In 1852 Louis Napoleon ordered the publication of a general compilation of French popular poetry on the suggestion of Hippolyte Fortoul, his Minister of Education. This effort was not, however, the first of its kind: a questionnaire issued in 1808 by J.A. Dulaure and M. Mangourit for the Académie Celtique, and a subsequent enquiry by Count Narcisse Achille de Salvandy in 1845 concerning a competition with prizes awarded by the grand master of the Royal Counsel of Public Instruction, were the first official attempts to identify folksong materials.
Napoleon’s decree of 1852 did, however, lay the foundation for what would later be called ‘French musical folklore’. The philology section of the Committee on the Language, History and Arts of France was charged with the responsibility for this publication, the purpose of which was the collection of songs. However, agreement was not easily reached on suitable materials for collection and publication. Committee members held repeated meetings, discussing religious, war and festival songs, ballads, historical narratives, legends, tales and satires. Medievalists claimed that this publication was the rightful place for chansons de geste, poetry of the trouvères and troubadours, and epics. Others felt that all French dialects should be represented. Unable to reach a consensus, a commission was established, with Jean-Jacques Ampère as chair, charged with establishing ‘the true nature of folksongs, distinguishing between their various forms, and preparing instructions for our corresponding members accompanied by examples’ (Bulletin du Comité de la Langue, 1853, i, p.26). Ampère’s Instructions were issued in 1853 (ed. Cheyronnaud, 1997) and were immediately sent to all corresponding members who acted as the committee’s deputies in the provinces.
112 deputies were involved in the Fortoul project. Songs transcribed and translated in the field acquired the status of monuments, and were sent to the committee which classified them with reference to an exegetical commentary that set out criteria for their appraisal. 13 song classifications were envisaged, distinguishing between religious poetry and folk poetry of peasant origin, didactic and moral poetry and historical poetry, romantic poetry and occasional songs, and so on. 3250 manuscripts reached the committee and were classified under the 13 headings, intended to be printed in the same number of volumes. The death of Fortoul in 1856, however, ended the publication project, and the documents were deposited in the manuscripts department of the Bibliothèque Nationale in 1876.
The results of this collecting, modelled on Herzat de la Villemarqué’s Barzaz-Breiz (1839), were widely distributed. Coussemaker published Chants populaires des flamands de France in 1856, and Damase Arbaud published Chants populaires de la Provence in 1862–4; these were followed by the collections of Max Buchon (1863), Prosper Tarbé (1863), Achille Durieux and Adolphe Bruyelle (1864), Théodore de Puymaigre (1865), François-Marie Luzel (1868–90) and Jérôme Bujeaud (1895) among others.
In 1881 Paul Sébillot began publishing his series Les littératures populaires de toutes les nations, each of which included a number of songs, indicating that a market had indeed been created. Publishers were encouraged to increase the number of titles as folklorists contributed to such journals as Mélusine and the Revue des traditions populaires. The Schola Cantorum established in 1896, with the encouragement of Charles Bordes, Félix Alexandre Guilmant and Vincent d’Indy, quickly became a meeting place for discussing traditional and art musics.
There was also an educational element to the domestication of traditional musics. Writing in 1845 and referring to the precepts of J.M. de Gérando (1819) and G.L.B. Wilhem (1821), Salvandy stated that the principal reason for teaching singing in schools was ‘to contribute to the moral and intellectual improvement of the young’ (see Moreau, 1845). In 1895 Julien Tiersot collaborated with the poet Maurice Bouchor in selecting a book of chants populaires pour les écoles that was intended as a model of musical practice for schools. The Heugel publishing firm published an Anthologie du chant scolaire et post-scolaire in 1925, which contained works by specialists in the subject: Tiersot, d’Indy, Dalcroze, Emmanuel, Ducasse, Brun, Bouchor, Expert and others. There were other similar ventures. The Vichy government played to the efficacy of song in a programme of moral edification, and since that time it has been a constant feature of education.
