Thursday, December 11, 2008

Song Notation for Medieval Musicians

I was recently on a quest for a friend of mine. He wanted to learn how to play "Spielmannstanz", which is an old German Medieval standard. Pretty much every medieval band knows it, as they did back in the day. However, there doesn't appear to be many sources of sheet music to learn the song. So I started looking for music notation online. I found some interesting things on the way, and I'm listing them here in case anyone needs some good reference material for new songs.


First, I found the Codex Verus site. This has a PDF file of sheet music for damn near every medieval song I know. Well, with the exception of Spielmannstanz! Oh, well... It was the first trully wonderful find on my search, and though it didn't have what I was looking for, it had enough songs in it to be valuable to my musician friends and myself (even though I don't read notation that well!)


Then I bumped into Claudia Walla's Musik im Mittelalter page (meaning "Music in the medieval period"), which has a series of links to sheet music for many other songs. Sadly, Spielmannstanz is not among this page, either. But again, this page has so much other music on it, in notation form, that I had to bookmark it, and share it with friends.


Possibly the best find I made was http://www.spielleut.de", which like the other pages, contains sheet music for a lot of medieval standards in PDF form. Spielleut goes one step further with MP3 files of many of the songs on the page.

I never managed to find notation for Spielmannstanz. But then, it's no loss for me, since I still don't really read music, and already know the tune from listening. However, for those interested, Spielmannstanz is a 13th century song that is anonymous in origin. The name means "Minstrel's Dance". In the day, it was known to most musicians in Germany, and played everywhere. Musicians were expected to know it. It never really traveled far from Germany. In fact, the only bands that play it regularly or who have done new versions of it are all German. The tune has had an interesting evolution in the Medieval/folk/rock fusion genre. It was brought back to life from early manuscripts, by the group Corvus Corax. Another band, In Extremo, married the tune to the lyrics of Ludwig Uhland, a 19th century German Romantic poet (They named this version "Spielmannfluch").

Postscript -- After reading through the Codex Verus, I realized that the song on page 38, "Propinan de Melyor", was Spielmannstanz, just with a Spanish title. The fine print under the title mentioned that it was also known as "Spielmannsfluch (InEx) or Spielmannstanz (CC)." So I did manage to find the song, but it wasn't apparent until I read through the stuff I found on the first day. I quickly mailed the information to my friends, and hope they appreciate the effort!

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