1. General data
2. The language
3. The authors
5. The manuscripts
1. General data
Medieval Galician-Portuguese Cantigas (songs) remain as one of the richest parts of Iberian Peninsula's Middle Ages heritage. Written in a time range of about 150 years, generically from the end of the twelfth century to mid-fourteenth century, medieval Cantigas may be historically situated at the dawn of Iberian nationalities, being largely contemporary of the so-called Christian Reconquista, an event which they refer frequently. In the context of the peninsular political geography of the period, marked by the existence of multiple political entities, often fighting themselves over volatile frontiers, the geographical and cultural space in which the Galician-Portuguese troubadour's art took place (i.e., in Galician-Portuguese language, more precisely) corresponds broadly to the kingdoms of León and Galicia, the kingdom of Portugal and the kingdom of Castile (unified with León after 1230).
The origins of Galician-Portuguese troubadour's art are undoubtedly related with the art of Provençal troubadours, the artistic movement born in southern France in the early twelfth century which rapidly expanded throughout christian Europe. Composing and singing in the spoken language (the Occitan), and no longer in Latin, Provençal troubadours, through the art of the canso and of the related fin’'amor, have defined artistic and cultural patterns that would become dominant in the European courts and aristocratic houses during the centuries that followed. While Galician-Portuguese troubadour's art has undoubtedly followed a broader European movement of adoption of the Occitan model, it also held, however, characteristics of their own, that remarkably distinguished it from its Provençal rule-models, as we describe below. The creation of an original genre, Cantiga de Amigo (women songs), is a major example of this specificity.
Altogether, about 1680 profane or court cantigas have reached our days, retrieved from three major songbooks (Cancioneiro da Ajuda, Cancioneiro da Biblioteca Nacional and Cancioneiro of Vatican Library) written by 187 troubadours and minstrels. Still from the same period of time we have Cantigas de Santa Maria, a wide range of 420 religious songs in praise of the Virgin and describing her miracles, eventually written by Afonso X. Altough these songs and the profane ones share the language and eventually common production spaces, Cantigas de Santa Maria belong to a clearly distinctive cultural tradition, and therefore they were not included in our database.
2. The language
Galician-Portuguese was the spoken language in the western strip of the Iberian Peninsula until mid-fourteenth century. Derived from Latin, it emerged progressively as a distinct language prior to the ninth century, in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. In this sense, we can say that the word Galician-Portuguese designates not only a language, but also a phase in its development, which later would lead to the differentiation between present Galician and Portuguese languages. In the period from the ninth until the fourteenth centuries, however, the spoken language in the northern and southern borders of river Minho was more or less the same, with a few local differences. Even the political frontier drawn since the mid-twelfth century, which led to the formation of the independent kingdom of Portugal in the South, didn't seem to affect this linguistic and cultural unity, which goes back to the ancient Roman-Gothic Galaecia. Accordingly, we may understand the extension of the new kingdom of Portugal until the extreme southwest of the Peninsula (which was part of the christian Reconquista and lasted until 1250) as a natural enlargement of this linguistic and cultural space. Thereby, quoting Carolina Michaëlis de Vasconcelos on the broader meaning of the expression Galician-Portuguese, "such an extension of meaning is justified by the uniformity of language, from the extreme North of Galicia to the South of Algarve, with a few provincial variants, within a common type; and by a notorious similarity of ways of living, feeling, thinking and composing poetry - uniformity and similarity that favors the primitive affinity of Lusitanians and Galicians" [Vasconcelos: 1904, II, 780].
Indeed, we can say that, together with the independence of the kingdom of Portugal, it was the slow and progressive displacement of the political center of Christian Hispania from Galician-Leonese Northwest to Castile (namely after the conquer of Toledo in 1085 and Seville in 1248) that gradually led to the fracture of this unity, by reinforcing the development of the two languages belonging to the two autonomous political entities, the Portuguese and the Castilian. Therefore, since the mid-fourteenth century, Galician-Portuguese ceases to be an operational denomination: in fact, while Galicia enters a cultural period usually known as "the dark centuries", marked by the accelerated assimilation of Castilian language and culture by its elites and the lack of a cultural production in its original language, the Portuguese assumes its own cultural and linguistic identity, ever since sharing with the Castilian (and with the Catalan, until a certain time) the Iberian cultural space.
