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Musical Instruments of Brittany: Biniou Bras & the Bagad

The Scottish style bagpipes were introduced to Brittany in the late 1800s. Between 1895 and 1928 just five of these instruments were in use. These bagpipes did not attain any degree of popularity until the late 1930s when they were used in place of the Biniou koz in pair with the Bombarde. While still used in this pairing today, this bagpipe is best known for its role in the Bagad, a Breton bagpipe band developed in the early 1950s. At this point the Scottish bagpipe came to be known as the Biniou Braz or Biniou Nevez and they were modified in tuning to more closely match the fingering of the small biniou koz. In the 1960s Bretons reverted to the Scottish model and its tuning in using this instrument in the bagad. The French word Cornemuse is also used to refer to this type of bagpipe, but usually refers to bagpipes more generally, or is used to refer to solo piping using this instrument.

The Bagad is a bagpipe band modeled after Scottish pipe bands, but this ensemble includes Bombardes as well as Scottish style bagpipes and drums. Typically a bagad includes eight Scottish bagpipes, eight bombardes, four snare drums, two tenor drums and one bass drum. While members of a bagad wear «uniforms» these are often very simplified version of older traditional dress, incorporating perhaps an embroidered vest.

Although the Bagad has always been a popular part of parades at large Breton festivals, these ensembles also perform Breton dance music, arranging tunes from the traditional repertoire of singers or the paired playing of biniou koz and bombarde. As the quality of technique has improved over the past three decades, Bagadoù (pl.) have become more and more innovative in arranging Breton music and in composing new music. Annual contests for six different levels of bagadoù are showcases for the highly sophisticated orchestrations, especially at the top level of competition. In developing a concert repertoire, bagadoù also invite singers and other instrumentalists (brass, clarinets, electric and acoustic guitars) to join them in performance.

Most of the 100 or so Bagadoù in Brittany today are part of the federation Bodadeg ar Sonerion which was founded in 1942. This federation publishes a magazine (Ar Soner), and organizes classes and contests for pipers and bombarde players.


Ar Soner (55 impasse de l'Odet, 29000 Quimper).
Published by Bodadeg ar Sonerion, an organization for bagpipers and bombarde players with approximately 3,000 members. This magazine primarily of interest to these musicians (with contests results and music transcriptions as a major part of the content), but it also includes articles on Breton music of more general interest.

«Bagad - triomphe d'une nouvelle tradition». Armel Morgant. (Spezet: Coop Breizh) 2005. 159 pages.  Well documented book, richly illustrated with photos on the history of the bagad.

«La Musique bretonne» Roland Becker & Laure Le Gurun. (Spezet: Coop Breizh) 1994. 120 pages
Good single source of short background information on Breton music--especially good for piping and instrumental traditions.

«Breton Traditional tunes for the Scottish Highland Bagpipe». Jean-Luc Le Moign. 1989
60 Breton tunes transcribed for the Scottish Highland pipes; includes dances and melodies from all over Brittany with notes for learners.

«Quarante années au service de la musique bretonne» Polig Monjarret. Ar Soner 273 (40th anniversary issue), 1983. pages 7-18. Overview of the use of bagpipes in Brittany and the evolution of Breton music in relation to social and political changes

«Polig Monjarret parle de Dorig Le Voyer (1914-1987)» Monjarret, Polig.
Ar Soner 299 (December 1987), pages 16-20;  Ar Soner 300 (January-March 1988), pages 8-11;
Ar Soner 301 (April-June 1988), pages 19-22.  Both Polig Monjarret and Dorig le Voyer were important figures in the renaissance of piping in the 1950s in Brittany; this article focuses on the role of Dorig Le Voyer who was also a pioneer as a pipes and bombarde maker.

«Polig Monjarret 1920-2003» Ar Soner 372, (January-February 2004). 24 pages.  Hommage to this giant in the history of Breton piping which includes interesting overview of his life and influence.

«La B.A.S.: Mouvement generateur d'une conscience bretonne» Ollivier, Steven. Ar Soner 327 (January-February 1994), pages 4-8 Interesting history of the Bodadeg ar Sonerion and its place in the history of Breton music and piping--especially the development of the bagad.

«Un sociologue chez les bagadoù» Aurélian Le Gal. Ar Soner 371 (October-December 2003), pages 15-23.  A sociological analysis of the human make-up of the bagad and changes over time.

«Le triomphe des sonneurs» Ronan Latry & Stéphane Riou. Ar Soner 376 (October-December 2004), pages 22-25. A look at the role of the bagad in festivals and parades.


Included here are just the most recent recordings, although a few older «classics» are also noted.

Solo Bagpipes Cornemuse - Scottish style instrument

Patrick Molard.
Biniou braz Cinq Planètes/Calen Distr. 1998;
Deliou L'OZ Production  L'OZ 29 (NV3541-1). 2000. Includes uillean pipes, Scottish pipes; Scottish small pipes, biniou koz,  Bulgarian singer Kalinka Vulcheva.