Parallel to the development of printed materials, the advent of sound recording led to the formation of sound archives in Europe in response to the pioneering work of Dr L. Azoulay, who produced the first phonographic recordings at the time of the 1900 Paris World Exposition. Following the example of Vienna (1900) and Berlin (1902), the University of Paris opened a laboratory in 1911, the Archives de la Parole under the direction of Ferdinand Brunot. The Archives provided a structure to organize systematic collecting in the field. The first sound recording expedition set off for the Ardennes in 1912, a second went to Limousin in 1913 and a third to Berry. Organized collecting was interrupted in 1914, but resumed after World War I. Thus a musical folklore of France was in the process of formation along the lines of the museum system, just as the institutional face of ethnology was beginning to change.
In 1925 Paul Rivet, Lucien Lévi-Bruhl and Marcel Mauss established an Institute of Ethnology within the University of Paris. Ethnology had by this time become an academic subject. In 1928 Georges-Henri Rivière was asked to restore the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro, a temple of colonial education created during the period of the Third Republic in 1878. He in turn asked André Schaeffner to organize a department of musical organology in 1929, and this department acquired a library of recordings in 1932. Schaeffner published Origine des instruments de musique in 1936. Meanwhile, the Musée de la Parole again organized collecting expeditions, and in 1929 the Society of French Folklore began publishing a journal, the Revue du folklore français. This publication became the Revue du folklore français et de folklore colonial in 1932 and Ethnologie française in 1971.
At the time of the 1937 World Exposition, four museums shared the recently built Palais de Chaillot, including the Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires, devoted to the ethnography of folklore; it was the first official institution of its kind in France. The new museum became a centre of folklore documentation, assembling an archive of instruments inherited from the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro and commercial recordings of traditional French music.
After the creation of the Phonothèque Nationale in 1938, its director Roger Devigne sent missions sonores to the Alps and Provence, while the Musée du Trocadéro organized a collecting expedition in lower Brittany. World War II interrupted these new collecting programmes. Cultivating a sense of regional pride was a dominant theme of the cultural programme under the Vichy regime, and song and dance were among its most important features. In 1930 the Fédération des Associations Régionales spearheaded the creation of a national committee for disseminating propaganda by means of folklore. It became the Comité Nationale du Folklore in 1941 and was in charge of cultural strategies for Pétain’s government. Folklore groups were established throughout France, particularly in the free zone. The Revue du folklore français et de folklore colonial offered advice on the formation of such groups; this was the beginning of cooperation between research and cultural institutions.
Separate from the Vichy government, Patrice Coirault, who had already published Recherches sur notre ancienne chanson populaire traditionelle in 1933, published the monumental Notre chanson folklorique with Picard in Paris in 1941, which set out the main principles that would become standard after the war. In 1945 the Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires officially abandoned the use of the term ‘French musical folklore’, as it had pejorative connotations left over from the Vichy period. Thus, musical activities were undertaken in the name of musical ethnography, from 1954 known as ethnomusicology.
From that time, the museum and laboratory system served as a framework for the development of traditional music studies. Under Claudie Marcel-Dubois and Maguy Andral, French ethnomusicology reached out in many directions. Collecting expeditions proliferated, providing materials for the study of ‘music of archaic structure’. Studies of formulae, modes of musical expression and technical mechanisms shed new light on the newly recognized field. Comparative analysis became an important area, and it was soon enriched by input from acoustic analysis, initiating studies of traditional instruments with the study of organology.
The extensive collecting activity set in motion by the Musée National des Arts et Traditions Populaires (particularly after it moved in 1971 to its present site in the Bois de Boulogne) was greatly stimulated by the decentralization law of 1982. By reinforcing the powers of local government, this law paved the way for a great extension of collecting activities in the regions. After the foundation of the Conservatoire Occitan in Toulouse, other associations were established: Dastum in Brittany, the Agence des Musiques Traditionelles d’Auvergne at Riom, the Centre Culturel de Flandre at Hazebrouck, the Centre Lapios in the Gironde and others. With subsidies from regional and local government councils, they undertook ambitious collecting campaigns, which led to the establishment of archives and sound recording libraries. Grouped together within the Fédération des Associations de Musique Traditionelle, they produce the journal Modal and are currently developing major recording projects.
