Chant poetry

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Under the term Sangspruchdichtung the Germanic Medieval Studies summarizes Middle High German strophic texts, which share a didactic ( didactic ) orientation and were sung as the main distinguishing feature . Spruchdichtung is the superordinate generic name, which also includes the spoken texts.

Definition and demarcation

In contrast to Minnesang , sang-verse poetry can be seen as an early representative of committed literature . The focus is not on aesthetic or stylistic issues, but on the targeted formulation of a topic or concern. Purpose comes before aesthetics, whereby the former does not exclude the latter. Chant poetry is discursive and argumentative far more complex than minnesang. Chants have a high degree of self-referentiality and are complexly networked. This is expressed in the form of quotes, word creations, allusions to poet colleagues and contemporaries or historical events (such as: election of emperors and popes, etc.).


These are texts by authors from the late 12th to 15th centuries. After that, the tradition of verse poetry in master singing lives on. The principle of single-stanza was valid until about the middle of the 14th century and up to this point represents an important formal difference to the Minne poetry (multiple stanzas). Singing sayings were predominantly performed at royal courts, e. B. at the Bohemian Přemyslidenhof under Wenceslas I and Ottokar II. Sang-verse poetry is predominantly professional poetry, that is, it was created by authors who had to live from their art and were therefore dependent on the favor of their clients.

Types of lore

The older chants are mainly passed down in the great song manuscripts, such as B. together with Minneliedern in the Manessische Liederhandschrift (C) or the Reinmar von Zweter Corpus (D). Today research owes its knowledge of the melodies according to which chants were sung to the Jenaer Liederhandschrift (J), which also contains many melodies. The more recent singing verses are passed down in particular in author manuscripts or collective manuscripts of the Mastersingers, z. B. the Kolmarer Liederhandschrift (k).

With regard to the edition of medieval poetry, a closer look reveals less editorial interest in the song poetry. Helmut Tervooren lists only one work, namely Friedrich Heinrich von der Hagen's edition, which was written at the beginning of the 19th century and which, with more than a dozen authors, is the most complete edition of the poem to date. This lack of interest on the part of the editors can be traced back to the basic aesthetic attitude, especially of Romanticism , which preferred to deal with the high Minnesian poetry ( Minnesang ) than with poetry. From today's perspective, however, the verse poetry in particular allows many interesting insights into politics, life situations, moral values ​​and interpersonal relationships at the time of its creation.

Sangspring poetry can be found in the following manuscripts (excerpt):

social environment

The given framework conditions in the creation process are different than with Minneliedern. They have been expanded to include the “client” factor. Also to be considered are z. B. the political, moral and religious education of the poet himself. According to the specific strengths of the poet (eg Sîgeher was particularly well versed in the field of politics and the great events in the empire - he warned of impending dangers) he was too more interesting than his poet colleagues for certain clients or occasions.


The addressees of song poetry are aristocrats, lay people and clergymen. In doing so, the poets address a “qualified and representative public”. Sometimes the poets' complaints about insufficient generosity on the part of the audience can also be recognized in the works. For example with Walther when he writes: daz man bî sô rîcher art lât alsus poor. (W. vd Vogelweide). Reinmar von Zweter, on the other hand, openly railed against the (in his opinion) uneducated audience at the Prague court. In Sangspruch No. 150 it is also clear how metaphorically and yet clearly states and life situations were described in Sangverbs:

In Proverb No. 150 it becomes clear that Reinmar's initial euphoria has clouded over. With “Von Rîne sô I was born, I grew up in Austria, Bêheim hân I got it” (verse 1–2) Reinmar first describes his place of birth, which lies along the Rhine, Austria, where he grew up, and his adopted homeland, Bohemia. As a reason for the move to Bohemia, he puts it in perspective: “mêre through the hêrren dan through daz lant: but both are si guot” (line 3). Without a doubt, he was expecting a qualified audience at the Přemyslidenhof , who not only showed generosity (mîlte) and an understanding of art towards him, but also paid him personal tribute.

The following lines of verse provide information about how he probably felt himself at the Prague court. Reinmar laments the lack of recognition by the audience: "daz me nobody becomes" (verse line 6) , but not by the king: "éz ensî ob ers al eine tuot." (Verse line 6) . The fact that Wenzel I was the only one in the audience who paid tribute to him becomes even clearer in the further course of the poem: "I hân den künec as a nor, and neither knight nor smell" (verse lines 10-11) He uses this as a metaphor a chess game for his situation at court, in which the only figure Reinmar still owns that of the king - and he has neither a horse (knight) nor a tower (smell).

In the further course of his stay at the court of Wenceslas, the relationship with the king and the public deteriorated more and more.Reinmar's last poem from his time at the Prague court provides information (Gustav Roethe limits the period of stay, from 1234 to the first half of the year 1241).