Patrick Molard & Alain Genty.
To the Bobs. Keltia Musique KMCD 156. 2004. Bagpipes, guitar and keyboard features Scottish repertoire in homage to Bob Brown and Bob Nicol as well as pipesmaker Bob Hardie. A book of tunes is also published under the same title..

(Patrick Molard) & Dan ar Bras.
Theme for the Green Lands: Suite for Pipes and Guitar. Keltia Musique MCD48, 1993. Compositions by Dan ar Bras which feature a great deal of piping by Patrick Molard.

Various pipers.
Bretagne cornemuse aventures. EOG Production. EOG 110. 2001. Includes solo and accompanied piping by Alan Cras, Patrick Molard, Gwenaël Le Corrone, Hervé Le Floc'h, Mikael Cozien, Yann Cariou.
Solistes Bretons de cornemuse. Self-produced CBS 01. 2002

The Bagad

Note that many bagadoù have websites on the internet where you can sample their music.

Bagad! - Une légende bretonne
Pathé DFRS 457155. 3 hours DVD and 42-minute CD. This presents the history of the bagad, includng interviews with musicians and bagad performances and practice

Various Bagads and ensemble
Concours de Brest 2004
. Bodadeg ar Sonerien 2004. Contest performances by Brittany's top bagadoù
Bagadoù Brest 2005. 3 CD set. 2005. Championship performances from 56th year of contest.
Bagadoù - L'Anthologie. Coop Breizh CD 945. 2005. 2 CD set. Richly illustrated and documented 50-page portrait of 19 bagadoù accompanies the CDs.
Bombardes en fête. BAS Penn ar Bed. CDBAS 29 001. 2002.  Performances from 1994 to 2001 from an annual festival of bombardes - from traditional dances to Beatles tunes, solo and ensembles.

Bagad Brieg.
Gogo Droc'h. Coop Breizh. CD 899. 2000.
Karamba - Le Canard déchainé. Keltia Musique KMCD 162. 2005.

Bagad Cap Caval
Brezhoneg 'raok. Coop Breizh BCC 002. 2002
Hepken. Bagad Cap Caval BCC 003. 2004

Bagad Kemper.
Hep Diskrog. Keltia Musique KMCD 100. 1999
Azeliz Iza. Keltia Musique KMCD 121. 2001.
Sud-ar-su. Keltiq Musique KMCD 151. 2004

Bagad Kemperle.
Ar Gouriz ruz. Coop Breizh CD 895. 1999.

Bagad Kerlenn Pondi.
Fest a gren. Arfolk CD 446. 1997.
Champion de Bretagne des Bagadoù 2001. Coop Breizh. 2001

Bagad Landerne
Bagad Landerne. BL 001. 2003.

Bagad de Lann-Bihoue.
Ar mor divent. Columbia COL 498476-2. 2000.
Fromveur. Byg Production SAM 5086512. 2002.
Kerbagad. Label Production CD 965. 2005.

Bagad Men ha Tan & Henri Texier.
Doue Lann. L'OZ Production L'OZ 21. 1998.

Bagad Men ha Tan & Doudou N'Diaye Rose.
Dakar. L'OZ Production. L'OZ 30/NV 3601-1. 2000. 51'43. Senegal drums added to bagad

Bagad de Moulin Vert . Ar Meillhoù glaz
Steir' Tijenn. Pluriel POLCD 2305. 2003. 

Bagad Pa&ntild;vrid (Pomerit-le-Vicomte)
Skipailh war-roak. Self-peroduced VOL 193. 2004

Bagad Ronsed Mor-Lokoal Mendon.
Coeff 116. Arfolk 441. 1997.
Bloavezh mat. Coop Breizh CD 957. 2 CD set. 2004.

Bagad de Saint-Nazaire.
Fonds de Terroir. OMAX 9820. 1998.
QM2 CD SNA-0324. 2004. 

Black Label Zone.
Pot' velu. Siam Production. BLZ 310300. 2000  More of a Scottish style ensemble featuring the bagpipes and drummers in wild arrangements.

Bagad de Vannes.
Er Melineriou - Dour er vilin.BVC01. 2003.
Gwenn ha Blue. Self-produced. BV02/VOC236. 2005

Kevrenn Alre.
La-ri-don-gé! Arflok CD 442. 1997;
50 ans. Coop Breizh/Kevrenn Alre 2001.

Kevrenn Brest St. Mark.
Ocean Liberty. KBSM 002. 1996;
Levezon. KBSM 003. 2000.

François Monnier.
L'Occidentale de Fanfare. Coop Breizh CD878. 1998  Bagad with fifes of Gascony.