Storytelling in Medieval Song, a Project with Benjamin Bagby and Lawrence Rosenwald

July 17-18 and 24-25
11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m., and 1:00 - 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time

ONLINE at the Amherst Early Music Festival.

Learn about the rich historical context of the songs and the crucial role of the storyteller in the middle ages. In each session Benjamin Bagby and Lawrence Rosenwald will coach individual singers (selected by audition in advance) on their repertoire. Music will be available in advance for all participants.

Repertoire: Songs which tell stories: Cantigas de Santa Maria (13th century Castille); women’s Chansons de toile (12-13c France) and lais from northern France which tell stories from the Bible (also Abelard’s Biblical ‘planctus’); the German story-songs and narratives of Oswald von Wolkenstein (d. 1445); Latin song which teaches, informs and entertains (Carmina Burana). 

This course for advanced-level singers ​offers an immersive experience in medieval song. Duos or ensembles that have repertoire they'd like to be coached on are welcome. Students will explore a wide selection of rich and colorful songs, with regular opportunities to receive in-depth coachings on text, expression, and delivery. The course will offer rich historical context for these songs, and give particular attention to the crucial role of the storyteller in the middle ages.

We often think of medieval song as being the domain of troubadours, trouveres, and Minnesänger, with their love-sick declarations of hopes and fears. We envision a world of courts of romantic love, where talented minstrels and poets traded virtuosic verses in song, vying with one another for patronage from their aristocratic admirers. But poets and minstrels did more than chant about love: they also entertained and instructed their listeners, telling stories in song, commenting on politics and morals, and holding a mirror up to society in a very erudite and virtuosic form of social commentary. They were the vessels of collective memory and the shapers of opinion among the elite, and, thanks to their fame, many of their songs have come down to us today.

Probably the most famous stories to be sung were the hundreds of miracles attributed to the Virgin Mary, a true 13th-century superhero. Hundreds of these ‘Cantigas de Santa Maria’ come down to us with melodies. There are ‘chansons de toile’ sung by high-born women as they worked at looms or embroidery, usually unhappy stories about teenage girls yearning for freedom and love. Poets writing in Latin, perhaps for a learned audience of ambitious young clerics, have also left us with stories: sometimes of saints, sometimes retellings of stories from the Bible. The sources for ennobling entertainment are countless.

As a special aspect of this course, we also explore the story-telling songs of the amazingly prolific Tyrolean poet and adventurer, Oswald von Wolkenstein. During a long career, he managed to travel throughout Europe (and according to him, as far as Persia), in the service of kings and emperors. His adventures are recounted in a large body of monophonic song, preserved in several magnificent manuscripts which we can access today. He made himself (or his poetic persona) the center of his work, and through his songs we experience his political battles, his love affairs, his family life and his enormous ego.

This is a course for advanced-level singers who will receive in-depth coaching and the option of additional help with texts. Acceptance is guaranteed for singers who have already been accepted for a course with Benjamin Bagby. Others may submit a resume to by June 1 and will be notified of their status by June 15. Auditors are welcome. Transcriptions and texts will be provided. Peter Dronke's book "The Medieval Lyric" may be of interest as a general overview. 

Benjamin Bagby is the co-founder of the medieval ensemble Sequentia, and is one of the most sought-after performers and teachers of Medieval music today. Lawrence Rosenwald is the Anne Pierce Rogers Professor of English at Wellesley College and an expert coach on language and delivery.

Saturday-Sunday two sessions per day coaching individual singers, with auditors welcome. Lawrence Rosenwald will coach on language and translation, and will be available to meet with singers individually through "office hours."

Course Participant Tuition: $300 for auditioned singers. Others are welcome to sit in on one or more classes for $25 per class.

Limited scholarship funds are available. To apply, email Marilyn Boenau at about your experience, goals in the field of early music, and financial situation.  Early Music America also provides scholarships.  You may also consider contacting your local arts and cultural societies about possible funding.  We would be happy to help in providing documentation to assist you in obtaining a third-party scholarship.

See performances from the 'Troubadour' Medieval Project with Benjamin Bagby at the 2019 Amherst Early Music Festival!