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Celtic Music of Brittany and Cornwall

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Updated: June 25, 2003

Although most folks think of Celtic music, in their mind they hear Irish or Scottish music. However, Celtic music also is found in Brittany in France (Breton NOT Cape Breton), and in Galicia and Asturias in Spain. These latter musical traditions are smaller, but increasingly vibrant and growing. These music traditions have different songs and different dances and rhythms. But there are connections as you will clearly hear. My knowledge of these traditions is poor indeed, and anyone who wants to help with this section of the website would be most appreciated!

Brittany (Bretagne, France):

Celtic peoples also settled in other parts of Europe. The musical cultures in those areas have not been as prominent as the Irish and Scottish music. However, they are enjoying their own revivals. In Brittany, France, in particular, the Celtic music scene has become very active recently. (This Breton music should not be confused with the music from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia which is largely Scottish music and featured on its own pages.)

Breton musicians favor a harsh oboe-like instrument called a bombarde. They also have a higher-pitched shrill reed instrument, the biniou. The harmonies and dance rythyms are often different too. The result is clearly celtic, but strikingly different sound than Scottish, Irish or even Acadian or Quebecois music. I am still acquiring the taste, and enjoy some of it in small doses. Without the piercing bombardes and binious, the playing of fiddler Christain LeMaitre, who recently appeared in S.F. as part of the group "Celtic Fiddle Festival", is a joy. Breton tunes are increasingly played by other groups which appear locally such as Open House.

There is a very nice survey of Fest-Noz music in Brittany today by Steve Winick in the Feb/Mar 98 issue of Dirty Linen magazine (#74). This is worth seeking out. In addition to the easily obtainable albums below, you can hear Breton music on several Green Linnet samplers and in the playing of Open House.

Breton Resources:

Music of Cornwall

Cornwall is that piece of land at the southwest corner of Great Britain that sticks out into the Atlantic. Historically, the culture had a strong Celtic element. The music of Cornwall more closely resembled that of

Cornwall, located on the extreme southwest corner of that is now Great Britain, has a unique culture, linguistically and musically. Located just across the Channel from Brittany, the language and music of Cornwall have closer connections with the Breton language and music than with other Celtic traditions such as Welsh or Irish.

The Cornish musical tradition came closer to dying out than some of the other celtic traditions, but today is beginning to enjoy a revival. I hope to have more coverage of this music in the future. A useful place to start is on the web page of one of the premiere Cornish groups, Anao Atao, that has a nice introduction to Cornish Music.

Other resources on Cornish music:

Where to Buy Cornish CDs:

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Please send me your comments or suggestions: jim@sfcelticmusic.com