THE TROUBADOURS, MINNESINGERS AND MASTERSINGERS
Although wandering minstrels or bards have existed since the world began, and although the poetry they have left is often suggestive, the music to which the words were sung is but little known.
About 700-800 A.D., when all Europe was in a state of dense ignorance and mental degradation, the Arabs were the embodiment of culture and science, and the Arab empire extended at that time over India, Persia, Arabia, Egypt (including Algeria and Barbary), Portugal, and the Spanish caliphates, Andalusia, Granada, etc. The descriptions of the splendour at the courts of the Eastern caliphs at Bagdad seem almost incredible.
For instance, the Caliph Mahdi is said to have expended six millions of dinars of gold in a single pilgrimage to Mecca. His grandson, Almamon, gave in alms, on one single occasion, two and a half millions of gold pieces, and the rooms in his palace at Bagdad were hung with thirty-eight thousand pieces of tapestry, over twelve thousand of which were of silk embroidered with gold. The floor carpets were more than twenty thousand in number, and the Greek ambassador was shown a hundred lions, each with his keeper, as a sign of the king’s royalty, as well as a wonderful tree of gold and silver, spreading into eighteen large, leafy branches, on which were many birds made of the same precious metals. By some mechanical means, the birds sang and the leaves trembled. Naturally such a court, particularly under the reign of Haroun-al Raschid (the Just), who succeeded Almamon, would attract the most celebrated of those Arabian minstrels, such as Zobeir, Ibrahim of Mossoul, and many others who figure in the “Arabian Nights,” real persons and celebrated singers of their times. We read of one of them, Serjab, who, by court jealousy and intrigues, was forced to leave Bagdad, and found his way to the Western caliphates, finally reaching Cordova in Spain, where the Caliph Abdalrahman’s court vied with that of Bagdad in luxury. Concerning this we read in Gibbon that in his palace of Zehra the audience hall was incrusted with gold and pearls, and that the caliph was attended by twelve thousand horsemen whose belts and scimiters were studded with gold.
We know that the Arabian influence on the European arts came to us by the way of Spain, and although we can see traces of it very plainly in the Spanish music of to-day, the interim of a thousand years has softened its characteristics very much. On the other hand, the much more pronounced Arabian characteristics of Hungarian music are better understood when we recall that the Saracens were at the gates of Budapesth as late as 1400. That the European troubadours should have adopted the Moorish el oud and called it “lute” is therefore but natural. And in all the earlier songs of the troubadours we shall find many traces of the same influence; for their albas or aubades (morning songs) came from the Arabic, as did their serenas or serenades (evening songs), planhs (complaints), and coblas (couplets). The troubadours themselves were so called from trobar, meaning to invent.