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Minnesang was the tradition of lyric and song writing in Germany which flourished in the 12th century and continued into the 14th century. People who wrote and performed Minnesang are known as Minnesingers (Minnesänger). The name derives from the word minne, Middle High German for love which was their main subject, and an individual song was a minneliet. The Minnesänger were similar to the French troubadours; they wrote love poetry in the courtly love tradition in Middle High German in the high middle ages.


Social Status

In the absence of reliable biographical information, there has been debate about the social status of the Minnesanger. Some clearly belonged to the higher nobility - the 14th century Codex Manesse includes songs by dukes, counts, kings, and the Emperor Henry VI. Some Minnesänger, as indicated by the title Meister ("master"), were clearly educated commoners, such as Meister Konrad von Würzburg. It is thought that many were ministeriales, that is, members of a class of lower nobility, vassals of the great lords. Broadly speaking, the Minnesänger were writing and performing for their own social class at court, and should be thought of as courtiers rather than "professional" hired musicians. Friedrich von Husen, for example, was part of the entourage of Friedrich Barbarossa, and died on crusade. As a reward for his service, Walther von der Vogelweide was given a fief by the Emperor Frederick II.

Several of the best known Minnesingers are also noted for their epic poetry, among them Henric van Veldeke, Wolfram von Eschenbach and Hartmann von Aue.


The earliest texts date from perhaps 1150, and the earliest named Minnesänger are Der von Kürenberg and Dietmar von Aist, clearly writing in a native German tradition in the 3rd quarter of the 12th century. This is refereed to as the Danubian tradition.

From around 1170 , German lyric poets came under the influence of the Provençal troubadours and the Northern French trouvères. This is most obvious in the adoption of the strophic form of the canzone, at its most basic a seven-line stophe with the rhyme scheme ab|ab|cxc, and a musical AAB structure, but capable of many variations.

A number of songs from this period match trouvère originals exactly in form, indicating that the German text could have been sung to an originally French tune, which is especially likely where there are significant commonalities of content. Such songs are termed contractures. For example, Friedrich von Hausen's "Ich denke underwilen" is regarded as a contracture of Guiot de Provins's "Ma joie premeraine".

By around 1190, the German poets began to break free of Franco-Provençal influence. This period is regarded as the period of Classical Minnesang with Albrecht von Johansdorf, Heinrich von Morungen, Reinmar von Hagenau developing new themes and forms, reaching its culmination in Walther von der Vogelweide, regarded both in the Middle Ages and in the present day as the greatest of the Minnesänger.

The later Minnesang, from around 1230 is marked by a partial turning away from the refined ethos of classical minnesang and by increasingly elaborate formal developments. The most notable of these later Minnesänger, Neidhart von Reuental introduces characters from lower social classes and often aims for humourous effects.


Only a small number of Minnelied melodies have survived to the present day, mainly in manuscripts dating from the 15th century or later, which may present the songs in a form other than the original one. Additionally, it is often rather difficult to interpret the musical notation used to write them down. Although the contour of the melody can usually be made out, the rhythm of the song is frequently hard to fathom.

There are a number of recordings of Minnesang using the original melodies, as well as Rock groups such as Ougenweide performing songs with modern instruments.

Later developments

In the 15th century Minnesang developed into and gave way to the tradition of the Meistersingers. The two traditions are quite different, however (Minnesingers were mainly aristocrats, while Meistersingers were merchants, for example).

At least two operas have been written about the Minnesang tradition: Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser and Richard Strauss' Guntram.

Notable Minnesänger

Danubian Lyric

Dietmar von Aist
Der Kürenberger
Meinloh von Sevelingen

Early Courtly Lyric

Friedrich von Hausen
Kaiser Heinrich VI
Heinrich von Veldeke or Henric van Veldeke

Classical Minnesang

Albrecht von Johansdorf
Gottfried von Strassburg
Hartmann von Aue (1170-)
Heinrich von Morungen
Reinmar von Hagenau (- ca. 1210)
Walter von der Vogelweide
Wolfram von Eschenbach

Later Minnesang: 13th Century

der Regenboge
Friedrich von Sonnenburg
Gottfried von Neifen
Heinrich von Meissen (Frauenlob) (1250/1260-1318)
Hugo von Montfort
Konrad von Würzburg (1220/1230-1287)
Neidhart von Reuental (1st half of the 13th century)
Otto von Botenlauben
Reinmar von Zweter (1200-after 1247)
Der Tannhäuser
Ulrich von Liechtenstein (ca. 1200-1275)
Walther von Klingen (1240-1286)

Later Minnesang: 14th Century

Johannes Hadlaub (End of 13th century - 1340)
Oswald von Wolkenstein

Famous Minnelied

The following love poem, of unknown authorship, is found in a latin codex of the 12th century from the Tegernsee monastery.

Middle High German original

Dû bist mîn ich bin dîn.
des solt dû gewis sîn.
dû bist beslozzen
in mînem herzen.
verlorn ist das sluzzelîn.
dû muost immêr darinne sîn!

Modern German

Du bist mein! Ich bin dein.
Dessen sollst Du gewiss sein.
Du bist fest
In meinem Herzen.
Verloren ist das Schlüsselein.
Musst wohl für immer drinnen sein!


You are mine, I am yours
Of that you may be sure
Deep within my heart
You're safely locked away
But I have lost the key
And there you'll ever stay

External links


The standard collections are

  • 12th and early 13th Century Minnesang (up to Reinmar von Hagenau):
    • H.Moser, H.Tervooren, Des Minnesangs Frühling.
      • Vol. I: Texts, 38th edn (Hirzel, 1988) ISBN 3777604488
      • Vol II: Editorial Principles, Melodies, Manuscripts, Notes, 36th edn (Hirzel, 1977) ISBN 3777603317
      • Vol III: Commentaries (Hirzel, 2000) ISBN 3777603686
  • 13th Century Minnesang after Walther von der Vogelweide:
    • Carl v. Kraus, G.Kornrumpf, Deutsche Liederdichter des 13. Jahrhunderts (Niemeyer 1978) ISBN 3484102845.
  • 14th and 15th centuries:
    • Thomas Cramer, Die kleineren Liederdichter des 14. und 15. Jhs., 4 Vols (Fink 1979-1985)

There are separate editions of Walther's works, and of a number of the most prolific Minnesänger. There are many published selections with Modern German translation.


  • Olive Sayce, The medieval German lyric, 1150-1300: the development of its themes and forms in their European context (Oxford University Press 1982) ISBN 019815772X
  • Ronald J. Taylor, The Art of the Minnesinger. Songs of the thirteenth century transribed and edited with textual and musical commentaries, 2 vols (University of Wales Press, 1968)

See also

Medieval rock

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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