In what is presumably the last surviving poem from his time at the Prague court - No. 157 - Reinmar fiercely defends himself one last time against the evil speech - “schalkes munt” (verse 5) - at the Premyslid court. The tongue of the “delicious mouth” (parasite, eater) (verse line 1) is clever and torn. Then Reinmar utters curses and curses and calls the opponent pus. He wishes the spoiler - bitten by the hellhound - to the deepest bottom of Hades, where he will experience constant suffering: “Nû snappe dar, a hellhunt, dû snappe, dû slang poison - I mean mischievous cheerful - the ground-green the light one, you hurt always wendez leit ”(lines 4-6).

Reinmar is not satisfied with that: the zenith of his antipathy comes at the end. In verses 9-12 he reaches the verbal maximum and denies the vile gossip at court the visit to the Christian heaven - describes him as unworthy of God's forgiveness: "Vervluochet bis, the süezen Goth unmaere" (verse 12) . Some time after this poem, Reinmar withdrew from Wenceslas court. Whether this was ultimately done out of self-protection or involuntarily remains factually unanswered. In view of the long length of stay at Wenceslas court, during which his “too noble nature” was obviously plagued more often than was good for him, one can consider the former to be more likely.


The poets called themselves in their works , singer , singer , tihter , counselor , Lerer or master . These names alone allow a conclusion to be drawn about their social and artistic functions, which were primarily of a didactic nature. Her role was that of the teacher, which explains the typical term “master” = “master”. A big difference to minstrel is that chant poets were professional poets, while minstrels were almost always aristocrats (e.g. knights). The song poets did not lead a sedentary life, they were travelers, at least until the 13th century, when a certain bond with towns and courts began. Little by little, the courtyards establish themselves as literary and cultural centers. The resounding names of the poets were chosen with the intention of attracting attention. Their mutual competitive struggles, which manifested themselves in the form of poet feuds, can be clearly seen, for example in this section:

“The art is even small / Rehter art never took part / what can it do? tell me about it / a monkey, a snudel, a gouch, a rint / bistu that I mean / since bi blint in all senses / I wear it on you haz / I name you wol, wolt 'I ez tuon / you sang a lie / din art is sick wan a huon "

Song poets are generally dependent on their clients and patrons. A passage from the Passau bishop's list of expenses shows that graduated crusaders, then pilgrims, pupils, minstrels and finally the poet Walther receive a fee. According to this list, Walther receives five solidi longi , which is extremely generous for the circumstances of his time. The milte , i.e. the generosity of the patrons and the poets' audience, was repeatedly demanded by them, and some passages show that the sang masters also repeatedly pointed out that they had to be paid and thanked them for it. As Walther makes clear, like his colleagues, he was on the road a lot: "from his unz to the muore, from the pfâde unz to the trâben" (from the Seine to the Mur in Styria, from the Po to the Trave near Lübeck)

The poet's concept of art is specific. On the one hand, the relationship between the Church and the poet's class does not seem to be unencumbered, because the Church is tense with the poets as representatives of worldly vitality, music, sexuality, comedy and dance. Nevertheless, for the poets the first place in the concept of art is God: Art should ...

  • Serving God and the world
  • lead to virtue
  • Create amusement
  • Art is based on knowledge
  • Art wants to learn
  • serves the truth
  • has its reason with God

Important representatives of song poetry (excerpt):


Certain song poets were held in high regard by secular dignitaries. In this way, a small order poet could well become a coveted “star at court”. Her position at court was just as often threatened by competing poet colleagues. The clients, mostly emperors, kings, dukes, clergy or other financially strong "sponsors", used song poets as valuable entertainers at court. On the one hand, the clients appeared to the general public as well as the court audience as art-understanding, educated and well-read. On the other hand, as clients, they were more or less free to determine which subjects their favorites had to write about. Should the poets praise them themselves, ridicule a political opponent, admonish, educate, curse or praise the audience? Take up ethical, religious or political issues? Present it metaphorically, allegorically, directly or in an animal fable? How much freedom the clients gave their songwriters in their work probably also depended on many factors, such as: For example: pay, audience, sympathy, personality, strengths and tasks of the poet and much more.

Subject areas

The themes of this type of poetry range from religion to ethics, morality, the lament for the dead, prince praise and censure, criticism of secular and ecclesiastical grievances, satire and polemics to criticism of fellow artists, i.e. the poet's feud.

