Cantigas de Amigo

Galician, French, and Sephardic Women’s Songs

Women’s songs number among the earliest poetic relics that have come down to us in written form. They are songs in which the speaking/singing “person” is a woman. “Cansons de femmes,” as the Trouvère songs from the viewpoint of the women were called, were certainly written and performed by men.

Only in Provence were there women composers of whom we know today, the trobairitz:  Azalais de Porcairagues, Maria de Ventadorn, and the Comtessa Beatritz de Dia. And only from de Dia has a melody to one of the texts been preserved, the famous A chantar.

On the Iberian Peninsula, in Galicia, we encounter the Cantigas de Amigo by Martin Codax. This song cycle features typical exponents of women’s songs. Martin Codax was probably born around 1230 in the province of Galicia. Little is known about the life and work of this Iberian troubadour, and just as little about the date and place of his death. Besides Alonso el Sabia, Martin Codax is the only Iberian poet of the early period whose melodies have been preserved. Of his Siete Canciones de Amigo, six are provided with melodies. They are in the Galician language. The form and structure are based on those of the French virelai. The province of Galicia, once an independent kingdom under the Suebi, was a part of Castile in the thirteenth century. The language of this Iberian province spread far beyond its borders into northern Portugal and Castile, where it became the language of the poetry. Even the famous cantigas of King Alfonso el Sabio are written in the Galician language.

Our journey ends in the Mediterranean region, where many Sephardim fled after their expulsion. In 1492, the year of the “Reconquista” (the conquest of Granada and the expulsion of the Moors) and the “conquista” (Columbus’s “discovery” of America), the Jews were expelled from Portugal and Spain as the result of an edict by Cardinal Cisneros and, now homeless – as so often in their long history – sought new lands in which they were welcome. They settled primarily in the Mediterranean region and continued to live in their Jewish-Spanish tradition. It was above all the women who cultivated the song tradition and passed it on from generation to generation. In the 1950s, musicologist Isaac Levy traveled to these countries and unearthed a true treasure: “I visited one old woman after another, village by village, in order to hear their songs from their own mouths and to record them. They are sung still today by the women in Greece, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Rhodes,” wrote Levy during his researches. He then published a four-volume collection of Sephardic songs in London in the early 1960s. Levy’s work did not remain without resonance. Pablo Casals, for example, wrote to him from Puerto Rico: “I received your Sephardic song collection with gratitude. I immediately succumbed to the charm of the songs. Your work deserves admiration and respect – the songs deserved to become known in the world. I recognized some of the songs: they are also found in Catalan folklore, which is certainly indicative of a Sephardic origin.”

The songs of the Middle Ages – like medieval poetry in general – were not intended to be read, but rather for public performance. How the text and the music were realized, the role played by free improvisation, and how all of this interacted in the performance of the songs is difficult to determine, and only in exceptional cases have the melodies of the songs come down to us. Therefore, improvisation is the basis of our work in the exploration of the medieval sources. This is also a reason why the performing of and listing to this old music always also include the “here and now.”




  • A chantar (Comtessa Beatriz de Dia)
  • Canso: Ar em al freg temps (Text: Azalais de Porcairague [Ende 12. Jh.], Melodie: Maria Jonas)
  • Chantereai pur mon courage (Anonym / Chanson de femme, Chanson de croisade)
  • Ab jois e jovens m’apaia (Text: Beatriz de Dia, Melodie: Maria Jonas 2016)


Liederzyklus von Martín Codax

  • Ondas do mar de Vigo
  • Mandad‘ei comigo
  • Mia yrmana fremosa
  • Ay Deus!
  • Quantas sabedes amar
  • Eno sagrado en Vigo
  • Ay ondas do mar


  • Nanni, nanni (Tanger)
  • El rey de muncho madruga (Türkei)
  • Porque llorax blanca niña (Türkei)