Austin Troubadours bring medieval music to life

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Austin Troubadours members Slobodan Vujisic and Victor Eijkhout play various instruments, including the lute and others.
Photo Credit: Brooke Crim | Daily Texan Staff

Led by the high-pitched song of a wooden flute, the audience takes off on a journey through time as the medieval melody of the Austin Troubadours fills the air. 

Historically, troubadours were poets who traveled throughout southern France from the 11th to 13th centuries, singing and writing love poems. This Valentine’s Day, the Austin Troubadours, who are dedicated to performing pre-1750s European music, will be back to celebrate love with baroque and medieval tunes for their upcoming performance “Plaisir d’Amour.”

“The program is made of songs that are love songs of the Renaissance,” said Slobodan Vujisic, Austin Troubadours’ artistic director and founder. “We start in Italian, then we have some English, and we finish with a French song. They all have love in different themes — happy, unhappy, emotional, erotic.” 

During “Plaisir d’Amour,” the Troubadours will showcase ancient and rarely heard melodies throughout the Austin music scene that are adaptations of the original music found in libraries and online. Victor Eijkhout, the Troubadours’ wind player and UT computer science researcher and lecturer, said he is intrigued by the challenge playing medieval music presents. 

“The very early music is quite interesting, especially the really old music,” Eijkhout said. “A lot of it is very sketchily written down. You have to imagine and go by historical evidence of how it was performed at the time.”

The romantic, medieval feel of this Tuesday’s event will be enhanced by the antique-style costumes the Troubadours often don while performing. Eijkhout said the costumes help the performers feel more connected to the music. 

“The early music revival people were figuring out what to do with it,” Eijkhout said. “They started recreating it and dressing up, and then later in the 1970s or so people realized, ‘This is serious concert music, we don’t need to make a puppet show out of it. Let’s dress up in the regular tux and tie.’”

Eijkhout said it is very difficult for them to authentically imitate the original works, because they have no reference for how their songs would have sounded back in the day.

“We give it our own twist,“ Eijkhout said. “We try to imagine how it was performed at the time, and we try to bring that to life.”

Eijkhout said their unique instruments help them keep their performances as true to their original historical roots as possible.

“We have a great collection of instruments that are not readily available in stores,” Eijkhout said. “We have to order them, measure them and sometimes wait several years to get them.”

Though some of the Troubadours come from places as distant as India, the Netherlands and Serbia, they found themselves drawn together by their love of medieval music. 

“It was a project I had in mind for a while,” Vujisic said. “(Before) I came to Austin in 1994, I had a group in Belgrade. The group was very successful and we traveled all over Europe, and I was thinking Austin would be a great place to keep something like that going.”