Minstrel

Last updated

A minstrel was a medieval European entertainer. Originally describing any type of entertainer such as a musician, juggler, acrobat, singer or fool, the term later, from the sixteenth century, came to mean a specialist entertainer who sang songs and played musical instruments. [1]

Contents

Description

Minstrels performed songs which told stories of distant places or of existing or imaginary historical events. Although minstrels created their own tales, often they would memorize and embellish the works of others. [2] Frequently they were retained by royalty and high society. As the courts became more sophisticated, minstrels were eventually replaced at court by the troubadours, and many became wandering minstrels, performing in the streets; a decline in their popularity began in the late 15th century. Minstrels fed into later traditions of travelling entertainers, which continued to be moderately strong into the early 20th century, and which has some continuity in the form of today's buskers or street musicians.

Initially, minstrels were simply treats at court, and entertained the lord and courtiers with chansons de geste or their local equivalent. The term minstrel derives from Old French ménestrel (also menesterel, menestral), which is a derivative from Italian ministrello (later menestrello), from Middle Latin ministralis "retainer", an adjective form of Latin minister, "attendant" from minus, "lesser".

In Anglo-Saxon England before the Norman Conquest, the professional poet was known as a scop ("shaper" or "maker"), who composed his own poems, and sang them to the accompaniment of a harp. In a rank much beneath the scop were the gleemen , who had no settled abode, but roamed about from place to place, earning what they could from their performances. Late in the 13th century, the term minstrel began to be used to designate a performer who amused his lord with music and song. Following a series of invasions, wars, conquests, etc., two categories of composers developed. Poets like Chaucer and John Gower appeared in one category, wherein music was not a part. Minstrels, on the other hand, gathered at feasts and festivals in great numbers with harps, fiddles, bagpipes, flutes, flageolets, citterns, and kettledrums. Additionally, minstrels were known for their involvement in political commentary and engaged in propaganda. They often reported news with bias to sway opinion and revised works to encourage action in favor of equality. [3]

The music of the troubadours and trouvères was performed by minstrels called joglars (Occitan) or jongleurs (French). As early as 1321, the minstrels of Paris were formed into a guild. A guild of royal minstrels was organized in England in 1469. Minstrels were required to either join the guild or abstain from practicing their craft. Some minstrels were retained by lords as jesters who, in some cases, also practiced the art of juggling. Some were women, or women who followed minstrels in their travels. Minstrels throughout Europe also employed trained animals, such as bears. Minstrels in Europe died out slowly, having gone nearly extinct by about 1700, although isolated individuals working in the tradition existed even into the early 19th century.

In literature

Minstrelsy became a central concern in English literature in the Romantic period and has remained so intermittently. [4]

In poetry, The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805) by Sir Walter Scott, Lalla Rookh (1817) by Thomas Moore, and The Village Minstrel (1821) by John Clare were three of many. Novels centring on minstrelsy have included Helen Craik's Henry of Northumberland (1800), Sydney Owenson's The Novice of St. Dominick's (a girl using a minstrel disguise, 1805), Christabel Rose Coleridge's Minstrel Dick (a choirboy turned minstrel becomes a courtier, 1891), Rhoda Power's Redcap Runs Away (a boy of ten joins wandering minstrels, 1952), and A. J. Cronin's The Minstrel Boy (priesthood to minstrelsy and back, 1975).

See also

Related Research Articles

Troubadour Composer and performer of lyric poetry during the High Middle Ages

A troubadour was a composer and performer of Old Occitan lyric poetry during the High Middle Ages (1100–1350). Since the word troubadour is etymologically masculine, a female troubadour is usually called a trobairitz.

Courtly love medieval European literary conception of love

Courtly love was a medieval European literary conception of love that emphasized nobility and chivalry. Medieval literature is filled with examples of knights setting out on adventures and performing various deeds or services for ladies because of their "courtly love". This kind of love is originally a literary fiction created for the entertainment of the nobility, but as time passed, these ideas about love changed and attracted a larger audience. In the high Middle Ages, a "game of love" developed around these ideas as a set of social practices. "Loving nobly" was considered to be an enriching and improving practice.

Jester historical entertainer

A jester, court jester, or fool, was historically an entertainer during the medieval and Renaissance eras who was a member of the household of a nobleman or a monarch employed to entertain him and his guests. A jester was also an itinerant performer who entertained common folk at fairs and markets. Jesters are also modern-day entertainers who resemble their historical counterparts.

Bard professional poet in medieval Gaelic and British culture

In medieval Gaelic and British culture, a bard was a professional story teller, verse-maker, music composer, oral historian and genealogist, employed by a patron, to commemorate one or more of the patron's ancestors and to praise the patron's own activities.

Minstrel show Blackface performance

The minstrel show, or minstrelsy, was an American form of entertainment developed in the early 19th century. Each show consisted of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music performances that mocked people specifically of African descent. The shows were performed by white people in make-up or blackface for the purpose of playing the role of black people. There were also some African-American performers and all-black minstrel groups that formed and toured under the direction of white people. Minstrel shows lampooned black people as dim-witted, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, and happy-go-lucky.

