Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Titurel: Hurdy-gurdy; an episode

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About the scene and clip:
The performer demonstrates the hurdy-gurdy; he then sings, from Wolfram von Eschenbach’s fragmentary work Titurel, the episode where the hero Schionatulander tries to catch his beloved Sigune’s hunting dog, which has run away in the forest, with its jeweled collar and leash. The performer uses a melody originally transmitted with one of the manuscripts of the work.

About the work:
In Titurel, a work that exists only in two fragments, Wolfram tells episodes of the story of Sigune, the great grand-daughter of Titurel, the elderly Lord of the Grail, and her love for Schionatulander. (Wolfram had developed this story and many of the characters in more detail in his Parzival. A later poet called Albrecht completed the work at great length in his Jüngerer Titurel). Titurel is composed in 4-line strophes of rhymed couplets, with long lines of variable length and stress. A melody is transmitted with one manuscript of this work, which is quite unusual.

About the genre:
This work partakes of both epic and romance, often being termed a “courtly epic,” but drawing heavily on traditions of Arthurian romance.

Medieval romances are typically long narratives of love and adventure in which an aristocratic hero (or occasionally a heroine) proves himself in combat and courtship. Medieval romance arose in France and Anglo-Norman England in the 12th century and spread through Western and even Eastern Europe. Many early romances tell the stories of knights and ladies at King Arthur’s court. In the 12th and 13th centuries, romances are composed in verse (typically octosyllabic rhymed couplets), and are commonly performed aloud from memory by minstrels; romances are also sometimes read aloud. In the 13th century, some romances begin to be written in prose; public and private readings become more frequent.

The epic is an ancient genre and is found in almost every culture. It is a long heroic narrative that tells of war and great deeds. Epics are generally composed in verse, and sung from memory or improvised in performance by professional performers with instrumental accompaniment. These narratives are created from traditional elements, commonly without recourse to writing, by poets whose names are often unknown to us. Among the famous traditional epics are the Iliad and the Odyssey, attributed to Homer; the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf; and the Old French Song of Roland. Many known poets adopt epic forms and themes for their literary verse (such as Virgil in his Aeneid).

About the edition/translation:
Wolfram von Eschenbach: Titurel and the Songs, ed./trans. Marion E. Gibbs and Sidney M. Johnson, New York, Garland, 1988, pp. 38-41.

About the performer/ensemble:
Eberhard Kummer, a professional musician and a retired lawyer from Vienna, has been performing works of the German Middle Ages for many years, accompanying himself on the harp, hurdy-gurdy and other instruments.

About the production:
This clip comes from a performance of Middle High German works by Eberhard Kummer at New York University in May 2004. The performance was videoed by NYU-TV at the New York University Deutsches Haus and in its garden. This production was made in cooperation with the “Interdisciplinary Center for Medieval Studies” at the University of Salzburg, Austria.