Tale as Old as Time: The Rich History of Love Songs
We are in the heart of February! Hopefully this finds you surrounded by red roses and heart shaped balloons, or in the very least, half priced chocolates you purchased today and some sappy love songs. It could be argued that the majority of pop music we know and love from the last century centers around the topic of romantic love- but why? Turns out that our desire to serenade our partners and write cheesy romantic lyrics may have innate biological roots.
Apparently it was Charles Darwin who was the first reputable scientist to suggest that the human ability for musical expression evolved from the need to create love songs- much like a bird sings to attract a mate. Now, this idea has been heavily debated, as much of music's early tradition is based on group connection and communication. However, it is an interesting idea considering what seems like a human compulsion to create millions of songs about love.
The first evidence we have of love songs in ancient history dates back to Mesopotamia, where romantic and "suggestive" lyrics were written by the high priestess Enheduanna around 2000 BC. Fun fact: Enheduanna is also the earliest known named author in world history. So yeah... love songs are a pretty old tradition.
The troubadours of the Middle Ages really made love songs a staple of popular secular music. Think of them as the first "singer/songwriter" types, even though the music was monophonic- so no harmony, just one melodic line. These songs explored topics of courtly love and chivalry, often comedic and sometimes raunchy, which definitely paved the way for love songs in the future since other music was still being made within the confines of the church. As history moved forward, the love song stuck around- from the polyphonic madrigals of the Renaissance era, to lush German Lieder of the Romantic period, which set beautiful and heart wrenching love poems to music.
This brief history doesn't even touch the love song's deep tradition throughout the entire world! In China, Confucius compiled what is believed to be the oldest collection of Chinese poetry, with works from the 11th to 7th centuries BC, and includes folk songs surrounding the topic of love and courtship. Also, it is even stated that the songs of the troubadours in Europe originated from the love songs of slave women brought to Europe from the Middle East.
With such a rich history through time and around the globe, it is hard to deny that the desire to create music as an expression of love (and heartbreak!) is innate and part of the human experience.