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Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Life in the Crusader States: Music and Performing Arts

Because music, dance and the performing arts are ephemeral art forms, they generally elude historical documentation. Yet we know from the written record that all these art forms thrived in the crusader states.

We know that an early form of drama was part of the cultural life of Outremer’s nobility. Performances of episodes from the legend of King Arthur, for example, were part of the festivities surrounding the knighting of the Lord of Beirut’s eldest sons. 

We know that music was part of the culture through Novare’s tales of singing satirical ballads outside besieged castles. Organs are mentioned in the inventory of the Lusignan palace at Nicosia. Richard the Lionheart wrote songs and allegedly heard a female slave of al-Adil give a musical performance. More generally, this was an age when polyphonic music was flourishing, music was notated, and musical instruments became more sophisticated. Given the constant pilgrim traffic to the Latin East, musical trends from the West presumably arrived in Outremer with each sailing season. 

However, Western musical innovations would have confronted powerful native traditions emanating from Constantinople. It is likely Outremer’s music was as multifaceted and diverse as its other art forms and was a unique hybrid, drawing on varied musical traditions. Unfortunately, we will never know it, much less enjoy it.


The bulk of this entry is an excerpt from Dr. Schrader's comprehensive study of the crusader states.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades.


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1 comment:

  1. Surely a sample of -- or the flavor of -- this "Crusader" polyphonic music is to be found in modern church hymns?


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