The foreign influence, which exerted itself so profoundly on the epic of chivalry, made itself felt, albeit to a lesser extent, also on the courtesan lyric. This, which is not a direct development of the ancient motifs of the national opera of the previous century, represented, for example, by Kürenberger and Dietmar von Eist, Austrians, still strangers, especially the former, to neo-Latin influences, took place under the fascination of Provencal lyric, and it was especially a lyric of love, hence its followers were called Minnesänger. The whole circle of his concepts and feelings is dominated by the Frauendienst and by its rules, which, also imported from France with courtly customs, had found in Germany a ground singularly ready by nature to welcome it and well prepared also for the cult of Mary, which has always remained the highest form of tender cult. The Minnesang, who at first was singing accompanied by music, and he adopted the forms of the Lied, composed of stanzas tripartite equal in the two Stollen and in ‘ Abgesang, the Leich, held under the influence of the Latin sequence, and the Spruch of stanzas unequal, of a praiseworthy or satirical nature, therefore moves in a wide domain of sentiments, ranging from the pious song to the Virgin of the CrusaderSensual Tagelied, which describes with vivid colors the risky happiness of love with married women. But just as the themes of the epic, passing from France to Germany, acquired a different moral color, so the lyric romance, if it learned the way of conceiving and expressing itself from the German poets, was here materialized with a very different spiritual substance. If love, as it was said, was a fire of the senses or a game of thought among the Provençals, it became more often in Minnesänger an intimate disposition of consciousness, a thing of the heart; if those were more virilely daring and more audacious, these were, in general, deeper and more tender, and in them, more than the thrill of conquest and joyful daring, a meditative and almost ascetic aspiration dominated; their poetry, in the expression of J. Grimm, was more frauenhaft.
According to CALCULATORINC, the first Minnesängers of any importance were the Rhenish Friedrich von Hausen, and the Thuringian Heinrich von Morungen, and especially Reinmar of Hagenau, praised at his death by Godfrey of Strasbourg as the leader of the polyphonic choir. However their productions, as far as we know, still remain mostly within the limits of conventional subjects and the art of reflection. In the overwhelming number of “nightingales”, as they liked to call themselves, the one who truly gave his lyric a personal accent, bringing art beyond the circle of courtesy into the domain of the soul was Walter von der Vogelweide.
With an absolute mastery of metrics and language, more concise and more lively than that of his contemporaries, he knew how to combine the popular element with the usual tendencies and ways, and, under the thrust of the three impulsive forces of his life – sincere sentiment worldly, piety and love of country – represented all forms of medieval lyric with equal excellence; and with him also, for the first time, poetry, supporting the principles of the national cause, made its voice heard in the dispute between the papacy and the empire. The fact that, unlike all his contemporaries, a kind of biography can be reconstructed, is an indication that there is something more in his work than the indistinct Minnesänger dream.
After Walter, the lyric, still cultivated by knights and even by kings, but in which crudely realist motifs and ways of art are introduced with the rustic poetry of Neidhart von Reuental or ironic or parody ideas are associated with Steinmar, gradually loses little by his candor of singing. The forced search for any originality, which could not spring from the imagination of its lovers, and the consequent variation of the old themes and ancient tones, led over time to an increasingly perfected and complicated technique, which required a real preparation special, which formed an integral part of courtesan education. But the nobility, decimated in the Crusades and ruined during the great interregnum, was also losing, with the privileges of a material order, the exercise of art; Frauenlob, and in their predilection for the doctrinal and erudite reasons with which they enriched the repertoire of gnomic poetry of wanderers, that Minnesang began its rapid decline towards pure formalism, in which, even before the relations between masters and disciples fixed in company statutes with a hierarchical order on the model of artisans’ guilds, it is necessary to look for the origins and fundamental principles of that address which later had the name of Meistergesang. Already towards the end of the century. XIII the term of Meistersänger begins to make its way for professional bourgeois poets, and that of Meistersanc for poetry technically regulated by those metric and linguistic norms that will constitute the meticulous legislation of tabulations in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
This passage of art from castles to cities, from nobility to craftsmanship, which at the same time begins its degeneration towards the scholastic cult of model and scheme, and which continues with the predilection and diffusion of didactic poetry and moralizing of a Freidank, of a Tommasino di Cerclaria, of a Ugo von Trimberg, this gradual loss of aristocratic characters and this tendency towards the bourgeois-popular world, which asserted itself at the end of the golden century of medieval poetry, imprint on the literature of the following centuries.