France, §II: Traditional music
2. General characteristics.
While composers such as Canteloube (1947) aimed to define a single body of traditional French music, contemporary collectors emphasize regional identities. Their programmes, organized around the urgency of collecting, lead in the direction of conservation, the construction of archives and the consultation of archival documents, developing along the lines of the museum model in three ways: systematic collecting, field research and international exchange. Marcel Maget, for example, worked with the Arts et Traditions Populaires framework to liberate traditional music from its marginal position by encouraging comparative studies dealing with subjects such as aksak rhythms and issues of transcription and improvisation. The search for lost origins and the fascination with traditional musical creativity have yielded significant field research, which in its turn lends authority to transcription and comparative analysis. In the work of Maguy Andral, older methods have been superseded by the study of variants (beginning with such archaic forms as shepherds’ calls and chanted formulae); Denis Laborde has studied the improvisations by Basque bertsulari of rhymed, metrical verse on existing melodic structures. New areas of study have also emerged: Lothaire Mabru’s work focusses on body postures during instrumental performance; Jacques Cheyronnaud studies formal functions of musical utterances in places of worship.
As repertories have been analysed and compared, there has been a temptation (which Constantin Brāiloiu did not escape) to trace variants of the same song or instrumental piece and to focus on the differences between them, depending on whether they were recorded in Brest or Morlaix, Corte or Ajaccio, Vendôme or Blois. There should be no objection to regarding variation as a recurrent principle in traditional musical forms; this probably has less to do with the intrinsic quality of traditional music than with the ways in which we perceive these repertories. In three variants of a song recorded and transcribed by Claudie Marcel-Dubois in different parts of Haute-Loire (ex.1), a notable feature is the importance of speech in the rhythmic structure of a syllabic song in which the melismatic rate is always one to one.
Local skills and manufacturing methods have produced instruments with unique sonorities, and thus despite organological relationships, the Provençal tambourin is not the same as the drum of the Vendée, the galoubet is not the Basque txistu, the Provençal musette bagpipe is not the same as the cornemuse of the Borbonnais, Berry or Morvan, the Béarnais zither is not identical with the Basque ttun-ttun. However, certain families of instruments are dispersed over particular geographic and cultural areas. Examples of such families include the strident sound of flutes in the south, the drone of bagpipes in the centre and west, the clatter of cog-rattles (fig.16b) and grinding timbre of hurdy-gurdies in the Massif Central (fig.16c), the nasal tone of Pyrenean oboes, the powerful dull thud of the Provençal tambourin, the noisy strains of village wind bands, the blare of signalling horns on rocky coasts or in mountainous regions, the hunting horns of Sologne, the roar of musical copper cauldrons on Midsummer’s Eve in the west, the twanging of Corsican jew’s harps and the famous carillons of bells in the north. Similarities in vocal performance could be enumerated, such as the regular rhythm of children’s counting games, songs bordering on speech, cries bordering on song, shepherds’ calls, the whooping of frenzied dancers, sobs in funeral keening, harvesters’ calls, ploughmen’s injunctions to beasts in the Massif Central, the vibrato of Nivernais drovers, the humming of Bugey charamelleurs and imitations of instrumental sounds, either emphatic guttural effects or monotonous, uniform intonations.
The majority of traditional songs are monodic and performed as solos. However, performance by two singers in a responsorial pattern is widespread in Brittany and the Vendée. In the interior of Brittany this kind of sung dialogue is called Kan ha diskan; two singers take turns singing stanzas, but overlap at the end of each stanza. These responsorial pieces are often dance-songs. In the Basque country, bertsulari poets improvise rhymed stanzas of verse which they sing to a timbre, a tune everyone knows. The practice of sung improvisation, linked with strong regional identities, is expanding today. Apart from organized choirs, such as those found widely in Alsace, vocal polyphony is rare, found in very different regions, such as in Corsica (the paghiella) and the Basque country (the oxote).
