Early Crusade Songs

MarcabruEarly Crusade Songs

By Richard L. Crocker

The Holy War, edited by Thomas Patrick Murphy (Ohio State University Press, 1976)

Introduction: Crusade songs came to us almost entirely from the repertories of the troubadors and trouveres. That in itself seems to be a fact of great importance, for coexisting in the musical spectrum of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were other important repertories. Alongside the secular, vernacular chant of troubadors and trouveres there was, on the one hand, the Latin sacred chant still cultivated in the monasteries, and, on the other hand, an entirely distinct repertory, that of the new polyphonic or “part-music,” which flourished not at court nor in the monastery but in the great urban cathedrals of the north, especially at Notre Dame de Paris. The remarkable aspect is that—as far as I can determine—this polyphonic repertory has practically no instance of Crusade songs, certainly none as explicitly connected with the Crusades as those we will see here.

Let me explore this situation briefly. In the last half of the twelfth century, polyphony, heretofore practiced on an experimental basis, developed into a systematic musical style with artistic achievement and international recognition. This development took place under stylistic conditions that can be called “Gothic,” that is to say, in an environment shared with Gothic architecture and using musical techniques specifically analogous to those of the new architectural style manifested at Saint Denis, Notre Dame de Paris, and elsewhere. Indeed the center of the new polyphonic art was at Notre Dame and remained in Paris for the next hundred years. This kind of music was characteristically composed and executed by clerics—but not monks—attached to urban cathedrals as permanent musical staff. Sometimes these musicians were associated also with the university, specifically the one on the Left Bank. The kind of music they cultivated required new skills and special training; it could not be sung by a traditional trouvere, and only slowly did it penetrate the courtly environment.

After 1250 we find polyphonic works—motets—with secular vernacular texts and themes of courtly love, but with increasingly bourgeois tone. Up until that point, however, the new polyphony had apparently no contact with the courts, and it would seem that the virtual absence from the polyphonic repertory of references to the Crusades reflected a lack of interest on the part of northern urban, bourgeois, intellectual, and clerical circles. It suggests that the Crusades were simply not a concern of these segments of society, being rather associated with the landed baron and his entourage. The polyphonic repertory abounds with references to contemporary events—and with moral, political, and social satire and criticism, so it is not the case that polyphony was isolated from the world of events. Rather, I would guess it was the courtly trouveres who were becoming isolated: in purely musical terms the future belonged to polyphony, and the monophonic trouvere repertory was about to go out of existence. The same might be true, perhaps, of the social groups these repertories represented.

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