German courtly love poetry, or Minnesang, emerged around 1170, produced both by GOLIARDIC singers who wandered from court to court looking for patrons of their art, and also by members of the highest aristocratic circles. The first signs of profound changes affecting Minnesang occurred around 1200 with the appearance of great poets such as WALTHER VON DER VOGELWEIDE and NEIDHART, who either challenged the traditional premises of the erotic ideals of their predecessors or satirized the social conditions. The poems of this “classical” period of Minnesang are contained in the famous edition of Des Minnesangs Frühling. Minnesang was mostly supported by members of the Hohenstaufen family, but the songs were not copied down until the early 14th century on behalf of the famous Zürich family Manesse. The earliest poets, such as DER VON KÜRENBERG, Meinloh von Sevelingen, Der Burggraf (Castellan) von Regensburg, Spervogel, and DIETMAR VON AIST, seem to have been influenced by autochthonous (indigenous) sources, but later poets, such as HEINRICH VON VELDEKE, FRIEDRICH VON HAUSEN, Rudolf von Fenis, Albrecht von Johansdorf, and HEINRICH VON MORUNGEN, reflect clear influences from Provençal TROUBADOUR and French TROUVÉRE poetry.Research has also detected influences from the Dutch and the Italian areas. Latin poetry, such as those collected in the CARMINA BURANA, seem to have exerted additional influence in the shaping of Minnesang. Most of these Minnelieder (love songs) commonly explore the problems of unrequited love and the subsequent love pains that will last forever (Ulrich von Gutenburg). This “negative” experience of love allows the singer to examine his own self and to question the true meaning of the erotic emotion. Modern scholarship has mostly identified the ultimate purpose of Minnesang as ritual or performance, that is, as a ludic form of courtly self-confirmation for the male members of chivalry. The beloved lady is never identified by name or social status, though she always appears to enjoy a higher rank than the singer. Minnesang knows many different types of genres, one of which was the Tagelied (“dawn song,” see alba). Here the lovers wake up early in the morning because a bird or a watchman has alerted them about the coming of daylight, and lament the fact that he has to depart from her (examples appear in Dietmar von Aist and Heinrich von Morungen). They join in lovemaking one more time and express their deep sorrow.
   In the so-called “crusade song,” perhaps best represented by Friedrich von Hausen, the poet formulates his grief over the dilemma between the love for his lady and the love for the Godhead who has called upon him to go on a crusade. Some poets utilize a female voice to create so-called women’s stanzas (REINMAR DER ALTE), which were often integrated in an intricate dialogue poem, or Wechsel (as in Albrecht von Johansdorf, Henry VI, Reinmar, Heinrich von Morungen). The creators of the famous Middle High German courtly romances, HARTMANN VON AUE, GOTTFRIED VON STRASSBURG, and WOLFRAM VON ESCHENBACH, also composed some Minnelieder (love songs).Women, however, seem to have been excluded from the creation of German courtly love poetry.
   ■ Gibbs, Marion E., and Sidney M. Johnson. Medieval German Literature: A Companion. New York: Garland, 1997.
   ■ Heinen, Hubert.“Minnesang (12th–13th c.),” In Medieval Germany: An Encyclopedia, edited by John M. Jeep, 525–532. New York: Garland, 2001.
   ■ Moser, Hugo, and Helmut Tervooren, eds. Des Minnesangs Frühling. 38th ed. Vol. 1, Texte. Stuttgart: Hirzel, 1988.
   ■ Sayce, Olive. The Medieval German Lyric, 11501300: The Development of Its Themes and Forms in Their European Context. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982.
   ■ Wesley, Thomas J., trans. Medieval German Lyric Verse in English Translation. UNC Studies in Germanic Languages and Literatures, 60. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968.
   Albrecht Classen

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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