Hence, the period between tenth and fourteenth centuries is the time par excellence of the Galician-Portuguese. However, it is only after the late twelfth century that the spoken Galician-Portuguese arises and develops as the main literary language, in a process which extends until around 1350 and which reaches its most remarkable expression in the poetry of a wide range of Galician, Portuguese, but also Castilian and Leonese troubadours and minstrels, although it also included an expression in prose.
So, it should be noted that when we speak of Galician-Portuguese medieval poetry we speak in terms of the language rather than in spatial terms; in other words, it is poetry that was composed in Galician-Portuguese by a range of Iberian authors, in a geographic space that does not coincide with the more limited area where the language was spoken.
3. The authors
Galician-Portuguese songs are the work of a relatively wide and diversified range of authors, who find in the royal courts of Léon, Castile and Portugal, and eventually in the courts of some great lords, the interest and support to their art. It is not, however, a merely external patronage: indeed, in an unparalleled way in the following centuries, Iberian great medieval lords did not just protect and encourage troubadours art, they have become sometimes its most important or even most brilliant producers. As it is well known, two kings, Alfonso X and his grandson D. Dinis, were among the greatest peninsular poets in Galician-Portuguese language, in a remarkable range of authors which includes a substancial part of the nobility of the time, from simple knights to great lords. Together with these nobles, specifically designated as troubadours, for whom the art of "trobar" was understood as a disinterested activity, at least in terms of its great principles, we find a no less remarkable range of minstrels, authors coming from lower social classes, who went far beyond their socially assigned role of musicians or music players and composed Cantigas as well, and for whom the art of "trobar" was an opportunity to obtain not just the recognition of their talent but also a material profit.
While we know the path of several troubadours, even by their public status, there are many others whose biographical information is scarce or non-existent, which logically also applies to most of the minstrels. In the database the reader will find, however, a short biography of each author, including the data that research was able to gather until now. If new data from this research, currently very active, is availiable, it will be included in the DB.
The "Art of Trobar" (the "art of making songs") underlying the Galician-Portuguese profane songs is the subject of a short anonymous treatise transcribed on the initial pages of Cancioneiro da Biblioteca Nacional.
Although lacking its initial chapters, this "Arte de Trovar", a sort of practical guide rather than a theoretical text, provides us with a generic picture of the rules of this art, namelly of the major genres developed by the troubadours and minstrels in their songs.
Thus, the main genres of profane Galician-Portuguese poetry are: the cantiga de amor (love song, in masculine voice), the cantiga de amigo (in feminine voice) and the cantiga de escárnio e maldizer (a satirical song, with or without equivocatium, equivocal turn, respectively). Together with these three principal genres, troubadours and minstrels developed, although sporadically, several other, like the tenção (a dispute between two authors), the pranto (mourning someone's death), the lai(Matter of Britain composition) or the pastorela (a small narrative of an encounter between the troubadour and a shepherdess).
Galician-Portuguese cantiga de amor has an aristocratic accent and clearly follows the universe of Provençal fin’'amor (especially that of its late period), in a model which resumes an "art of loving" that redefines, into new cultural and social patterns, relationships between man and woman or, using the words that the troubadours repeat ad nauseam, between the servant poet and his senhor, his noble lady (the so-called "courtly love", an inaccurate expression that became traditional). Thus, the Cantiga de Amor presents us, in a rhetorically rich style, an essentially sentimental masculine voice singing the beauty and virtues of an unachievable and immaterial lady, and also the correlative coita (suffering) of the poet before her indifference or his inability to declare his love. Albeit decisively influenced by Provençal canso, as we said, Galician-Portuguese cantiga de amor assumes some distinctive properties, as the facts of being shorter and including (in most cases) a refrain (the provençal canso beeing always de mestria, without refrain).
