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Brief review: A Medieval Songbook: Troubadour & Trouvere

A Medieval Songbook: Troubadour & Trouvere by Feltcher Collins, Jr. et al.  (University Press of Virginia, 1982) is a valuable resource for performers and listeners of medieval music.  

Although the phrase Medieval music is likely to suggest to the general listener Gregorian chant and the church music of such composers as Hildegard von Bingen, there also exists a considerable body of Medieval secular song, most notably by the Minnesingers of the German speaking areas -- this was before modern nations had emerged -- of Europe, and the troubadours and trouvères of what is now France. Though there are a large number of CDs of this music available, the texts, translation, and especially the scores of these songs are difficult to find, often not being included (or not very fully included) in CD liner notes. (Maybe I should insert here that my viewpoint is that of a general listener to this music and reader of its lyrics as poetry, so I can't speak on the subject with scholarly expertise.) A Medieval Songbook is the only book I know which makes a serious attempt to collect these songs with singing scores and English translations in an edition not designed solely for specialists. The selection, limited to troubadours and trouvères,includes most of the most frequently recorded songs from this repertoire. Each song is given in the original language, with a serviceable English translation designed to match the music, and singing scores giving the melody, chord symbols, and simple accompaniment. Also included are brief notes on the songs, a guide to pronunciation, and biographical(or in many cases legendary) sketches of the composers. All in all, this book is of fundamental value to performers and will be very useful to serious fans of the music, especially if they know even a little Old French or Provencal and are interested in the literature of those languages. The book's main drawback, which does not seriously impair its usefulness, is that physically it seems rather amateurishly produced, with the scores looking obviously hand-written, though they are clear enough. If the book had been written today (it was published in 1982), no doubt the current availability of music scoring software would have made it easier to include more attractively printed scores. Most unfortunately, this book has been long out of print and seems to be available used only at outrageously high "collectible" prices.

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