Okay, we know what you’re thinking: “No way man Rock & Roll was born in ‘Merica in the 1950s by the likes of Chuck Berry and Elvis,” but stick with us. You’re about to receive a history lesson unlike any other. A strong case can be made that Rock & Roll’s roots lie in a land mostly associated with epic mountains, world class wines and more castles than anywhere else in Europe.
In 1170, a lad was born unto the world whose gift for prose and song enchanted thousands in his time. So innovative were his lines and melodies that they continue to be revered today. Who is this medieval rock star? None other than Walther von der Vogelweide. Say that three times fast. We dare ya.
Widely thought to have first seen light in South Tyrol (possibly in the villages of Lajen or Waidbruck just east of South Tyrol’s capital, Bolzano), Walther von der Vogelweide is the greatest Minnesinger of all time.
What is a Minnesinger you ask? Think of them as the Jim Morrisons of medieval times. Minnesingers were musically poetic souls from Germanic lands of Europe akin to the ancient Troubadours of France. Together, they arose from the intellectual light born out of the Dark Ages in the 12th and 13th centuries. The sudden advent of their songs and poetry is one of the most remarkable events in the history of music and literature.
Love The Beatles, U2, The Foo Fighters or any other musical act of modern times? Thank the Minnesingers and Troubadours of time long past. Without their ingenious mingling of word and melody with injections of a rebel yell, songs we love to belt out in the shower today would not exist.
So you see, all forms of modern music — including Rock & Roll— are in a way rooted in South Tyrol. Fitting really. The jarring jagged mountain peaks of this region in northern Italy seem almost like raised fists in the air.
Read on to learn more about this Rock & Roll rebel of the Middle Ages that we owe so much to.
Poets in Flight
The title Minnesinger is derived from the old world word “Minne” — signifying love, which was the usual subject they were prone to sing while drawing a bow across the strings of a viol. But Minnesingers also wrote galant songs capturing the spirit of knights roving about in search of chivalrous adventure. Songs no doubt well suited to the age of the Crusades — when the world rang with the renown of noble names and knightly deeds.
Walther’s name —Walther of the Bird Meadow— supposedly stems from his love of nature and his fondness for song birds. That certainly seems to be likely as many of his lyrics accentuate adulation for the winged wonders such as in “When From The Sod The Flow’Rets Spring”:
When from the sod the flow’rets spring,
And smile to meet the sun’s bright ray,
When birds their sweetest carols sing
In all them morning pride of May,
What lovelier than the prospect there?
Can earth boast any thing more fair?
To me it seems an almost heaven,
So beauteous to my eyes that vision bright is given.
Do those lines remind you of any particular modern Rock & Roll classic? They should. Recall Robert Plant’s infectious crooning in Led Zeppelin’s biggest hit, “Stairway to Heaven”:
There’s a sign on the wall
But she wants to be sure
‘Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings
In a tree by the brook
There’s a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiving
Where Song Became Stone
South Tyroleans hold Walther von der Vogelweide in such high regard that in 1889 the city of Bolzano not only named its main square the “Waltherplatz” but also embellished it with a remarkable fountain, adorned by a noble statue of the tender-hearted bard sculpted in exceptional detail from the region’s renowned