was considered fictitious until recent efforts revealed three other troubadours’ mention of her, including the trobaritz Lombarda (see below) from Toulouse.

Azalais de Porcairages (fl. mid12th century)

Also Alasais de Porcaragues

Nothing is known of Azalaiz’s dates but it’s thought that she came from the village of Portiragnes, just east of Beziers and about six miles south of Montpellier, close to the territories owned by the man she loved and his brothers.

Only one of her poems survives. The music is lost. The poem has 52 lines but the text varies considerably between manuscripts, so we only know for sure about the subject matter. The poem is nominally about the 1173 death of Raimbaut of Orange (c1147-1173). Raimbaut was the son of William VII and Tibors, who are going to come up again in a minute, in the Tibors discussion.

At any rate, the poem mentions Ermengarde of Narbonne (1143-1197), a well known patroness of troubadour poetry. The third strophe of the poem contributes to an ongoing debate begun by Guilhem de Saint-Leidier (c1150-c1200). The question was whether a lady was dishonored by taking a lover who was wealthier than herself. According to her vida, she was the lover of Gui Guerrejat (1135-1178), brother of Guillaume VII of Montpellier (1158-1202). Gui Guerrejat (1135-1178) returned her affections, but then he fell ill, became a monk, and died within the same year.

Castelloza (fl. early 13th century)

Castelloza was a noblewoman from Auvergne. She was the wife of Turc de Mairona (dates unavailable), probably the lord of Meyronne. Turc’s family participated in a Crusade sometime between 1210 or 1220, which was the origin of his name (meaning “Turk”). Castelloza was thought to be in love with Arman de Brion (dates unavailable), a member of the house of Breon and of greater social rank than her. She wrote several songs about him.

Castelloza’s vida says that she was very cheerful and fun as well as learned and beautiful. Three, possibly four, of her songs survive, all about courtly love, and all without the music. This number makes her the second most prolific of the trobairitz after Beatriz de Dia. Castelloza is a more conservative poet than Beatriz, and although she remained committed to absolute fidelity, she talks at length about conditional and unconditional love.

Garsenda de Proença (c1180-c1242)

Garsenda was Countess of Provence and Countess of Forcalquier. She was the daughter of Rainou (or Renier), who was Lord of Caylar (dates unavailable), and Garsenda (dates unavailable), daughter of William IV of Forcalquier (1130-1208). After her mother died, Garsenda inherited Forcalquier from her grandfather. The Crusades had eaten away at the males in the family.

Garsenda was only 13 years old when William IV and Alfonso II (1157-1209) signed the Treaty of Aix in 1193, which allowed Garsenda to inherit William’s whole county. They also agreed that Garsenda would marry Alfonso II, who was in line to become Count of Provence. They married at Aix-en-Provence the same year and had at least two children, Raymond Berengar IV (1198-1245) and Garsenda (dates unknown).

In 1209, both Garsenda’s father and her husband died, and Garsenda became the guardian of their son and heir. Her brother in law, Peter II of Aragon (1178-1213), assigned the regency of Provence to his own brother Sancho (dates unavailable), but when Peter II died in 1213, Sancho became regent of Aragon and passed Provence and Forcalquier to his son Nuno Sanchez (c1185-1242).

Dissension broke out between the Catalans and the partisans of the Countess, who accused Nuno of trying to supplant Garsenda’s son, Raymond Berengar (1198-1245). The Provencal aristocracy allied themselves with Garsenda. Overwhelmed, Nuno high-tailed it back to Catalonia. The regency passed to Garsenda and a regency council was established from among the local nobles. She brought Forcalquier to the House of Barcelona and united it to Provence.

During her tenure as regent (c1209-c1220), Garsenda became the focus of a literary circle. The vida of troubadour Elias de Barjols (fl.1191-1230) refers to his patron as Alfonso, but Alfonso was long dead, so it was likely Garsenda.

There’s a tenso (an argument or debate in song) between Garsenda and an anonymous troubadour. In the poem, the lady declares her love for her interlocutor, who responds rather carefully. Some experts think that the unidentified troubadour is Gui de Cavailon (fl.1200-1229), whose vida includes the rumor that he was the countess’ lover. Gui was at the Provençal court between 1200 and 1209, so it’s possible.

Garsenda was a patron of Occitan literature, especially the troubadours, as well as writing her own poetry and songs. One of Garsenda’s poems survives in two different manuscripts, without music.

She was also the subject of a few songs. Aquitainian troubadour Elias de Barjois (fl. 1191-1230) fell in love with her during her widowhood, and for the rest of his public life, wrote songs about her. He entered a monastery with his love unfulfilled. Raimon Vidal (c1196-1252) also praised Garsenda’s patronage of troubadours.

In 1217 or 1220, Garsenda ceded Forcalquier to her son and retired to the monastery of La Celle (about 140 miles northeast of Limoges and about 75 miles from Forcalquier) in 1225. In 1242, she left the monastery to visit her newly born great granddaughter, Beatrice of England (1242-1275) in Bordeaux. Beatrice’s father, Henry III of England (1207-1282) was engaged in a war in France, and Garsenda brought 60 knights to help his cause.

She may have lived until 1257, when someone named Garsenda made a significant donation to a church in St. Jean (in the Pyrenees) on the condition that three priests pray for her soul and that of her long-dead husband.

Gormonda de Monpeslier (fl. 1226-1229)

Gormonda was from Montpelier in Languedoc. Only one piece has been attributed to her, but it was called the first French political poem by a woman.

