Minnesang courtly love songs in the 13th to 15th century

Although only a few of the Minnesang courtly love songs have been preserved in the Munich manuscripts (cf. Tegernseer Liebesgruß, Carmina Burana, Wolframs von Eschenbach's Tagelieder [1170-1220]), it is worth taking a look at them, especially since quite a few poets from the old Bavarian, Swabian and Franconian regions set the tone for this genre: Minnesang singers such as Albrecht von Johansdorf (before 1180-1209), Walther von der Vogelweide (around 1170-1230), Neidhart von Reuenthal (creative period 1210-1240), Ulrich von Winterstetten (before 1241-1280) or the travelling professional poet Thannhäuser (died after 1266), whose roots are presumed to be in Thannhausen (today's Freystadt, Neumarkt district in the Upper Palatinate), are among the best known. In addition to the literary centres on the Upper and Lower Rhine as well as in Thuringia, Bavaria plays a leading role in the education of courtly matters and etiquette. The first Bavarian poet to combine local elements with the new Romanesque models is Albrecht von Johansdorf; the greatest German Minnesang singer and poet at the court of Bishop Wolfger of Passau (1191-1204) is undoubtedly Walther von der Vogelweide (died 1st half 13th century).

The history of German Minnesang begins in the middle of the 12th century and reaches its heyday in the so-called Staufer Classic, the period between 1170 and 1220/30; the phase of the late Minnesang lasts from around the middle of the 13th century until about 1350. The class culture of courtly society, which carries the Minnesang, is characterised by the ethos of knightly virtue terms such as "êre" (prestige, dignity), "triuwe" (loyalty), "milte" (grace), "mâze" (temperance) and "staete" (permanence), etc. The focus is on "minne", subservient, devotional love, as a personalising and socially influential life power. In the context of the literary form, Minnesang can be equated with love poetry.

As a performance and formal art, it explores all nuances and ranges from sensual, erotic desire to the sublimation of the courtly (married) "lady" to the earthly "highest good". The subgenera of the Minnesang extend from the "Minne or courtship song" as a man's love lament to an unattainable woman, to the "Tagelied" (Day Song) as a farewell of two lovers at daybreak after a shared night, and the "Mädchenlied" (Girl's Song) about a lower class girl as a break with courtly love.

The Frauendienst (Service of Ladies) presented here (Cgm 44) by Ulrich von Liechtenstein (c. 1200-1275) consists of 1850 epic verses, 58 songs, three booklets and seven letters. The work is regarded as the first epic written in German in the first-person form and depicts the knight Ulrich's courtly love for two ladies he adored. While the songs, letters and reflections on the "Minne" song writing style correspond to the ideal of courtly love, the epic parts are all comical. The comic self-exposure of the first-person narrator emphasises the artificial, theoretical, and unreal aspect of these courtly love songs. On the other hand, the courtly love speeches from Eastern Swabia, preserved in several manuscripts, deal with secular love in all forms of the literary genre. The manuscript (Sayings and fables, Cgm 270), which contains them here, dates from the second half of the 15th century.