Oswald quoting Neidhart: “Ir alten weib” (Kl 21) & “Der sawer kúbell” (w1)

In a recent article Michael Shields[1] had proposed a hitherto unnoticed canon in the oeuvre of Oswald von Wolkenstein. He argued that the third section of “Ir alten weib” (Kl 21) was intended as a “fuga” because the transmission in WolkA (A-Wn 2777, fol. 12r-v) features strange and seemingly functionless clef-changes. They would, however, be in the right places if they were meant to mark the entrance of a second voice and the beginning of the ouvert ending (for a comprehensive discussion and a transcription of the piece, see Shields, Hidden Polyphony[1]). The resulting canon in two-voices works in a rustic kind of way with dissonances similar to those found in the canon “Martein, lieber herre” by the Monk of Salzburg:

Oswald von Wolkenstein: "Ir alten weib" (Kl 21; A-Wn 2777, fol. 12r), third section.

Oswald von Wolkenstein: “Ir alten weib” (Kl 21; A-Wn 2777, fol. 12r), third (canonic?) section.

Shields noted other remarkable features of this song, particularly in its text: one verse appears to quote the humanist Giustiniani (c1383-1446) and the contemporary Italian practice of accompanying songs in this tradition with string instruments such as the lira da braccio and the cetra: “und freut mich vil fúr Jöstlins saitenspil.” (“and delights me much more than Giustiniani’s songs performed on the fiddle.”[2]) Furthermore, the song text has an unusual amount of musical allusions, even for Oswald, quoting—apart from Giustiniani and the “saitenspiel”—dancing, singing, a musical form (“hofeweis”, used here in the double meaning of “courtly manner” and “Hofweise”, a meistersinger genre) and birdsong. Finally, Shields noticed a close proximity to the Neidhart genre, especially in the first strophe.[3] Furthermore, Oswald’s song text can be found anonymously and with some additions in the late Neidhart-Fuchs prints from Augsburg (1495), Nuremberg (1537) and Frankfurt (1566) and thus shows that late 15th century compilers considered the text to be from a Neidhart song.

This claim can be substantiated with some additional observations: The song’s notation in both Wolkenstein manuscripts features a characteristic “reference rhythm”, consisting of a regular alternation of semibreve and minim typical for Oswald’s monophonic story-telling songs. This rhythmic principle could be the heritage or direct quotation of a practice of the late medieval Neidhart tradition.[4] The most direct connection to the Neidhart genre, however, is a possible melodic citation of a specific Neidhart song.

Der sawer kúbell (“Niemand soll sein trauren tragen lange”)

The song “Niemand sol sein trauren tragen lange” (also known as “the ointment farce”) survives in four Neidhart sources from the early to the late 15th century (s3, w1, c45, z36), two of which provide a melody (w1: A-Wn s.n. 3344 (Eghenvelder Liedersammlung), fol. 104rv, Vienna/Hainburg c1431 and c45: D-B 779 (Riedsche Handschrift), fol. 178r179r, Nuremberg c1465).[5] The latter transmission also gives a title which refers to an unusual and slightly cryptic metaphor in the eighth strophe: “Der sawer kúbell”. Even though neither transmission employs rhythmical notation both convey an air of “reference rhythm”. It is clear that the regular alternation of virga and punctum in both sources is owed to scribal convention when it is confronted with tone repetitions, but the visual impression does evoke the familiar rhythmical pattern:

w1, A-Wn s.n. 3344 (<em>Eghenvelder Liedersammlung</em>), fol. 104r - beginning of "Niemand sol sein traueren tragen lange"

w1, A-Wn s.n. 3344 (Eghenvelder Liedersammlung), fol. 104r – beginning of “Niemand sol sein traueren tragen lange”

c45, D-B 779 (<em>Riedsche Handschrift</em>), fol. 178r - beginning of "Der sawer kúbell"

c45, D-B 779 (Riedsche Handschrift), fol. 178r – beginning of “Der sawer kúbell”

Moreover, almost all other Neidhart songs in the Eghenvelder Liedersammlung (Egh) are notated with mensural note shapes of which three actually depict a performative rhythm. In all three cases this is the above mentioned “reference rhythm”. Since the transmission of the song in Egh is situated in this context of mensural notation and “reference rhythm” the suggestive visual impression of its layout also points to a rhythmic performance.

