Minnesang, Middle High German, comes from minne, meaning love, and sanc, meaning song. The term applies to the German variant of the secular love lyric of the 12th and 13th centuries. In the 12th century, the poets were knights and lower nobility who wrote to unattainable noble women (commonly unattainable because they were married), but in the 13th century they were also profesional poets of lower social status who wrote to other women of lower social status who were deemed worthy of their admiration. Characteristically the poem is considered a form of service on the part of a subservient man to his lady, and written in first person monologue who in the poem woos her, praises her beauty and noble virtues and articulates his frustration and determination in regards to his inability to “attain” her. Although this form of courtly love, called hohe minne in MHG, predominates in Minnesang, it is not the only form, either in theme or form. The surviving Minnesang contains a variety of paradigms, dialogues and perspectives. There are also lyrics portraying reciprocal love, perspective from a female perspective, dialogues songs and “objective genres” containing third person narrative including dawn songs and pastourelles.
Structurally, the Minnesang evolved quite a bit throughout the years. The older songs consist of a single stanza in three divisions. Two identical in form, known as Stollen, or doorposts, which state and develop the argument, and the third, Abgesang, of a different form which gives the conclusion. Later on, multistanzas became the norm, in tripartite stanza forms of short lines, with pure rhyme instead of assonance and dactylic rhythms. (Don’t worry, I’ll explain). Later still, in the 13th century, there was an increased use of refrain, as well as a “natureingang”, German for “nature opening” or “nature introduction”, denotes an introductory verse using images drawn from nature.
Here’s the thing that we can see so far, from research: considering the nature of the Minnesang and it’s evolution through the ages, there is not set and consistent rhyme scheme or super specific structure that defines the Minnesang.
That said, common structural elements are as follows:
- Two or more stanzas
- Short lines
- Tripartite stanza form [this is still being researched]
- Pure rhyme instead of assonance
- Dactylic rhythm structure: a dactyl, from the greek finger, is a metrical foot consisting of three syllables, one accented syllable followed by two unaccented syllables, such as in the word ‘poetry’.
- Use of refrain
- Introductory “natureingang”
1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Minnesingers. (2012, December 24). In Wikisource . Retrieved 18:03, July 18, 2019, from https://en.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=1911_Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Britannica/Minnesingers&oldid=4195168
Allen, Philip S. “The Origins of German Minnesang.” Modern Philology, vol. 3, no. 4, 1906, pp. 411–444. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/432388. https://www.jstor.org/stable/432388?seq=5#metadata_info_tab_contents
M. Konzett, Encyclopedia of German Literature. Routledge, 2015.
R. Greene and S. Cushman, The Princeton encyclopedia of poetry and poetics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012.
K. Reichl, Medieval oral literature. Berlin ; Boston: De Gruyter, 2016.