It is possible to trace a similar distribution of types of instrumental music. For example, there are repertories for two parts on a single instrument. One playing technique is referred to as picotage (‘pecking’): the instrumentalist constantly returns to a bass note while playing a melody. This (ex.2) is a feature of music for the cabrette (droneless bagpipe) of the Massif Central. The drone may take the form of a rhythmic ostinato, as with the tambourin à cordes (‘string drum’) found in the south and the ttun-ttun of the Basque province of Soule. The manner of playing is the same as that of the one-man fife-and-drum player: the cords of the tambourin are struck with a wooden stick held in one hand while the musician plays the fife, galoubet, or in Soule the txirula, with the other hand. There are also ensembles built around the polyphonic principle: bagpipes and accordions (often diatonic; fig.16a), ensembles consisting of hurdy-gurdies and bagpipes, the Breton bands of bombardes (shawms) and binious (small bagpipes; fig.16d) and village wind bands in Alsace, and Catalan coblas, ensembles of hurdy-gurdies, shawms, cornets and bass which play an important role in dances and processions (fig.16e).
France, §II: Traditional music
The Cantilène de Saint-Faron, a ballad dating from the year 622 that was sung by a chorus of women accompanying themselves with hand-clapping, and recorded in a 9th-century manuscript, is commonly taken to be the first transcription of dance. Manuscript sources from the 9th century to the 12th mention tropes, refrains, trouvère songs, airs for games, dance music and danseries, and noëls. The heyday of the trobar, poetry of the troubadours of the langue d’Oc area, occurred in the 13th century. In the 14th century, the tenor parts of polyphonic art music borrowed popular melodies, and Le Roman de Fauvel (completed c1317) includes many sottes chansons, lays, rondeaux and charivari songs, making it a symbol of the hybrid origins of the Ars Nova. The movement was extended in the following centuries to include drinking songs of the Compagnie du Vau-de-vire, Gautier Garguille’s chansons folastres, and many transcriptions of popular songs in the Bayeux manuscript, to which may be added polyphonic works by Du Fay, Josquin and others. Throughout the 17th century, Pont-Neuf songs and mazarinades (mocking Mazarin and those in political power) encouraged the creation and distribution of a repertory using well-known tunes in which new words were composed to existing airs. This repertory was often distributed in print. Melodic accompaniments were frequently exchanged between church and theatre, tavern and procession. The Parisian publisher Ballard published a number of chansonniers in the 18th century containing medleys of popular songs and airs from operas. This publishing enterprise was extended at the time of the French Revolution to include revolutionary and military songs. Numerous sentimental ballads were published during the Restoration period, and most were to be sung to tunes taken from La clé du caveau, published by Ballard in 1811.
It was amid this publishing activity, coinciding with the beginning of song collection, that the concept of regional song emerged. In the four volumes of Essai sur la musique ancienne et moderne (1780), J.B. de Laborde mentioned the origins of the songs he transcribed: Auvergne, Périgord and Brittany. From that time on, musicians imbued regional character to their musics, either in form (the Breton gwerz and sonn, the ébaudes and kiriolées of Bresse, or the Corsican voceri), or in regional dance music (bourrées, montagnardes, the Catalan sardane, the Breton gavotte, the Provençal farandole), or in songs that are symbolic of cultures (e.g. Se canto in Languedoc, Les esclops in the Massif Central, La mère des Huguenots in Angoulême), or finally in terms of rhythm (e.g. the Basque zortziko).
Traditional repertories were adopted once again by musicians and groups in the 1970s, confirming that variation ensures the existence of such repertories. A number of festivals have been created to host traditional music, and the so-called revival of French traditional music is particularly lively and inventive in Brittany. Encouraged by the decentralization law of 1982, the movement now has the benefit of local subsidies and is growing and flourishing.