The association of Oswald’s “Ir alten weib” with Neidhart’s “Niemand sol sein traueren” might appear superficial at a first glance, but it immediately struck me when I came across Oswald’s melody after having already been familiar with the Neidhart song for quite a while. I would like to propose that the first two lines of “Ir alten weib” are cognate with, if not a reworked citation of Neidhart’s “Niemand sol sein traueren”:

Oswald von Wolkenstein: "Ir alten weib" (WolkB, A-Iu s.s., fol. 9v), first two verses.

Oswald von Wolkenstein: “Ir alten weib” (WolkB, A-Iu s.s., fol. 9v), first two verses.

The identical metrical length of the two lines in both songs, their shared modality (especially when taking into account the transmission in WolkB), their similar melodic direction (particularly in the second, descending line), the characteristic tone repetitions in both melodies and the use of the “reference rhythm” all point towards cognate versions:

Synoptic edition of the two opening lines of "Niemand sol sein traueren tragen lange" (Neidhart; transmission in A-Wn s.n. 3344, fol. 104r) and "Ir alten weib" (Oswald von Wolkenstein; transmission in A-Iu s.s., fol. 9v, text underlay of the repetition).

Synoptic edition of the two opening lines of “Niemand sol sein traueren tragen lange” (Neidhart; A-Wn s.n. 3344, fol. 104r) and “Ir alten weib” (Oswald von Wolkenstein; A-Iu s.s., fol. 9v, text underlay of the repetition).

Admittedly, the version of WolkA has the melody of the first and second sections notated a fifth lower, thus with a final on G. Since WolkB puts the melody in an extremely high register and has the third section in the same register as WolkA it appears that WolkA provides the “correct version”. Since, however, b-fa and b-mi are always available (signed or not) within the pitches that make up musica recta, this does not necessarily indicate a different modality.

Once a connection between the two songs is established, a textual similarity strikes the eye: Even though the use of natureingang topoi creates forseeable contents, it might be an additional case in point that both songs share certain keywords in their initial verses, such as “sne” (snow) and “trauren” (to grieve—in the 7th line of “Ir alten weib”). Given the much more expansive form of Oswald’s song it seems as if it is a melodically inflated and textually “troped” version of a Neidhart-idea.

Since South-Tyrol was a center of late medieval Neidhart reception with a lively tradition of Neidhart Plays it is of no surprise that Oswald was familiar with the repertoire. However, there might exist an even more specific connection between the Neidhart song in question and Oswald: The Sterzing Manuscript Miscellany (Sterzing/Vipiteno, Stadtarchiv, s.s.) from c1410 was likely assembled at the Monastery of Neustift near Brixen and contains a substantial repertoire of notated Neidhart songs. Since Oswald was closely associated with this monastery it is quite possible (and had previously been suggested) that he had access to the manuscript and may even have used it for his own studies. The page with the beginning of the Neidhart song “Niemand sol sein traueren tragen lange” is missing, since it must have been ripped out at some point before the modern foliation of the manuscript, but two remaining notes on a fragment of the page preceding fol. 47 show that it once featured musical notation. If these should belong to the beginning of “Nymand sol sein trauren”, they show that this version of the melody started on the same pitch (d) as in the parallel transmissions. (A close examination of the manuscript has shown, however, that another page following this fragment was ripped out. This would leave too much space between the fragmented beginning of the song and the end of the song on the current fol. 47r. Even if this snippet should not show the beginning of “Niemand sol sein traueren”, it features the same notation as the Neidhart pieces on the following pages and likely was the beginning of another Neidhart song. In any case, the beginning of “Niemand sol sein traueren”, likely with musical notation, was somewhere on these two now missing pages.) If Oswald had worked with the manuscript he would have had access to this song including its notation—and, without wanting to point fingers, maybe we already found the culprit for the clipping.

Snippet with f-clef and the remains of two puncta "d" in German chant notation, possibly from the beginning of the Neidhart song "Nymand sol sein trauren" in the Sterzing Manuscript Miscellany (recto side of the folio that used to precede the current fol. 47).

