Who was Wolfram von Eschenbach? We know nothing about him, except that he was one of the greatest Medieval poets and minnesingers. I came up with empty hands while researching him in my local web analytics company. Wolfram is best known today for his Parzival, sometimes regarded as the greatest of all German epics from that time. Eighty four surviving manuscripts of Parzival indicate his tremendous popularity, not only in his time, but, even in the following two centuries. Parzival was translated and published by a Swiss scholar Johann Jacob Bodmer in 1753. Later, famous composer Richard Wagner used Parzival as the main source of libretto to his great opera, Parsifal.
Yet, no matter how hard specialists try, they did not recover any historical documents about Wolfram and his works are the sole source of evidence. There was a lot of historical investigations about him, that established that Wolfram was a German knight, who was likely born around 1170 and died somewhere close to 1220. The past along with Parzival also brought to us his two other narrative works and nine surviving songs that are considered to be masterpieces of medieval art of minnesingers.
Wolfram von Eschenbach probably serviced a number of courts during his time. Historians name a number of his possible patrons, but the evidence is circumstantial. In his Parzival Wolfram claims that he is illiterate and dictates his work. However, this fact is regarded with high level of sceptisim by most scientists. The dialect of his works is East Franconian and he mentions a couple of times that he is Bavarian. Thus precipitated a claim by at least four places name themselves as a place of birth of a famous poet and composer. As other famous medieval poets Wolfram was included in the famous Codex Mannese – medieval manuscript about famous poets with illustrations, created in the 14th century. However the picture of Wolfram and surrounding arms and heraldry turned out to be just the imagination of the artist.
Previously, I was telling you stories about medieval composers whose dates of birth and date are unknown. There were also famous composers, whose first name or last name is not definitely established. Today’s story is about famous composer of the late medieval composer, whose point of origin and nation that he came from are still a mystery, along with other details mentioned above.
Historians are so puzzled, that they simply call him European composer. They still argue whether he was Flemish or Italian. And they call him Egardus, although, they are not sure that this is his name at all. His name, a copy of one of his works in a Flemish manuscript suggest a Northern origin. Yet all of his works are found in Northern Italian manuscripts with one exception. And that exception, a Polish manuscript, has strong Italian connections.
Only several compositions of Egardus survived. They sound less complex than other mid-century composers, but this lack of complexity can be attributed to an early date for his works. So, I guess, this is an opportunity for discovery, because all other attempts by prestigious experts failed. The only thing that may be stated with a not of hesitancy is that Egardus lived somewhere in between the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries.
Peire Cardenal left us his generous heritage - around a hundred pieces of his survived. Several of the tunes reached us as well. This number of works can hardly be matched by other poets of the age. Cardenal’s biography written by Miguel de la Tor mentions that Peire was possibly influenced by Bernart de Venzac, an obscure troubadour who was famous earlier for his bitter irony. So like Bernart, Peire Cardenal is attacking the perceived corruption of society and contemporary crisis of spiritual values. He tells us a great deal of envy, greed, adultery, and pride. His language, however, is skilled and he employs a vocabular at once popular, colorful, rich with rare and deeply expressive words.
His songs, especially those that lambasted hypocritical clerics won him many enemies. But Peire, obviously, could not care less about this. Even with all these enemies Cardenal became one of the most celebrated troubadours of his time. His poems much satirical criticism of the contemporary moral and political climate, sometimes verging on heresy. Here is one of Cardenal’s famous quotations that went through times:
“If some beggar steals a bridle he’ll be hung by a man who’s stolen a horse. There’s no surer justice in the world than that which makes the rich thief hang the poor one.”
This famous troubadour from Provence lived almost to be one hundred years old - from 1180 to 1278. Due to his extraordinary for these medieval times life, he had a rare chance to observe deep changes around him. He saw how his native Occitan culture first went up to its highest point. And he witnessed its decline during the Albigensian Crusade and its post-Albigensian Crusade state. The name of this famous composer, poet and troubadour was Peire Cardenal. And his works are kind of different from many other troubadours of his time.
A lot of materials about Peire are still waiting for English author who will write a book about this exceptional man. There are so many materials that still need to be translated from Occitan and French into English. So what do we know now about Peire Cardenal?
He was born in Puy-en-Velay, Auvergne, France apparently of a noble family. And he was educated as a canon himself. Peire studied at the foremost cathedral school in Puy before becoming a song writer. He visited various courts of kings and barons, and had a jongleur to sing with him.
Not all famous troubadours were of aristocratic origin. Some of them had came from lower class families like great composer and poet Giraut de Bornelh. He was born around 1138 in Limousin and started writing music and poems at quite an early age. Soon his fame spread around and his fans gave him for his skills a very prestigious name - Master of the Troubadours.
And Giraut was a Master, indeed. He invented the new, light style of troubadour’s music, won a lot of poetical debates. We got a rare chance to observer his contribution because around ninety poems and four of his melodies survived to our modern times.