She wrote a response to the famous anti-papal songs of Guilhem Figueira (c1208-after 1244), called Greu m’es a durar, imitating Guilhem’s poem in meter and rhyme for about 20 stanzas. Instead of blaming the papal legate Pelagius of Albano (c1165-1230) for the failure of the Fifth Crusade, she laid the blame on the foolishness of wicked people. She approved of the Crusade against the heretics at home, saying that heresy was more dangerous than Islam, and that the hearts of the heretics were false. She expressed an interest in watching Guilhem being tortured to death; she was probably not as fun to be around as Garsenda or Castellosa.

Little else is known about her, but it seems likely that she was closely associated with the orthodox clergy of southern France, Pope Innocent III (1160-1216), the French monarchy, and many other troubadours because of her political stance.

Lombarda (c1190-1262)

Lombarda is known only from her vida and a short tenso (argument song). She was probably from a banking or merchant family, and possibly from Gascony. According to her vida, she was noble, beautiful, charming, learned, and skilled at composing songs about fin’amors.

She was probably married and in her early 20s at the time of her poetic activity. Before 1217, when Bernart Arnaut (d.1226) claimed Armagnac, Bernart’s brother Geraud V (d.1219) visited and befriended Lombarda. He didn’t get a chance to say goodbye when he left and sent a short poem to her house. Lombarda’s response is her only surviving work.

Her one attributed poem is in the trobar clus style (a “closed” style enjoyed by a scant few and perfected by Marcabru c1099-1150), one of the few women to do so. Her only surviving work is included in her vida.

Maria de Ventadorn (c. 1165-1222)

Also Maria Ventedorn, Marie de Ventadour, Marie de Turenne, Marguerite de Turenne.

Maria was the daughter of Raimon II Viscount of Turenne (1143-1191), and the wife of Eble V (d. after 1236), Viscount of Ventadorn. Along with her two sisters, she, according to Bertran de Born (c1140-before 1215), possessed “all earthly beauty.” She was the beloved patron of many troubadours.

She had a son, Elbe VI (dates unknown), who married Dauphine de la Tour d’Auvergne (1220-1299), and a daughter, called Alix or Alasia. Elbe V, Maria’s husband, was the grandson of Eble III (d.1170), who’d been a patron of the early troubadour Bernat de Ventadorn, and he was the great-grandson of Eble le chanteur (after 1086-1155), believed to have been among the creators of the troubadour genre.

Maria exchanged a tenso (debate song) with Gui d’Ussel (fl.1195-1209). This one poem is the only surviving example of her work, and no music survives. The song dates from around 1197. She and Gui alternated verses, debating whether becoming a lady’s lover elevates a man to be her social equal or whether he remains her servant. Maria argued the servant side.

She was mentioned in the works of several troubadours, including those of Gaucelm Faidit (c1170-c1202), the Monk of Mantaudon (fl 1193-1210), Gausbert de Puicibot (fl.1220-1231), Pons de Capduelh (fl. 1160-1220), Guiraut de Calanso (fl.1202-1212), Bertran de Born (1140s-c1215), and Gui d’Ussel (fl.1195-1209). She may also have had her own knight, Hugh IX of Lusignan (c1163-1219).

Tibors de Sarenom (c1130-after 1198)

Tibors was the sister and guardian of the troubadour Raimbaut d’Orange (c1147-1173) and the wife of the troubadour Bertrand des Baux (c1137-c1183). She was the earliest known trobairitz during the classical period of medieval Occitan literature, at the height of troubadour activity.

Only one poem and no music of hers survives. It’s the earliest surviving trobairitz poem, from 1150, called Beis dous amics and is included in her vida. Her name is in an anonymous ballad dated between 1220-1245, wherein she acts as the judge of a game of poetry.

She was a lady of Provence, from a castle of En Blacatz, called Sarenom, about 110 miles northeast of Marseille, and 40 miles from Forcalquier, where Garsenda (see above) lived near the end of Tibor’s life. Tibor was courtly and accomplished, gracious, and very wise. She knew how to write poems, and she fell in love frequently and had suitors. She was greatly honored by all the men in her circle, and she was admired and respected by all the worthy ladies, according to her vida.

Her history is hard to parse. Most of the vidas were more hypothetical than factual, and Tibors was a very common name in Occitania. Her mother (Tibors d’Aurenga, dates unavailable), and her two daughters (yes, both of them) were also named Tibors.

Her father was Guilhem d’Omelas (d.c1156), and he came to own the castle of Sarenom (possibly present-day Serignan-du-Comtat in Provence or maybe Serignan in the Roussillon) through his marriage to Tibors d’Aurenga. Tibors d’Aurenga’s minor son (our Tibors’ brother) Raimbaut d’Orange (c1147-1173) inherited the castle when Tibors d’Aurenga died, so Tibors (our Tibors) and her second husband Bertran dels Baus (c1137-c1183) took it over.

Tibors had three sons by Bertran, Uc, Bertran, and Guilhem, also a troubadour. Tibor died shortly after Bertran. Documents about her are confusing (for obvious reasons).

Sources:

“Music in the Medieval West; Western Music in Context,” by Margot Fassler. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2014.

“The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers,” edited by Julie Anne Sadie and Rhian Samuel. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1995.

“Women Writers of the Middle Ages,” by Peter Dronke. Cambridge University Press, New York, 1984.

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2 Responses

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  1. Very helpful! You have unearthed several trobairitz of whom I was previously unaware. Thank you.

    kittybriton

    September 16, 2014 at 6:20 am

  2. […] Learn More (Sources): Tibors de Sarenom on Wikipedia Composer Biography: Trobairitz, The Female Troubadours on Melanie Spiller and Coloratura Consulting Writing Women Back Into History on Brooklyn Museum.org […]


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