The music and poetry of the troubadours - a remarkable blending of these two arts and the root of Europe's great traditions in both of them - flourished briefly, considerably less than two centuries. In that period, in a relatively small area centered in southern France, the art of joining words and music was explored in many ways and sometimes close to its limits of complexity, leaving a heritage that was spread abroad through Dante and Petrarch, Chaucer and the German Minnesingers, and still has a compelling power today.

Everytime a modern artist sings of love, the song inevitably follows in paths that were first explored by the troubadours, whose inventions included not only the classic forms of art song but the basic concepts of romantic love.

Friday night in the Library of Congress, the New World Consort and guest artist John Hetzler presented an unusual program devoted exclusively to the art of the troubadours. Complete with staging, costumes and a bit of dramatic action, it was a remarkably effective introduction to a part of music-history that deserves to be more widely known.

The performers (wisely, I think) by-passed some of the perplexing schoolarly questions related to their subject and chose the mose colorful and generally appealing aspects of the troubadours' art -- above all, the exquisite melodies they produced but also some glimpses of their lives and of the fascinating courtly society in which they moved, the tragedy of the Albigensian heresy and of the bitter crusade against it that wiped out the Provencal culture.

For this concert, Iwas a member of the WETA-FM radio audience. The presentation worked quite well even though we were deprived of costumes and staging. Some of the performances were superb -- especially the songs of the Countess of Dia and of Raimbaut de Vaqueiras, which were among the evening's musical high points.