In his imperial tone, Walther asks the question of how one “should live in a world of zero” . Even if a timeless Christian problem is addressed in this question itself, it is nevertheless a representative statement and symptomatic of the proverbs. The choice of topics is not limited in itself, but it corresponds to the court audience's view of the world and to the tasks and artistic awareness of the poets. It should be noted that the poet does not primarily have to contribute his personal opinion, but that of the public, which is generally valid. Specifically, that means:

  • Christian doctrine and general doctrine of truth,
  • Class and gentlemen's doctrine
  • general and specific questions of lay morality,
  • the ethics of court life,
  • Reflections on the state of the world,
  • Contemplation of nature,
  • Cosmological as well
  • Art criticism and art reflection and
  • politics

In addition, there are repeated complaints about the existence of the traveling poet (Walther, for example, complains about his low income). The lawsuits usually run in a pattern that compares the oh-so miserable present with the past. The theme that runs incessantly through all phases of proverbs is the doctrine of men in all its variations. In such stanzas the poets discuss the most important social requirements for rule and address popes, emperors and princes. In such works, the singing masters do not fail to emphasize the importance of their profession and to praise the respective patron, on whose goodwill they depend. It should be emphasized once again that song poets not only wrote for their pleasure, but also wrote poems and songs full-time, so they had to make a living from this work. The main topics up to 1200 were mainly morality and lifestyle. With Walther von der Vogelweide , Brother Wernher and Reinmar von Zweter , political issues are becoming increasingly important.

Walther's example shows very well what it meant for a poet to write politically at that time. The poets' choice of political themes cannot be compared with today's concept of political criticism. Walther initially stood on the Staufer's side and wrote for Philipp von Schwaben . Later, however, he switched to Otto IV's side and thus to the Guelphs. This political fickleness of the poet, which could also be described as opportunism , is the product of the poets' dependence. Walther wrote for his patron. So there is no need to go into the fact that the poet could only write what was in the interests of his patron.

Helmut Tervooren divides the poets' intentions into three areas:

  • moral-didactic intention (teaching the audience)
  • personal-social intention (medium of the poets' self-portrayal and the positioning of the poet profession in society)
  • personal-existential intention (medium to solicit wages from sponsors)

Tendency of singing sayings

The tendency of a chant is used in German medieval studies to classify a chant quickly and efficiently with regard to its intention or direction. At the same time, it should provide quick information about how poets took their positions. So you can see whether a poet has changed his opinion (or that of his client?) On a topic, e.g. B. after a move to another farm to fit into the respective view of the ruling client there - or to do the opposite. Are z. If, for example, the date of creation, author and place is known, a rough picture of the personality of the poet and the situation at the respective court can be drawn with the help of other historical facts such as (documents, armed conflicts, etc.). So z. For example, it can be observed how vocal writers represented opinion X during their employment at court A, but shortly afterwards at court B opinion Y (which is the opposite position to opinion X). See also point 4 “ Opportunism ”. How this has affected the text form, see under point 6 under "Text variants". Trends can e.g. B. be: "price", "scolding", "warning", "rebuke", "request", "wake-up calls", "example" (animal fable) etc.

Form and presentation

Initially, minnesang as well as verse poetry made use of the four-bar verse and a connection through paired rhymes, which were combined into clearly constructed stanzas, the last line of the verse was lengthened and thus signaled the end. Later, new rhyme forms were introduced for proverbial poetry: the cross rhyme , the looping rhyme and the tail rhyme . While new verse lengths are being established for minnesang, ranging from 2 to 8-point verses, the verse poetry is still committed to four bars for the time being. So typical are:

Verse forms:

  • Four-part verse
  • Long lines (from 2 different-valued units with forward and backward)

Cadenzas :

  • masculine as the main cadences (i.e. emphasis at the end)
  • female rather seldom
  • sounding cadences (specific feature of medieval poetry: two-syllable word, sending on weighted accentuation and secondary accentuation as in: ich saz ûf ein stéinè)


  • Much less variation than with minstrel
  • pure rhyme predominant
  • occasional: assonances and impure rhymes

Instead of composing a completely new slogan, the same "tones" were used very often, that is, melodies. These could be combined with several texts. Many song poets named their tones after their own distinguishing features, e.g. B. Reinmar von Zweter's Frau-Ehren-Ton (after the personification of Frau Ehre used several times by Reinmar), Frauenlobs Langer Ton (in contrast to his short tone).

At the writing level, adjustments often had to be made, names had to be exchanged, references and statements had to be relativized or reinforced. Text variants are, if you will, the result of the fickleness and time pressure of the professional poets (or comfort and efficiency?). Technically, this was done either by creating a new document or by creating a palimpsest for an existing one. This could be done in two ways, namely:

  • Update:

The text is adapted to the current situation by making references to current topics (secular, religious, rulers, wars, elections, etc.). Mostly by changing or adding to the text.

  • De-update:

Identifying clues are either rewritten (text change) or shortened (text shortening) in order to disguise references to current topics.

The procedures for this:

  • Text expansion:

Lines or stanzas are added to the original text volume.

* Text shortening: lines or stanzas from the original text volume are removed.

* Text change: The text retains its scope, but words within the text are changed.


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Individual evidence

  1. Tervooren 41 ff.
  2. Roethe, Die Gedichte Reinmar, p. 486
  3. Roethe, Die Gedichte Reinmar, p. 50
  4. Roethe, p. 33
  5. Roethe, p. 69
  6. Roethe, Die Gedichte Reinmar, p. 489
  7. Roethe, Die Gedichte Reinmar, p. 52