Minnesang was a tradition of lyric and song writing in Germany that flourished in the Middle High German period. This period of medieval German literature began in the 12th century and continued into the 14th. People who wrote and performed Minnesang were known as Minnesingers (German: Minnesänger), and a single song was called a minnelied.
The name derives from the word minne, which is the Middle High German word for love, and love was the Minnesang's main subject. The Minnesänger were similar to the Provençal troubadours and northern French trouvères in that they wrote love poetry in the tradition of courtly love 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 Meistersänger. The two traditions are quite different, however; Minnesänger were mainly aristocrats, while Meistersänger usually were commoners.
- Danubian Lyric
- Early Courtly Lyric
- Classical Minnesang
- Albrecht von Johansdorf
- Bernger von Horheim
- Gottfried von Strassburg
- Hartmann von Aue (1160/1170–1210/1220)
- Heinrich von Morungen
- Reinmar von Hagenau (ca. 1210)
- Süßkind von Trimberg
- Walther von der Vogelweide
- Wolfram von Eschenbach
- Later Minnesang
- 13th century
- Reinmar von Brennenberg
- 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 (1177 – before 1245)
- Reinmar von Zweter (1200 – after 1247)
- Der Tannhäuser
- Ulrich von Liechtenstein (ca. 1200–1275)
- Walther von Klingen (1240–1286)
- Later Minnesang
- 14th century
Example of a Minnelied
|Middle High German||Modern German||English|
Dû bist mîn, ich bin dîn:
Du bist mein, ich bin dein:
You are mine, I am yours,
The standard collections are
- 12th and early 13th Century Minnesang (up to Reinmar von Hagenau):
- H. Moser, H. Tervooren, Des Minnesangs Frühling.
- Vol. I: Texts, 38th edn (Hirzel, 1988) ISBN 3-7776-0448-8
- Vol II: Editorial Principles, Melodies, Manuscripts, Notes, 36th edn (Hirzel, 1977) ISBN 3-7776-0331-7
- Vol III: Commentaries (Hirzel, 2000) ISBN 3-7776-0368-6
- H. Moser, H. Tervooren, Des Minnesangs Frühling.
- 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 transcribed and edited with textual and musical commentaries (University of Wales Press, 2 vols., 1968)
- Alwin Schultz, Das höfische Leben zur Zeit der Minnesinger (“Court life at the time of the Minnesinger,” 2 vols., 1889)
- Barbara Garvey Seagrave and Wesley Thomas, The Songs of the Minnesingers. Includes LP record that presents songs of many of the principal minnesingers, with instruments of the period accompanying the vocalists (University of Illinois Press, 1966)
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Minnesingers.|
- Media related to Minnesang at Wikimedia Commons
- 1857 edition of Karl Lachmann
- Adolph Ernst Kroeger The Minnesinger of Germany 1873
- "Minnesinger". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
- "Minnesinger". The New Student's Reference Work. 1914.
- "Minnesingers". Collier's New Encyclopedia. 1921.