Parallel to this revival movement, there was renewed interest in the masquerades and ritual music associated with Carnival. Old songs and rounds have been revived in reinvented rituals, such as in Soule, and instruments like the friction drum are now used again in the singing of Christmas carols; the raucous sound of cog-rattles enlivens tintamarres and charivaris, and the cracking of whips accompanies Passiontide songs.
Work songs comprise a repertory extensively analysed by students of folklore; they include reapers’ songs, blacksmiths’ or woodcutters’ songs, sea shanties, songs for vintage time, and chansons de toile sung by women spinning. Lullabies have also received much attention, and new interest in children’s singing games and nursery rhymes has encouraged enthusiastic field research.
France, §II: Traditional music
4. Form and structure.
Apart from the sound of rattles or the blowing of horns in charivaris, where the aim is to produce an unpleasant sound, most traditional instruments are used in dance music. Ex.3 illustrates the basic structure of a quadrille transcribed from a recording made in the Vendée. It was performed on the violin and makes much use of open strings as variable drones, used as percussion to complement a rhythmic ostinato of tapping feet, interrupted by vocal instructions from the instrumentalist to the dancers. Other forms of dances or marches are also accompanied by vocal comments (e.g. the Corsican currente).
The form of most vocal music is strophic. Non-strophic song forms exist, either with a central refrain, refrains without text, or refrains consisting of meaningless phonemes. For instance, in Basque country, particularly in the province of Soule, there is an entire repertory of wordless songs. Single strophes are rare in the sung repertory. On the other hand, enumerative songs are common (Alouette, La Perdriolle), and a decreasing enumeration (generally from eight down to one) is often associated with dance-songs. The lines are usually brief, comprising six or eight syllables, but some songs are organized in decasyllabic metre with individual lines divided into unequal half-lines (6/4 or 4/6), or, less frequently, equal half-lines (5/5). These enumerative forms are governed by the principle of assonance.
Themes of traditional songs draw on historical events, tales, legends, miracles and drama. A number of songs in traditional repertories deal with the state of mind of a bashful or rejected lover, or a fiancé(e) still ecstatically happy or already disappointed. These themes often mingle with local anecdotes, praise of nature, humorous or dramatic situations, and religious subjects. The melodies are very often constructed on timbres, existing tunes not linked to a single text but used to accompany a number of songs. Catholic hymnbooks and Protestant psalters include melodies of popular songs among their tunes, sometimes melodies that are associated with bawdy songs.
The musical structure of songs is generally simple; a single melody is repeated for each stanza, and the refrain is sung to the same musical phrase; it is unusual for the refrain to be sung to a different musical phrase from that of the couplets. Parlando-like sections may also be introduced into songs. Sometimes the melodies even contain imitations of animal noises or of the sounds of certain instruments.
Apart from recitatives in free rhythm, song rhythms are usually the same as the metre of the texts, and the rhythms of dance-songs match the steps of the dance. Most songs are usually syllabic. Melismatic settings have most often been reserved for sacred performance. In all cases, rhythms or styles of utterance are linked to the context of performance, so that the same tune can be used to accompany a lament or a bourrée.
Melodic ranges are variable. A lullaby is usually sung in a narrow range, a romance in a wider range. The most common range is somewhere between a 5th and an octave. Melodic motifs are often built from a succession of small intervals and are of variable length. Most characteristic are dance-songs which are made up of a succession of short phrases.
Formally, ternary structures (e.g. ABA) were most common, perhaps with an element repeated (e.g. AABA). Less frequently there were binary forms or more complex structures (e.g. ABCD). The identification of modal scales has been the subject of debate. While major and minor modes are the most frequent, songs sung in ‘older’ modes, such as the pentatonic, are sometimes found, particularly in the west (Brittany and the Vendée) and in Basque country.
France, §II: Traditional music
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