When another great troubadour Raimbaut of Orange unexpectedly died, Giraut created one of his best pieces - a lament on the Raimbaut’s death. This song became famous, especially during Third Crusade. Giraut accompanied Richard the Lionheart and his own patron Aimar V of Limoges and even stayed in the Holy Land for a while. Specialists say, that it is quite possible that Giraut made a piligrimage there even before the beginning of the Third Crusade. He lived a long life and died in 1215.
It will probably be very hard to answer who Antonello da Caserta was, as we know nothing about this great man, except that he was a famous medieval Italian composer in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. Some musicologists advanced a theory that da Caserta was from Naples and created there. But eventually, this conclusion provided to be wrong, becuase most of composer’s surviving works are in northern Italian manuscripts. Anyways, there is nothing that I could find either from the archives of my local web analytics company.
There are some hints that Antonello was a monk. Yet, even this scarce information provides us with nothing, because we don’t know which monastic orders of that time he belonged to. Other hints place Antonello in Pavia in 1402, it looks like at some certain point of his life he worked for the Italian noble dynasty Visconti in Milan, which they ruled from 1277 to 1447. So far we don’t even know the exact name of Antonello, as different sources also name him Anthonello or Antonellus Marot.
It seems that da Caserta was heavily influenced by French musical models which was quite unusual for those times. He even set texts both in French and Italian.
Antonello was famous for his ballades that tell us about courtly love. His surviving works show that Antonello was very famous among other composers of the generation after Guillaume de Mauchet. While his Italian songs are simpler, his creations in French are more complex ballads that use the proportional rhythms that became popular in much later periods.
Famous composer Donato da Cascia undoubtedly was an integral part of the Early Italian Renaissance period, that we know as Trecento. He created his music in the second part of the fourteenth century. As in many other cases related to that period, we know nothing about this famous composer, his life, his date of birth or death. So, I can only suppose that he was from Florence or a place called Cascia, near Florence, as his last name says.
The only picture that specialists discovered, shows him in the typical robes of the Benedictine order, so we may assume that he was a monk or a priest. But here lies the mystery: out all his surviving music, there is not even a bit of religious music. It is all completely secular. All the sources of his music with just one exception were found in Tuscany.
Jacopo da Bologna most likely had some influence on Donato da Cascia’s works. We know about most of Donato’s music, thanks to Squarcialupi Codex - the illuminated manuscript compiled in Florence, Italy in the early 15th century. Even though, his music was written in the typical style of mid 14th century, it has exceptional virtuosity. All surviving madrigals created by Donato da Cascia represent the peak of virtuoso singing.
The beginning of the Renaissance in Italy started somewhere in the14th century. In Italian this historical period is called the Trecento from the phrase "mille trecento" which is translated as 1300. The list of famous names is practically endless. And, in addition to this list, we can add famous composers and musicians, artists and writers who published their works anonymously.
The Trecento, as you may well know it, was the period of heightened activity in art, literature and music. This is when Dante wrote his Divine Comedy, painter Giotto di Bondone used for the first time perspective in art. The list of Renaissance giants is huge and include famous creators as Boccaccio, Petrarch, Adnrea da Firenze and others.
Music had also changed drastically during Trecento. Partially, because a lot of troubadours was fleeing from the Southern France, mostly Provence, to Italy. Troubadours had a huge impact on Italian music of Renaissance period. Famous composers and musicians that used to write only religious music started writing secular songs. Francesco Landini, Paolo Tenorista, Maestro Piero and others created not only polyphonic music for all powerful Catholic Church but also love lyrics for everyday people.
From what we know, instrumental music was also widespread during Trecento. Unfortunately, not much of it survived, just few notated examples. The rest of the sources come to us from the area around Florence. We also know that some of the poetry of Dante was set to music, but none of it survived either.
In my blog entries about famous composers, I describe mostly outstanding creative people who had God given talents in spite of the harsh times that they were living. Luckily, not everybody is born a genius. There were other composers. I would not call them minor talents or diminish their creativity in any way. They also deserve the utmost respect and gratitude of the following generations. One of these dedicated and gifted people was Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia. I found out about her when I was doing my regular research for web analytics company. Thanks to her, we know today about giants of music like J.S. Bach and others ...
Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia was one of eight children of Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia. She was a younger sister of the famous Frederick II, King of Prussia and she was born in 1723 in Berlin. Among her other famous close relatives were Wilhelmine, Margravine of Bayreuth, Louise Ulrika, Queen of Sweden and Augustus William, Prince of Prussia. Anna was eleven years younger than her brother Frederick, and would have been seven years old when he made his attempt to run away from home, after being humiliated by his father. Both children were musically inclined, but for Anna formal musical instruction was only possible after the death of her father, who hated music with all his heart.