In a much more popular or bourgeois tone, cantiga de amigo is an autochthonous genre, whose origins seem to date back to a wide archaic tradition of women's songs, a tradition the Galician-Portuguese troubadours and minstrels might have followed, although adjusting it to their courteous and palatial context. Therefore, the feminine voice that the troubadours and minstrels represent refers to a universe almost always defined by the eroticized female body, who's no longer the senhor (a noble lady), but instead the young woman in love, singing, sometimes in an open, natural scenery, the moment of her erotic initiation to love. That way the velida (beautiful), the bem-talhada (with a well-shaped body) exteriorizes and materializes in several ways (all framed by a context of everyday and popular living) her loving feelings: the joy for the near arrival of her friend, the sadness or longing for his departure, the anger for her deceits. Composed and sometimes sung by a man (although there may have been feminine voices singing them), cantigas de amigo stage a broad feminine universe, which includes, as her counterparts, her mother, her sisters or her girlfriends. Formally, cantigas de amigo frequently use an archaic technique of strophic construction known as "paralelismo", consisting in the presentation of one single idea in alternate verses, with a few verbal variations at the verses finale. 88% of the preserved cantigas de amigo have refrain.
The third major genre developed by the troubadours and minstrels is the satirical one, the cantigas de escárnio e maldizer, which represent more than a quarter of all the preserved songs. In the aforementioned short treaty about the art of trobar, its anonymous author defines them generically as the songs written whenever troubadours wanted to speak bad about someone("dizer mal", criticize or attack), but establishes a mode-related difference: thus, while in the cantigas de maldizer criticism would have been straight and ostensible, in the cantigas de escárnio it would have assumed a more subtle character, "por palavras cobertas que hajam dous entendimentos", which means "covered words allowing a double understanding", the "misunderstanding", or equivocatium, in the words of this anonymous author. Although these two variants can be detected in the preserved songs, we may consider their distinction as a more theoretical than a practical one: in fact, troubadours often use the generic designation "cantigas de escárnio e maldizer" to name this genre, which clearly distinguishes itself from the other two and which we may classify simply as satirical. It is however, in the vast majority of cases, a personalized satire, driven towards a specific personage, whose name is normally referred in the first verses of the composition. It should be added that, albeit Arte de Trovar does not refer it explicitly, laughter is a fundamental element of this troubadour's art of "speaking bad" (the art of well "speaking bad"). Thematically, cantigas de escárnio e maldizer cover a wide spectrum of topics, characters and events, in areas ranging from sexual or moral everyday behavior, to political behavor, and many of these songs must be understood as weapons in the disputes between various interests and social groups. Formally, satirical songs tend to be of "mestria", although almost a third of them (31%) includes a refrain.
5. The manuscripts
At its core, we know the Galician-Portuguese profane songs troughout three major manuscripts. The oldest one, Cancioneiro da Ajuda (A), may be dated at the early fourteenth century and it is the only one contemporary of the last generation of troubadours. It is a rich enlightened manuscript, but also the most uncomplete, since it contains only 310 compositions, of which the overwhelming majority belong to a single genre, cantiga de amor. Discovered at the early nineteenth century, in the Library of Colégio dos Nobres, it is stored today at Ajuda's National Library and we know little about its origins or course. It is anyway a clearly unfinished manuscript, which is visible through many of its miniatures, which present uncomplete painting or merely drawn figures (the same applies to the initials). The two other manuscripts, namely Cancioneiro da Biblioteca Nacional (B, also known as Cancioneiro Colocci-Brancuti, the most complete, stored at Portugal National Library in Lisbon) and Cancioneiro da Vaticana (V, stored at the Vatican Apostolic Library), are copies made in Italy in the first decades of sixteenth century, under the orders of Angelo Colocci, a well known humanist, after a former medieval songbook now disappeared. One of those copies requested by Colocci (B) would have been destined for his own use (as the numerous annotations he writes on the margins seem to reveal), while the other one would have been destined for offer. Apart from these three big collections, several volant parchments with compositions, two of them important and including musical notation, reached the present day: Vindel Parchment and Sharrer Parchment, which we will address later.
