Friedrich Gennrich and the Mainz Hoffest of 1184

On 22 September 1967, 50 years ago, the musicologist Friedrich Gennrich passed away. This blog post is the first of two which hope to bring his work back into the critical limelight of scholarly attention.

Curiously, the Wikipedia entry on Friedrich Gennrich (currently available in German and Russian) suggests that his academic achievements relate one-dimensionally to the study of medieval French (and Occitan) song. Gennrich studied Romance philology with Gustav Gröber and, for his doctoral degree, prepared an edition of the fourteenth-century French romance Le Romans de la Dame a la Lycorne et du Biau Chevalier au Lyon (published in 1908). His first independent monograph — Musikwissenschaft und romanische Philologie (Halle (Saale) 1918; re-published as an article in the Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie 39 in the following year) — still makes for interesting reading for anyone contemplating the relationship between musicology and literary disciplines.

Yet by the mid-1920s, Gennrich’s interest had expanded beyond the remit of Romance song traditions to include the German repertoire of Minnesang in his research. His first publication on Minnesang appeared in the Zeitschrift für Musikwissenschaft 7 in 1924/25 (‘Sieben Melodien zu mittelhochdeutschen Minneliedern’), and this interest in Minnesang continued throughout Gennrich’s academic career, with further important discussions and editions published in 1948, 1951, and 1954 (‘Liedkontrafakturen in mittelhochdeutscher und althochdeutscher Zeit’, Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum und deutsche Literatur 82; Troubadours, Trouvères, Minne- und Meistergesang (= Das Musikwerk, vol. 2), translated into English in 1960; Mittelhochdeutsche Liedkunst: 24 Melodien zu mittelhochdeutschen Liedern (= Musikwissenschaftliche Studien-Bibliothek, vol. 10)).

Gennrich’s interest in the German song repertoire was kindled by his belief in the international exchange of song melodies during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. This exchange, Gennrich argued, was manifest in the survival of German songs that followed French poetic models and used their melodies, so-called contrafacta. Much of Gennrich’s academic work was dedicated to hunting such contrafacta within the Minnesang repertoire, culminating in the publication of Die Kontrafaktur im Liedschaffen des Mittelalters (= Summa Musicae Medii Aevi, vol. 12, Langen bei Frankfurt 1965), which to this day remains the sole comprehensive study of medieval practices of contrafacture.

The phenomenon of international exchange took centre stage already in Gennrich’s ‘Sieben Melodien’ article of 1924/25. Here, he called attention to one particular event that, so he believed, was a representative example of the many situations in which Minnesänger could have met their French counterparts: the Hoffest of 1184, that drew nobility from across (and beyond) the realm of the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich I (now better known by his nickname Barbarossa) to Mainz. Gennrich reiterated Gustav Gröber’s claim that the trouvère Guiot de Provins had also been present at the Hoffest and linked Guiot — albeit subtely and without any further eloboration — with the Minnesänger Heinrich von Veldeke.

In his subsequent publications, Gennrich repeatedly fostered, expanded, and generalised the assumption that the 1184 Hoffest had been a place of international exchange. His view quickly became commonplace within musicology and German literary studies and is still firmly embedded in present-day scholarship (see, for example, Heinz Sieburg’s Literatur des Mittelalters, 2nd edition, Berlin 2012, p. 27).

Probing this narrative, however, reveals that it is based on shaky evidence: the presence of Guiot de Provins and Heinrich von Veldeke in Mainz is insinuated by references to the Hoffest in the poets’ own literary works, La Bible and the Eneit, but none of the numerous chronicles that provide an account of the Mainz festivities confirm the presence of Guiot or Heinrich. The only mention of entertainment at the Hoffest seems to be the reference to ‘ioculatores et ioculatrices’ made by the chronicler Gislebert of Mons (Gisleberti Chronicon Hanoniense, ed. by Wilhelm Arndt, Hanover 1869, p. 143). The context of Gislebert’s account, however, makes it unlikely that these ‘ioculatores et ioculatrices’ were courtly singers: instead, it is more probable that they were itinerant entertainers of low social rank, given that they were eager to receive alms for their performances by the nobles attending the Hoffest.

