I drove through Slovakia this week on my way from Budapest to Prague in a car. The great news about traveling by car is that you can take your time, take side roads and go off the beaten path into areas that are hard to get to by train or bus. We went through Slovakia’s capital Bratislava (formerly Czechoslovakia, last time I went through here in the mid to late eighties — now Slovakia and the Czech Republic). c, now broken into two countries).
Bratislava isn’t exactly off the beaten path which was evident by the number of tourists who were there on a Thursday afternoon. In many ways, it seemed as if the city was more modern than Budapest and certainly attracted more tourists in its main historical square, as evidenced by the number of English-speaking menus there were at the restaurants and cafes.
I ran across an outside musician who was playing what he referred to as a wheel fiddle in English or a hurdy gurdy (called that since 1883) it appears or a beggars lyre. When I asked him what he was singing, he said he was speaking in Occitan, the language of the troubadours, who were composers and performers of Occitan lyric poetry during the High Middle Ages (1100–1350). Since the word “troubadour” is etymologically masculine, a female troubadour is usually called a trobairitz.
According to wikipedia, the troubadour school or tradition began in the 11th century in Occitania, but it subsequently spread into Italy, Spain, and even Greece. Under the influence of the troubadours, related movements sprang up throughout Europe: the Minnesang in Germany, trovadorismo in Galicia and Portugal, and that of the trouvères in northernFrance. Dante Alighieri in his De vulgari eloquentia defined the troubadour lyric as fictio rethorica musicaque poita: rhetorical, musical, and poetical fiction. After the “classical” period around the turn of the 13th century and a mid-century resurgence, the art of the troubadours declined in the 14th century and eventually died out around the time of the Black Death (1348).
The texts of troubadour songs deal mainly with themes of chivalry and courtly love. Most were metaphysical, intellectual, and formulaic. Many were humorous or vulgar satires. Works can be grouped into three styles: the trobar leu (light), trobar ric (rich), and trobar clus (closed). Likewise there were many genres, the most popular being the canso, but sirventes and tensos were especially popular in the post-classical period, in Italy, and among the female troubadours, the trobairitz.
Below is a short video clip of him playing in the main square of Bratislava.