A scop was a poet as represented in Old English poetry. The scop is the Old English counterpart of the Old Norse skald, with the important difference that "skald" was applied to historical persons, and scop is used, for the most part, to designate oral poets within Old English literature. Very little is known about the mythical scop, and its historical existence is questioned by some scholars.

Blind musicians singers or instrumentalists, who are legally blind

Blind musicians are singers or instrumentalists, or in some cases singer-accompanists, who are legally blind.

Skomorokh

A skomorokh was a medieval East Slavic harlequin, or actor, who could also sing, dance, play musical instruments and compose for oral/musical and dramatic performances. The etymology of the word is not completely clear. There are hypotheses that the word is derived from the Greek σκώμμαρχος ; from the Italian scaramuccia ; from the Arabic masẋara; and many others.

Billy Kersands American comedian and dancer

Billy Kersands was an African-American comedian and dancer. He was the most popular black comedian of his day, best known for his work in blackface minstrelsy. In addition to his skillful acrobatics, dancing, singing, and instrument playing, Kersands was renowned for his comic routines involving his large mouth, which he could contort comically or fill with objects such as billiard balls or saucers. His stage persona was that of the dim-witted black man of the type that had been popularized in white minstrel shows. Modern commentators such as Mel Watkins cite him as one of the earliest black entertainers to have faced the dilemma of striking a balance between social satire and the reinforcement of negative stereotypes.

Primrose and West American song-and-dance team

Primrose and West was an American blackface song-and-dance team made up of partners George Primrose and William H. "Billy" West. They later went into the business of minstrel troupe ownership with a refined, high-class approach that signaled the final stage in the development of minstrelsy as a distinct form of entertainment.

Bryant's Minstrels was a blackface minstrel troupe that performed in the mid-19th century, primarily in New York City. The troupe was led by the O'Neill brothers from upstate New York, who took the stage name Bryant.

<i>The Lay of the Last Minstrel</i> poem by Walter Scott

"The Lay of the Last Minstrel" (1805) is a long narrative poem by Walter Scott.

"Miss Lucy Long", also known as "Lucy Long" as well as by other variants, is an American song that was popularized in the blackface minstrel show.

A "songster" is a wandering musician, usually but not always African-American, of the type which first appeared in the late 19th century in the southern United States.

<i>Gusans</i>

Gusans were creative and performing artists - singers, instrumentalists, dancers, storytellers, and professional folk actors in public theaters of Parthia and ancient and medieval Armenia.

Oral storytelling tradition between the storyteller and their audience

Oral storytelling is an ancient and intimate tradition between the storyteller and their audience. The storyteller and the listeners are physically close, often seated together in a circular fashion. Through the telling of the story people become psychically close, developing a connection to one another through the communal experience. The storyteller reveals, and thus shares, him/her self through his/her telling and the listeners reveal and share themselves through their reception of the story. The intimacy and connection is deepened by the flexibility of oral storytelling which allows the tale to be moulded according to the needs of the audience and/or the location or environment of the telling. Listeners also experience the urgency of a creative process taking place in their presence and they experience the empowerment of being a part of that creative process. Storytelling creates a personal bond with the teller and the audience.

An itinerant poet or strolling minstrel was a wandering minstrel, bard, musician, or other poet common in medieval Europe but extinct today. From a lower class than jesters or jongleurs because he did not have steady work, he instead roamed about to make his living.

Walter Halliday was a long-serving royal minstrel in England in the 15th century. He was a founder member of a minstrels' guild which was the forerunner of the present Worshipful Company of Musicians. He is believed to be the founding father of the Halliday family of Gloucestershire, and an ancestor of some of the Halliday/ Holladay/ Holliday/ Hollyday families in the United States.

Journey to Jerusalem - 900 Years of Crusade (1095–1995) is album by Ensemble Renaissance, released in 1995 on the Al Segno label in Germany. It is Renaissance's 12th album. Theme of the album is music of the Crusades, a central event of the medieval history. Heroic feats in the Holy Land, laments over one's master's death, longing for the beloved in the homeland – became favourite subjects of medieval lyrical, poetry. Some of the famous master-poets themselves touched the soil of the Holy City of Jerusalem. In this recording the Ensemble Renaissance follows in their footsteps. This representative selection of the most famous pieces of medieval poetry and music from the age of the Crusaders and their journeys to Jerusalem, is at the same time a story of how the crusaders sang, what their topics were, what their joys were, whom they lamented, or dreamed, to what music they danced.

Music in Medieval England

Music in Medieval England, from the end of Roman rule in the fifth century until the Reformation in the sixteenth century, was a diverse and rich culture, including sacred and secular music and ranging from the popular to the elite.

References

  1. Southworth, John (1989). The English Medieval Minstrel. Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press. pp. 3–4. ISBN   0 85115 536 7.
  2. A history of English literature: in a series of biographical sketches, By William Francis Collier
  3. Bahn, Eugene; Bahn, Margaret (1970). History of Oral Interpretation. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing Company. p. 72.
  4. See, for example, Maureen N. McLane: Balladeering, Minstrelsy, and the Making of British Romantic Poetry (Cambridge, UK: CUP, 2011).