Performing Trobar: The Troubadours Art Ensemble

Through a seminar, workshops, and a concert at Memorial Church, the Performing Trobar project seeks to cultivate the experience of troubadour lyric as live performance. During the brief period from 1100 to 1300, a tradition of poetry took hold in southern France that combined passion and restraint, desire and song, and that still remains part of our cultural heritage. Today, scholars consider this episode the beginning of the Western tradition of secular love poetry. At its height, this art form of an essentially musical nature developed into a tradition in which the representation of love and erotic desire was bound up with the invention of original melodies using a storehouse of common themes and variations in metrical structures. A dominating element of this poetry was performance: the poet-lover, as a ‘finder’ of a song (trobar means to find, to invent), had to prove him or herself worthy as a lover not only as composer of an original song, but as a performer of that song before a live audience. In exposing students and the Stanford community to the rich aural and verbal texture of the medieval world, we can move closer to the original performative environment that constitutes the very nature of this poetic tradition.

The Troubadours Art Ensemble, directed by scholar and performer of trobar Gérard Zuchetto, visited Stanford on March 3-5, 2010. As both performers and interlocutors about performing, the Troubadours Art Ensemble provided a vital experience of medieval culture as an event: the fusion of music and song, and of performer-poet-composer and audience. An ensemble composed of professional musicians trained in various schools of premodern music, both western and nonwestern, during their visit they engaged with students and faculty about the interpretive choices they make in reinterpreting and reinventing trobar for a popular audience. In addition to their visit with the seminar and an interdisciplinary workshop at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) that focused on musical performance and interpretation, there was also a scholarly colloquium on the troubadour lyric. This colloquium explored the historical context and afterlife of this lyric. This range of events—from popular adaptations of troubadour lyric to papers by musicologists, literary critics and poets—foregrounds the issues in the title of this project, performing trobar: what are the different kinds of interpretation involved in bringing this medieval tradition to the modern world? What kinds of choices are musicians and poets making to maintain this poetry within a vernacular poetics before contemporary audiences? One of the things that distinguishes the ensemble is that they carry the burden of adapting this music to keep it alive in the places of its origin and around the world, year in and year out. Throughout their visit, we considered the ensemble’s creative approach to ensuring an afterlife for this music next to scholarly interpretations and historical reconstructions. Finally, as part of a course requirement, students made creative projects in addition to writing analytical papers. These projects were based on the study of troubadour lyric and informed by the visit of the ensemble, and are archived on trobar.stanford.edu (for a sampling, see “Course”) along with other multimedia material documenting the ensemble’s performance. The visit of the Troubadours Art Ensemble and curriculum development project was co-sponsored by the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts; Trob'art Productions; Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages; Department of French and Italian; Department of Music; Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies; France-Stanford Center for Interdisciplinary Studies; and The Stanford Humanities Center.