Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences


Modern Languages and Literatures

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Elizabeth Emery

Committee Member

Jefferson Gatrall

Committee Member

Daniel Mengara


This work focuses on two periods of French history marked by the great musical creativity — the Middle Ages (more specifically, from the eleventh to thirteenth centuries) and the Belle Époque (i.e. the end of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century). The choice of these two periods is motivated by the fact that the French were profoundly interested by the Middle Ages in the nineteenth century. One could speak of a real vogue for the Middle Ages, especially during the period of the Belle Époque. This trend was influenced by the works of Madame de Staël, the Schlegels and Walter Scott, as well as by those of Chateaubriand, who described the Middle Ages as a peaceful, pure, magical, and artistic period. Victor Hugo also portrayed the Middle Ages, as a time of free spirits and rebels (Emery and Morowitz 16-17). Although the vogue for the Middle Ages affected all forms of art, including architecture, painting, literature, and music, we focus on the latter through the phenomenon of artistic cabarets (the gathering places of writers, artists, and songwriters), which flourished in Paris in the late nineteenth century.

The basis for our research and argument is the large body of examples found in books, articles and interviews of that time in which, following the fashion, the cabaret singers (so-called “chansonniers”) appropriated the title of “troubadours”, using different forms of imitation of their poetry and music. In this thesis we propose that one of the countless confusions caused by the epidemic vogue for everything associated with the Middle Ages was the proliferation of new connotations of the word “troubadour” and its application to cabaret singers of the nineteenth century. We also show that the basis for using the word “troubadour” to designate the cabaret singers of the nineteenth century was a falsification of the medieval sense of the word, which led to what one might call a “troubadour myth” of the nineteenth century.

In this work we examine similarities and differences between two cultural phenomena: that of the medieval troubadours and the cabaret chansonniers. Is it accurate, for example, to speak of chansonniers of the nineteenth century as “troubadours” as these performers themselves wished? We compare and analyze songwriters and troubadours based upon the following parameters: the character of their poetry, the genres of their songs, their relationship with authorities, the origin of their poetry and their social status (noble or plebeian origin of the troubadours and chansonniers). These analyses allow us to answer two questions: what is the relationship between medieval musicians and chansonniers of the nineteenth century? Why did chansonniers grant themselves the title “troubadours”?

In the course of this analysis we identify what could be called a troubadour “brand”, which the chansonniers of Montmartre used for the purposes of promotion, both social and artistic. Although we question the appropriateness of calling chansonniers “troubadours of the nineteenth century”, we acknowledge their important role in keeping the “troubadour myth” alive and attracting the attention of the public to the valuable cultural impact of the troubadours.

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