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The Use Of Music In The Crusades

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“Ahi! Amours”

“Ahi! Amours” was written sometime between 1189 and 1192 by the French trouvère Conon de Béthune. His distant relation to the First French Emperor of Constantinople, Baudouin IX, allowed him to play an important role in the political and military affairs of the Empire after the Fourth Crusade, in which he served as a spokesperson and negotiator, though the chanson “Ahi, amours” indicates that he prepared for the Third Crusade as well. “Ahi, amours” also reveals how the Crusades were a perfect template for the two principal functions of rhetoric in medieval scholasticism, praise and blame, yet another reason why the Crusades were prevalent in the courtly poetry of the period. The chanson reiterates that all good men will go help “He who “died upon the Cross that the Turks possess”, whereas “those who are healthy and young and rich cannot remain behind without shame”. Thus, the Crusades were presented as an opportunity for knights and barons to exemplify and be praised for the heroic virtues of the courtly classes, whereas those who did not fight were blamed for being “shameful” and not possessing the values on which the feudal hierarchy was supposed to be based.

The London Early Music Consort’s recording of this chanson is sung by a tenor soloist, and has an upbeat tempo. Treble rebec, bass rebec, and lute, all bas instruments, provide a monophonic accompaniment, with light percussion provided by a tabor as well as plucked notes on the lute. Before each verse, two lines of the melody are played by the treble rebec, with light percussion on the downbeat of each measure. When the treble rebec drops out as the tenor soloist takes over the melody at the verse, the percussion becomes heavier, emphasizing the first and second beats of every measure rather than just the first. The bass rebec plays repeating bass line figures throughout, and the last verse is followed by two final lines of instrumental melody.

OLIPHANT’s recording is sung by a soprano soloist, who sings the melody with improvised flourishes. The transilvanian flute, dulcimer, fiddle, and fretless lute, all bas instruments, provide a monophonic accompaniment, with light percussion from a repeatedly plucked G. Each verse is preceded by an instrumental section; the first uses a simpler version of the soprano’s heavily ornamented melody with full instrumentation, but each subsequent section is improvised by a solo instrument. The tempo is a little slow but consistent throughout, and the piece ends abruptly with the conclusion of the last verse. While OLIPHANT’s interpretation is very different from that of the London Early Music Consort, neither is inherently more or less historically valid.

“Chanterai por mon corage”

“Chanterai por mon corage” was written sometime between 1202 and 1204 by Guiot de Dijon, a French trouvère who seemingly received the patronage of Erard II de Chassenay, a participant in the fifth crusade. It is possible he wrote this chanson for his patron’s daughter, whose husband was also a Crusader. This piece reveals how the Crusades also served as a new lens through which to herald ideas of courtly love, specifically the common conventions of reverence and idealization through “love from afar”. The chanson’s female protagonist longs for her lover, but he is unattainable for reasons not due to class differences or lack of interest, the usual barriers in courtly love poetry, but to physical distance, as he is fighting in the Crusades.

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The London Early Music Consort’s recording of this chanson is sung by a soprano soloist with a slow, steady tempo. The flute, lute, bass rebec, and harp, all bas instruments, provide a monophonic accompaniment. The bass rebcec plays long sustained chord tones throughout. Every verse is preceded by two lines of melody on the flute with occasional notes plucked on the lute. During the soprano verses, the flute drops out and the lute plucks the melody till the refrain, when the flute and harp are added to the melody for emphasis.

The recording by New Orleans Musica da Camera is sung by a soprano soloist and accompanied by two bas instruments, the harp and lute. It has a slow and slightly free tempo. The piece begins with a lightly plucked line of melody on the harp, but when the soprano begins singing it switches to plucking occasional chord tones. Between the second refrain and third verse, there is an instrumental interlude, during which the lute joins in with the melody and the tempo picks up considerably. At the start of the third verse, the lute drops out and the tempo slows back down, with additional rubato from the soprano to express musicality. While New Orleans Musica da Camera used a different variation of the tune and much lighter instrumentation than the London Early Music Consort, neither interpretation is inherently more or less historically valid.


Though the Crusades are often viewed as a period of upheaval and change, it is clear that at least in terms of musical and poetic composition, they were fairly rooted in the conventions of the previous era. From the idealization of feudalistic and aristocratic values in “Chevalier, mult estes guariz,” to the use of praise and blame rhetoric in “Ahi! Amours,” to the notions of courtly love from afar in “Chanterai por mon corage,” the Crusades were a perfect template for troubadours, trouveres, and minnesingers to use previously established poetic practices in a new context. Thus, in many ways the music of the Crusades can be used to highlight not just what changed during this period in history, but what remained the same, that is, a feudalistic society in which the upper classes were exalted and ‘loved from afar’ for their aristocratic virtues.

We may never know the exact way these pieces were performed. Early notation did not indicate specific rhythmic values, if any were intended, and while we know which instruments were used at the time of the Crusades, their parts were not notated, meaning instrumental accompaniment could have been improvised, used the same notated instructions as the singer, or, for some pieces, not been intended at all. However, though modern performances may vary in terms of instrumentation, rhythm, or even pitch, as multiple variations of chansons do exist, historically informed interpretations are all valid in that they help us discover what such performances might have sounded like at the time of the Crusades. By accessing these poetical and musical compositions, through both manuscripts and modern performances, we can continue to discover how the Crusades were not that different from previous eras, and perhaps even the ones leading up to now.

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The Use Of Music In The Crusades. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from
“The Use Of Music In The Crusades.” Edubirdie, 21 Feb. 2022,
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