Minnesong (Minnesang), poetic-musical art form dealing with courtly love (approx. 1160 to the early 15th century), not based on actual experience but on formalisation, which formed part of a broader literary treatment of various aspects of love on the part of medieval nobility. The first minnesongs were created about 1160 in Germany and especially in Austria. Unlike the (earlier) French lovesongs of Provençal troubadours, the oldest German-language lovesongs derived from the tradition of indigenous vernacular literature. The early courtly minnesingers include the poet Der von Kuerenberg, Dietmar von Aist and the Burgrave of Regensburg. Around 1170 the Minnesang of the Danube area gave way to its Romance-inspired counterpart associated with the Hohenstaufen court of Friedrich Barbarossa and Heinich VI, which also developed the concept of Hohe Minne, in which the knight pines for an inaccessible noble lady without any hope of finding a hearing. A subsequent conflict about the idea of Hohe Minne reached its climax at the Vienna court of the Babenbergs around 1200 in the dispute between Reinmar der Alte and Walther von der Vogelweide ("Walther-Reinmar feud"), with Waltherr von der Vogelweide sharply criticising the concept and promoting the idea of mutual love independent of differences in rank or standing (Niedere Minne). In the late Middle Ages (from 1210) the critical stance against Hohe Minne gained momentum, particularly in the work of Neidhart von Reuental, the originator of satirical village poetry. Austrian minnesingers around and after Neidhart included Tannhaeuser, Zachaeus von Himmelberg, Heinrich von Lienz, Konrad von Suoneck, Ulrich von Sachsendorf, Leuthold von Saeben, Rubin, Walther von Metze, Rudolf von Stadeck, Friedrich von Sonnenburg, Freidank, Reimar der Videlere, Hartmann von Starkenberg, der von Scharpfenberg, Herrand von Wildonie and Ulrich von Liechtenstein. Reinmar von Zweter, Brother Wernher and the poet Marner stood at the threshold of a new era characterised by the gradual transition to Meistersang. Hugo von Montfort and Oswald von Wolkenstein were the minnesingers who achieved a last revival of the forms and motifs of minnesong; their œuvre was marked by a subjectivism that clearly turned away from the more anonymous concept of minnesong.
Minnesongs have for the most part been handed down in collective manuscripts, the most important of which are the Grosses Heidelberger Handschrift (1st half of the 14th century), the Kleines Heidelberger Handschrift (13th century), the Weingartner Liederhandschrift (ca. 1300) and the Jenaer Handschrift (with musical notation, ca. 1310).
Editions: Des Minnesanges Fruehling, ed. by K. Lachmann and M. Haupt 1857; 2nd ed. by H. Moser and H. Tervooren. 381977; Fr. H. v. d. Hagen, Minnesinger, 4 vols., 1838; C. v. Kraus, Deutsche Liederdichter des 13. Jahrhunderts, 21978.
Literature#P. Dronke, Die Lyrik des Mitellalters, 1977.