Furthermore, the issues concerning the manuscript's tradition of Galician-Portuguese songs are not easy to address and continue to rise questions and new research. As far as we know, it was D. Pedro, count of Barcelos, troubadour and illegitimate firstborn child of king D. Dinis, who compiled the songs we have in the present day (through the Italian apographs). He was probably their last compiler, if we accept that the first compilation could had been produced in the court of Alfonso X, as Giuseppe Tavani believes [Tavani: 1986, 65-66]. Either way, the merit of Angelo Colocci's work in the sixteenth century must be emphasized, a work without which our vision of Galician-Portuguese lyric would be restricted to Cancioneiro da Ajuda, with only about 310 love songs, instead of the 1680 we have today, covering multiple genres.
Cantiga or song implies that the poetic text was sung. The way the text was publically presented, presupposing a melodic speech and an audience had consequences both in the poem's composition and in its reception. Musical mediation forces the text to be unveiled and savored little by little, holding this and that surprise, suggesting this and that association; and at the same time charges it with rhetorical signs and affective tones, which prepare, frame and condition the listener's reaction. Hence the effectiveness of the troubadour's performance depended both on the success of the marriage between poetry and music, and on an educated, social differentiated response.
As a whole, the song and its propagation depended, above all, on the memory and good ear of the authors, but also of the minstrels who served and imitated them through invention. The arrival from France and the enthronement of D. Afonso III is likely to have spread the idea that, in song's collections, music, such as text, might be written using the latest notation techniques possible, allowing its visualization and easy reproduction. It was within this spirit that the songs from Martin Codax were copied to the Vindel parchment (a volant sheet or central double folio of a notebook, found in 1913 by Pedro Vindel, the bookseller from Madrid who subsequently sold it) and those from Dom Dinis into the lost songbook, from which only a fragment remained, the Sharrer parchment (named after the scholar Harvey Sharrer, who discovered at Torre do Tombo, in Lisbon, in 1990). The same must have happened to hundreds of sons; Cancioneiro da Ajuda was prepared to receive musical scores, but it remained incomplete, and no other medieval sources were found to this day.
The rediscovery of Galician-Portuguese traditional lyric in the 19th century was based, as said before, in the Italian copies from the beginning of the 16th century (Cancioneiros of Biblioteca Nacional and of Vatican Apostolic Library), which didn't reproduce the presumably preexisting music. The dimension of the loss would only become clear in 1915, with the edition of photos from the Sharrer parchment. Thereafter, the growing nationalism in Portugal, at first in the republican period, and later during Estado Novo, led to a revaluation of the earlier literary heritage, usually presented by mixing medieval troubadours with 15th century authors collected from Cancioneiro de Resende and even with the lyrical work of Camões. This interest led several Portuguese composers (Tomás Borba, Ruy Coelho, Frederico de Freitas, Cláudio Carneyro, Croner de Vasconcelos, Filipe Pires, Victor Macedo Pinto...) to propose brand new musical versions of Galician-Portuguese medieval texts, both as a way of disclosure, as attempt to create a national tradition of "lied", or as an exercise of sound differentiation of a heritage.
After the 1950s, the decline of nationalist values in Portugal paved the way to the arising of individual sound poetics, in dialogue with the medieval authors (Lopes-Graça or, more recently, Eurico Carrapatoso, among others), while the editions of Rodrigues Lapa and the textual upgrades of Natália Correia made room for the composition in more popular musical idioms (such as those performed by Amália, Zeca Afonso and José Mário Branco). Meanwhile, the development of a musicology applied to the earliest sources, and the gradual emergence of a movement of medieval music interpretation with ancient instruments, have given rise to proposals of profane songs musical reconstruction, through reusing medieval melodies from other sources (contrafacta), as well as to multiple recordings aiming to recreate a medieval troubadour's sound environment, after the original melodies, contrafacta or "medieval style" recreations. Together with these developments, modern Galician nationalism, in its turn, devoted itself to the lyrical tradition of the 13th century, producing after it multiple musical expressions, of a more historicist, more scholar or more popular character (Amancio Prada, Uxía, Xurxo Romani). This composite panorama is from now on reflected in the richness and variety of the musical contents here collected and released, which is open to updates.