Music of France


France has long been considered a center for European art and music The country boasts a wide variety of indigenous folk musics, as well styles played by immigrant from Africa, Latin America and Asia. In the field of classical music, France has produced a number of legendary composers, while modern pop music has seen the rise of popular French rock, hip hop, techno/funk, and pop performers.

Folk music

As Europe experienced a wave of roots revivals, France found its regional cultures reviving traditional music. Brittany, Limousin, Gascony, Corsica and Auvergne were among the regions that underwent a popularization of folk music. Traditional styles of music had survived most in remote areas like the island of Corsica and mountainous Auvergne, as well as the more nationalist lands of the Basques and Bretons.

In many cases, folk traditions were revived in relatively recent years to cater to tourists. These groupes folkloriques tend to focus on very early 20th century melodiesand the use of the piano accordion.

Regional folk music

Southern France includes the regions of Provence, Bérn, Rousillon, Gasconyand Languedoc. The Basques, with their own unique culture, are geographically part of this area, but are culturally and ethnically distinct from any of their French or Spanish neighbors. The Occitan language is in use by some musicians, including Jean-Luc Madier and Rosina de Peira.

Central France incudes the regions of Auvergne, Limousin, Morvan, Nivernais, Bourbonnais and Berry The lands are the home to the French bagpipe tradition, as well as the iconic hurdy gurdyand the dance bourrée. There are deep differences between the regions of Central France, with the Auvergne and Limousin retained the most vibrant folk traditions of the area. As an example of the area's diversity, the bourrée can come in two distinct rhythms, 3/8 or 2/3; the latter is found in the south of the region, and is usually improvised with bagpipes and hurdy gurdy, while the former is found in the north and includes virtuoso players.

Provence. The most iconic form of Provencal folk music is a duo of fife and drum, or ensembles of galoubets-tambourins. Performers include Patrice Cornte, Yves Rousguisto and André Gabriel. Provence's diverse communities include Savoy, whose distinct hurdy gurdy tradition has produced the modern band La Kinkerne, the Alpes Maritimes choral tradition, which includes choirs like La Compagnie Vocale and Corous de Berra, and the northern region, which has produced a vibrant violin tradition, Dauphiné's rigaudon dance and performers Rigodon Sauvage, Patrick Mazellier and Drailles.

Rousillon The southwestern region of Rousillon's music is shaped by its unique ethnicities, and includes forms of Catalan and Gypsy music The former includes the sardana and is based around the city of Perpignan. The sardana is played by a band (coble) consisting of three kinds of oboes, flutes and other instrument, including shawms and bagpipes among some recent revivalists. Modern traditional performers include Cobla Mil-Lenaria, La Cobla de Joglars, Els Ministrles del Rossellano and La Colba els Montgrins.

Béarn Béarn's revivalist scene has been quite limited in scope, though it has produced the nationally renowned singer Marilis Orionaa. Traditional instruments from the area include the tambour de Béarn, a six string drum used as a rhythm drone instrument.

Languedoc Languedoc is home to several unusual instruments, including the bodega, a kind of bagpipe, and the aboès and graille, both kinds of oboes. The bodego is made out of goatskin, using an unusual process in which the innards of the animal are removed through the neck so that the entire, unbroken skin can be used for the instrument. It has only one large shoulder drone. The bodega is known from at least the 14th century. Popular traditional groups from Languedoc include Calabrun, Trencavel, Laurent Audemard's Une Anche Passe and Trioc.

Gascony One of the biggest stars of the French roots revival was Perlinpinpin Folc, formed in 1972 and led by Christian Lanau, whose Musique Traditionelle de Gascogne was a popular release that sparked interest in the traditional music of Gascony. