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Guide to the Music of Brittany© Table of ContentsBack to TopPrint

Musical Instruments of Brittany: The Violon & The Vielle à Roue

The Violon or Fiddle was noted first in Brittany in the 17th century and it has been an instrument found primarily in eastern Brittany. Most fiddlers were artisans--wood workers and furniture makers who sometimes made their own instrument. This instrument was at the height of its popularity in Brittany at the turn of the century when it was used to lead wedding processions and dances, but after World War I, it tended to be replaced by the accordion. In the 1970s only about 40 traditional fiddlers could be found. While Irish fiddling has been a source of inspiration for younger Bretons, research and collection of music from traditional Breton fiddlers has kept its practice going.

The Vielle à Roue or hurdy-gurdy has been found throughout Europe since the middle Ages. Its period of greatest development in France seems to have been the 18th century when it was a popular instrument of the court and aristocracy. In more recent centuries eastern Brittany along with the regions of Bourbonnais, Berry and Auvergne, have been particularly active areas for this instrument. Like other traditional instruments of Brittany, its use declined between the World Wars as the accordion gained ground. A current revival began in Brittany in the 1950s with the use of the hurdy-gurdy by the Celtic Circles (dance troupes) of Rennes, St. Malo, Penthièvre, St. Brieuc and Dinan. The hurdy-gurdy remains a part of an oral tradition in northeastern Brittany where it is played for dancing, wedding festivities and informally for local festivals.


«Le violon en Basse-Bretagne: le cas du Trégor.» Bernard Lasbleiz. (The fiddle in Lower Brittany: the case of Tregor). Musique bretonne 124, juillet-aout 1993, pages 3-13; Musique bretonne 125 septembre-octobre 1993, pages 7-12.
History of the fiddle and fiddle players in north-central Brittany; includes music, photos, maps.

«Le violon en Bretagne.» Pierrick Lemou and Ar Men (The fiddle in Brittany). Ar Men 55, novembre 1993, pages 22-35.
Nicely illustrated overview of the history of fiddle playing in Brittany.

«Le violon traditionnel - entre violoneux et violonistes.» David Guichard. Musique Bretonne 172, mai-juin 2002. pages 18-20.

«Le violon dans le pays vannetais.» Fred Samzun. Musique Bretonne 176, janvier-février 2003, pages 26-29.


Violon (Fiddle)

Didier Allain, Pierrick Lemou and Frederic Samzun
Violons en Bretagne. Pluriel/Collection Disker GRI 19049 2. 1994.

La Boueze
Violoneux traditionnels de Bretagne. La Boueze 1001.

Archetype. Escalibur CD 831. 1990.
Ensemble of Breton fiddlers performing traditional Breton tunes as well as original compositions and melodies from Scotland and Eastern Europe.

[Yann-Fañch Perroches and] Fañch Landreau
Daou ha daou. Keltia Musique. KMCD 111. 2000. 49'

Christian Lemaitre
Ballade à l'hotesse.Escalibur CD 858. 1995 50'05. 
Arrangements of traditional Breton tunes and a few compositions and borrowings; some with guitar, piano...

Christian Lemaitre and Jean-Pierre Le Cornoux
Affinités. Prod. Rouge-Gorge RG 01. 2003.
Fiddle with piano.

Pierrick Lemou
Kalon Koat. TVB Produiction. 1999. 
Combined with lots of other instruments.

Pierrick Lemou & Patrick Lefebvre
Seizh hun. Keltia Musique KMCD 90. 1998. 
Fiddle and accordion.

Pierrick Lemou & Christian Peloil
Musique Bretonne pour Violons. Ed. Allain Pennec. 2001. 
CD and book of tunes for learners.

Pierrick Lemou & Dominique Trichet
Reabaterien. Le Label CD 03/15. 2004.

Etienne Grandjean & Pierrick Lemou
Musiques Celtiques. Sony Music. 1996.
Accordion and fiddle.

Jean Sabat & Laors Dacquay
Harmonica, violon. Coop Breizh CD 915. 2001.

Various performers
Sonneurs de violon traditionnels en Bretagne. Anthologie des chants et musiques de Bretagne. vol. 5. Le Chasse-Marée/Ar Men SCM ?. 1993.
Beautifully documented recordings of traditional fiddling in Brittany.

Vielle à Roue (Hurdy-Gurdy)

Various performers
Sonneurs de vielle traditionnels en Bretagne. Musiciens et chanteurs tradtionnels. vol. 1. Le Chasse-Marée SCM 004. 1984 (double lp with rich jacket notes); reissued on CD Le Chasse-Marée SCM 024. 1993.

Jean-Pierre Lecuyer
Vielles à roue. Keltia Musique KMCD 114. 2001. (reedition of a 1983 recording).

Other Strings

Two string quartets with a classical edge to arrangements of Breton and other Celtic melodies and dances.

Arz Nevez
Pevar en avel. Pluriel/Molène Musiques/Sony  GRI 19 123-2. 2000.
Kerjadenn. Pluriel/Molène Musiques/Sony GRI 19 155-2. 2002

Maëlstrom - quartet à cordes de Bretagne. Keltia Musique KMCD 142. 2004.