Even if we are more generous in our scholarly suspension of disbelief, take Guiot’s/Heinrich’s word for it, and assume that the two poet-singers did actually attend the festivities in Mainz: their texts say nothing about a meeting between them — and even if they did meet, does it necessarily follow that contrafacta would have resulted from this encounter? While a face-to-face meeting between two singers might indeed have enabled such exchange, it is by no means a necessary requisite or even an automatic generator of contrafacta. And, for that matter, why are we so certain that Heinrich would have been inspired to write a new song on Guiot’s model, while Guiot would not have drawn any inspriation from this encounter?

Many scholars have seen Heinrich’s ‘Ich denke under wîlen’ as the fruits of this asserted meeting between the two poet-singers in 1184. ‘Ich denke under wîlen’ shares the metric pattern of Guiot’s song ‘Ma joie premeraine’, leading Claudia Lauer (and others) to assume that the German song would have used the melody associated with its French model (‘Liebe übersetzt. Friedrichs von Hausen “Ich denke underwîlen” (MF 51,33) als (vor-)modernes Rezeptionsphänomen’, in: Die Aktualität der Vormoderne: Epochenentwürfe zwischen Alterität und Kontinuität (= Europa im Mittelalter: Abhandlungen und Beiträge zur historischen Komparatistik, vol. 23), ed. by Klaus Ridder and Steffen Patzold, Berlin 2013, pp. 207–230; esp. p. 218).

There is, however, no manuscript evidence to prove such a claim: while ‘Ma joie premeraine’ is transmitted with a diastematic melody in the Chansonnier St-Germain-des-Prés (F-Pn fr. 20050, fol. 17r/v) and trouvère manuscript C (CH-BEb 389, fol. 147v; with staff, but without notation), the two sources for ‘Ich denke under wîlen’ offer no melody (Codex Manesse, D-HEu Pal. germ. 848, fol. 118v; and Weingartner Liederhandschrift, D-Sl HB XIII 1, p. 18). Moreover, Anton H. Touber has pointed out that there are (at least) 24 other songs in the trouvère corpus which use the same metrical pattern (‘Romanischer Einfluss auf den Minnesang: Friedrich von Hausen und die Hausenschule’, Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur 127 (2008), pp. 62–81; esp. p. 64). If Heinrich did meld his ‘Ich denke under wîlen’ on a French model, it could have been any of these; the only evidence that could affirm any such link, however, would be the survival of identical melodies.

Ma joie

Chansonnier Saint-Germain-des-Prés, fol. 17r/v; ‘Ma joie premeraine’ © Bibliothèque nationale de France

B, Ich denke

Weingartner Liederhandschrift, S. 18; ‘Ich denke under wîlen’ © Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart


So, where do these observations leave us? We cannot say with certainty whether Guiot de Provins or Heinrich von Veldeke were at Barbarossa’s Hoffest at Mainz in 1184; and, likewise, we cannot ascertain whether there is a direct relationship between ‘Ma joie premeraine’ and ‘Ich denke under wîlen’. Only once we acknowledge these gaps and uncertainties in our current knowledge, will scholarship on Minnesang and its music be able to move forward. The fiftieth anniversary of Friedrich Gennrich’s death provides an ideal moment for musicologists to take stock of what we know, what we think we know, as well as those things we thought we knew but no longer do.

Since 1967, more historical sources have been found and made available to the public, and the digital age makes it much easier for us to find and connect information than it ever was for Gennrich and his generation. So we should not be afraid of the gaps we might uncover: doing so will allow us to ask questions old and new of these materials and to find fresh ways of answering them.



Some of this research has just been published as:

‘Das Mainzer Hoffest von 1184 und die Historiographie deutsch-französischen Kulturaustauschs im Minnesang’, in: Musik der mittelalterlichen Metropole: Räume, Identitäten und Kontexte der Musik in Köln und Mainz, ca. 900–1600 (= Beiträge zur rheinischen Musikgeschichte, vol. 179), ed. by Fabian Kolb, Kassel 2016, pp. 353–367.

I am very grateful to Marc Lewon for encouraging me to tackle the narrative about Guiot, Heinrich, and Hoffest.



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