Minnesang was the tradition of lyric and song writing in Germany which flourished in the 12th century and continued into the 14th century. People who wrote and performed Minnesang are known as Minnesingers (Minnesänger). The name derives from the word minne, Middle High German for love which was their main subject, and an individual song was a minnelied. The Minnesänger were similar to the Provençal troubadours and northern French trouvères; they wrote love poetry in the courtly love tradition in Middle High German in the High Middle Ages.
In the absence of reliable biographical information, there has been debate about the social status of the Minnesänger. Some clearly belonged to the higher nobility - the 14th century Codex Manesse includes songs by dukes, counts, kings, and the Emperor Henry VI. Some Minnesänger, as indicated by the title Meister ("master"), were clearly educated commoners, such as Meister Konrad von Würzburg. It is thought that many were ministeriales, that is, members of a class of lower nobility, vassals of the great lords. Broadly speaking, the Minnesänger were writing and performing for their own social class at court, and should be thought of as courtiers rather than "professional" hired musicians. Friedrich von Hausen, for example, was part of the entourage of Friedrich Barbarossa, and died on crusade. As a reward for his service, Walther von der Vogelweide was given a fief by the Emperor Frederick II.
The earliest texts date from perhaps 1150, and the earliest named Minnesänger are Der von Kürenberg and Dietmar von Aist, clearly writing in a native German tradition in the third quarter of the 12th century. This is referred to as the Danubian tradition.
From around 1170, German lyric poets came under the influence of the Provençal troubadours and the Northern French trouvères. This is most obvious in the adoption of the strophic form of the canzone, at its most basic a seven-line strophe with the rhyme scheme ab|ab|cxc, and a musical AAB structure, but capable of many variations.
A number of songs from this period match trouvère originals exactly in form, indicating that the German text could have been sung to an originally French tune, which is especially likely where there are significant commonalities of content. Such songs are termed contrafacta. For example, Friedrich von Hausen's "Ich denke underwilen" is regarded as a contrafactum of Guiot de Provins's "Ma joie premeraine".
By around 1190, the German poets began to break free of Franco-Provençal influence. This period is regarded as the period of Classical Minnesang with Albrecht von Johansdorf, Heinrich von Morungen, Reinmar von Hagenau developing new themes and forms, reaching its culmination in Walther von der Vogelweide, regarded both in the Middle Ages and in the present day as the greatest of the Minnesänger.
The later Minnesang, from around 1230, is marked by a partial turning away from the refined ethos of classical minnesang and by increasingly elaborate formal developments. The most notable of these later Minnesänger, Neidhart von Reuental introduces characters from lower social classes and often aims for humorous effects.
Only a small number of Minnelied melodies have survived to the present day, mainly in manuscripts dating from the 15th century or later, which may present the songs in a form other than the original one. Additionally, it is often rather difficult to interpret the musical notation used to write them down. Although the contour of the melody can usually be made out, the rhythm of the song is frequently hard to fathom.
There are a number of recordings of Minnesang using the original melodies, as well as Rock groups such as Ougenweide performing songs with modern instruments.
In the 15th century Minnesang developed into and gave way to the tradition of the Meistersingers. The two traditions are quite different, however (Minnesingers were mainly aristocrats, while Meistersingers usually were commoners).
Early Courtly LyricEdit
- Albrecht von Johansdorf
- Bernger von Horheim
- Gottfried von Strassburg
- Hartmann von Aue (1170-)
- Heinrich von Morungen
- Reinmar von Hagenau (ca. 1210)
- Süßkind von Trimberg
- Walter von der Vogelweide
- Wolfram von Eschenbach
Later Minnesang: 13th CenturyEdit
- der Regenboge
- Friedrich von Sonnenburg
- Gottfried von Neifen
- Heinrich von Meissen (Frauenlob) (1250/1260-1318)
- Hugo von Montfort
- Konrad von Würzburg (1220/1230-1287)
- Neidhart von Reuental (1st half of the 13th century)
- Otto von Botenlauben
- Reinmar von Zweter (1200-after 1247)
- Der Tannhäuser
- Ulrich von Liechtenstein (ca. 1200-1275)
- Walther von Klingen (1240-1286)
Later Minnesang: 14th CenturyEdit
Example of a MinneliedEdit
Middle High German originalEdit
- Dû bist mîn ich bin dîn.
- des solt dû gewis sîn.
- dû bist beslozzen
- in mînem herzen.
- verlorn ist das sluzzelîn.
- dû muost immêr darinne sîn!
- Du bist mein, ich bin dein,
- dessen sollst du gewiss sein.
- Du bist verschlossen
- in meinem Herzen,
- Verloren ist das Schlüsselein-
- du musst immer darin sein.
- You are mine, I am yours
- Of that you may be sure
- Deep within my heart
- You're safely locked away
- But I have lost the key
- And there you'll ever stay
The standard collections are
- 12th and early 13th Century Minnesang (up to Reinmar von Hagenau):
- 13th Century Minnesang after Walther von der Vogelweide:
- Carl v. Kraus, G.Kornrumpf, Deutsche Liederdichter des 13. Jahrhunderts (Niemeyer 1978) ISBN 3-484-10284-5.
- 14th and 15th centuries:
- Thomas Cramer, Die kleineren Liederdichter des 14. und 15. Jhs., 4 Vols (Fink 1979-1985)
There are separate editions of Walther's works, and of a number of the most prolific Minnesänger. There are many published selections with Modern German translation.
- Olive Sayce, The medieval German lyric, 1150-1300: the development of its themes and forms in their European context (Oxford University Press 1982) ISBN 0-19-815772-X
- Ronald J. Taylor, The Art of the Minnesinger. Songs of the thirteenth century transribed and edited with textual and musical commentaries, 2 vols (University of Wales Press, 1968)
- Alwin Schultz, Das höfische Leben zur Zeit der Minnesinger (2 vols, 1889)
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