On this disc of German Minnesinger music Drew Minter accompanies
himself on a harp or more particularly on a 14 string gothic
harp and also on a 27 string one made by the redoubtable Lynne
Lewandowski. He performs in the style of minstrel entertainment
in medieval Germany. The title, I presume, refers to the influence
of instruments and other musical practices on central Europe
from the Middle East during the extended period of the crusades.
In his ground-breaking book ‘Voices and Instruments of
the Middle Ages’ Christopher Page (Dent, London, 1987)
quotes on p.86, from the great troubadour Gautier de Councy:
“A clear, pleasing and beautiful voice, the sound of harp,
fiddle psaltery … is suitable for the devotion of the
musician’s heart”. So I can say immediately that
Minter fits those categories. Later, on p.92, Page quotes from
the ‘Roman de Horn’ (c.1170) “The he took
the harp. God! whoever saw how well he handled it, touching
the strings and making them vibrate, sometimes causing them
to sing and at others join in harmonies … reminding us
of the heavenly harmonies.” Again Minter gets as close
as modern man can to attaining this wondrous world.
In another source ‘Music in the Middle Ages by Gustav
Reese’ (Dent, London, 1941) we read that the Minnesinger
came “from the South, many from Austria” and that
“they fall into three main groups, the first from 1150-90”
which do not concern us on this recording. The second “and
best from c.1190-1220” includes figures like Wolfram and
the Bavarian Neidhart, the most prolific it seems of the Minnesinger.
The third includes figures like Walter von de Vogelweide and
does not concern us either although their more sophisticated
songs, texts and notation fed into the great Wolkenstein later
in the century. Even later it contributed to the incredibly
long-lived composer/poet Hans Sachs who was immortalised by
So Drew Minter gives us a wide historical range and a reliable
overview of early German musical history. The length of these
pieces, so often curtailed on discs of early German songs, is
heard in full with texts neatly translated in the booklet.
Minter dramatizes the songs wonderfully. He is a counter-tenor
but there is variety on offer. He uses his ‘big boy’s
voice’ in Wolkenstein’s song where he speaks on
behalf of a male lover in a colloquy. He also takes on the persona
of the evil father in Hans Sachs’ Gesangweise then
reverts to counter-tenor when acting as narrator. He has an
even lighter voice for a female speaker. In addition he uses
subtle and occasional speech, which just lifts the texture as
it were and adds even more interest. Occasionally, in between
verses, there are harp improvisations using speech rhythms.
The harp does not play throughout. Moments of silence allow
for the words to register. It might appear to be rather random
but it must be remembered that Minter is improvising. He allows
the harp to act so as to highlight the tension of a situation,
to suggest the lissom attractions of a scene or to convey the
unimaginable beauty of the lady.
In much music of the 12th and 13th centuries
the subject of springtime arises as it does in Neidhart’s
piece. “We saw the field lying bare/until the fair Spring
drew near”. Also praise and thanks for the miracles of
the Virgin Mary are consistent topics as in Hans Sachs’
song in which an evil, adulterous husband who murders his child
gets his comeuppance due to the Virgin’s intervention.
The longest performance is the piece by Wolfram von Eschenbach,
Two fragments from the unfinished ‘Titurel’.
Here there’s a real burden on Minter to sustain interest,
which on the whole he does. Any decent bookshop will have a
Penguin copy of Wolfram’s huge prose tome ‘Parzifal’,
which again served to inspire Wagner. What is less well known
is that Wolfram also left us two melodies, which Minter uses
here. There are two extracts. The first is catchily described
as 'The intimate connection of Love, Fate and Death exemplified
in the joys and misfortunes of two lovers, Sigune and Schionatulander”.
The second has a Conan Doyle type title ‘The Episode of
the Mysterious Hound’. Minter also uses word-painting
in this long tract for which the harp describes with arpeggios
the wind in the evening. Pain is also evoked with some exciting
broadening of the modal harmonic palette. Again Minter uses
differing voice ranges to hold the attention. On occasion we
also get a melodic harp interlude between the verses.
Ultimately this is probably a disc for someone already versed
in early music. A non-musician friend of mine, when he heard
it, was quite captivated and wants me to give him the CD. I
may well do this as I am not sure how often I would really want
to play it.
Full texts with clear and neat translations are given as well
as a detailed but not too technical essay by Drew Minter himself.