Cancioneiro da Biblioteca Nacional B 526

Medieval Galician-Portuguese Songs

More than 1200 Galician-Portuguese medieval lyrics are preserved in two renaissance manuscripts. New research explores the special genre: the tenson (the debate)

Outras cantigas fazem os trobadores: sobre la concepción del debate trovadoresco en el cancionero gallego-portugués
By Déborah Gonzáleza
In Journal of Medieval iberian History 2015. Published online: 28 Sep 2015


cantigas di Sanata MariaIn the medieval treatise in prose called Arte de trovar, tenson is explained as a kind of cantiga (song) between two troubadours, who debate using strophic turns. The tenson is thus a debate between two interlocutors, each of whom performs a stanza or more generally a group of lines in turn. In the explanation it is also said that the lyric debate could be either d’amor, d’amigo or d’escarnho.

This classification should be observed in relation to the three main Galician lyric genres: songs of love, songs of friends and songs of derision (cantigas de amor, cantigas de amigo and cantigas de escarnio e maldizer), and their organization inside the manuscripts. The aim of this paper is to reflect on the notion of the tenson in the Galician-Portuguese poetic movement through the definition given by the Arte de trovar, through some rubrics and some references in the cantigas. It also examines the distribution of the thirty-three Galician-Portuguese lyric debates inside the Cancioneiro da Biblioteca Nacional (cod. 10991) and the Cancioneiro da Vaticana (Vat. Lat. 4803).


Déborah Gonzáleza is working as a post-doc at ‘Departamento de Filoloxía Galega. Área de Filoloxía Románica, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña, España.


The Cancioneiro da Vaticana is a compilation of troubadour lyrics in Galician-Portuguese. It was discovered c. 1840 in the holdings of the Vatican Library and was first transcribed by Ernesto Monaci in 1875. The songbook contains 228 folios with a total of 1205 lyrics that date from the 13th and 14th centuries. Nearly all the poems belong to the three principal genres of secular cantigas: the cantigas de amigo, cantigas de amor and cantigas de escárnio e maldizer. Even though the texts were meant to be sung, there is no musical notation.

The Cancioneiro da Vaticana, together with the Cancioneiro da Biblioteca Nacional (kept in Lisbon), were copied from an earlier manuscript (or manuscripts) around 1525, in Rome Italy at the behest of the Italian humanist Angelo Colocci. The two songbooks are either sister manuscripts or cousins. The Photo is from the manuscript kept in Lisbon.