Snippet with f-clef and the remains of two puncta “d” in German chant notation, possibly from the beginning of the Neidhart song “Nymand sol sein trauren” in the Sterzing Manuscript Miscellany (recto side of a folio that used to precede the current fol. 47).

If this quotation of a Neidhart song in Oswald’s oeuvre should prove true—and I do believe that it is a conscious quotation on Oswald’s part—it would substantiate the influence of the Neidhart genre on Oswald’s songs and expand it from the long known interrelationship in regard to text and form to include the musical level.

Marc Lewon

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[1] Shields, Michael: „‚Hidden polyphony‘ bei Oswald von Wolkenstein: Der Reihen ‚Ir alten weib‘ (Kl 21)“, in: März, Christoph, Lorenz Welker and Nicola Zotz (ed.): „Ieglicher sang sein eigen ticht“. Germanistische und musikwissenschaftliche Beiträge zum deutschen Lied im Mittelalter, Wiesbaden (Reichert Verlag) 2011 (Elementa Musicae. Abbildungen und Studien zur älteren Musikgeschichte, vol. 4), pp. 131–47.

[2] Classen, Albrecht: The Poems of Oswald von Wolkenstein. An English Translation of the Complete Works (1376/77-1445), New York (Palgrave Macmillan) 2008 (The New Middle Ages), p. 83. However, the term “saitenspil” refers to string-instruments in general and could include plucked instruments as well.

[3] Shields, Hidden polyphony, p. 132: “[D]ie erste Strophe mit ihrem Natureingang und der Aufforderung zum Tanz ganz eindeutig zur Identifikation als ‘Neidhart’ einlädt […].” (“The first strophe with its natureingang and the invitation to dance unmistakably asks for an identification as a ‘Neidhart’-piece […]”). Regarding the Neidhart allusions see also the significant article on the song by Müller, Ulrich: „Oswald von Wolkenstein und Neidhart Fuchs: Das Tanzlied ‚Ir alten weib‘, ein Schlager des späten Mittelalters“, in: Prospero 1 (1994), pp. 90–121, as well as influences from the north Italian Trecento on this and other songs by Oswald ini: Classen, Albrecht: Zur Rezeption norditalienischer Kultur des Trecento im Werk Oswalds von Wolkenstein (1376/77-1445), Göppingen (Kümmerle Verlag) 1987 (Göppinger Arbeiten zur Germanistik, vol. 471).

[4] For more information on the principle of the “reference rhythm” and its usage particularly in the Neidhart oeuvre, see: Marc Lewon: “Vom Tanz im Lied zum Tanzlied? Zur Frage nach dem musikalischen Rhythmus in den Liedern Neidharts“, in: Das mittelalterliche Tanzlied (1100-1300). Lieder zum Tanz – Tanz im Lied, ed. Dorothea Klein with Brigitte Burrichter and Andreas Haug, Würzburg 2012 (= Würzburger Beiträge zur deutschen Philologie, vol. 37), pp. 137-79, esp. pp. 169-76 and „Das Lochamer-Liederbuch in neuer Übertragung und mit ausführlichem Kommentar“, ed. Marc Lewon, 3 vols., Brensbach 2007-2010, vol. 2, pp. 35, 37 and 46).

[5] For more information on the Eghenvelder Liedersammlung and the transmission of w1 in particular, see: Lewon, Marc: „Die Liedersammlung des Liebhard Eghenvelder: im Ganzen mehr als die Summe ihrer Teile“, in: Rausch, Alexander and Björn, Tammen R. (eds.): Musikalische Repertoires in Zentraleuropa (1420–1450). Prozesse & Praktiken. Bericht über die Internationale Konferenz Wien, 22.-24. November 2010, Wien (Böhlau) 2014 (Wiener Musikwissenschaftliche Beiträge, vol. 24), pp. 299–343, esp. p. 324.


One thought on “Oswald quoting Neidhart: “Ir alten weib” (Kl 21) & “Der sawer kúbell” (w1)

  1. Pingback: A New Contrafact on “Talent m’est pris” | mlewon

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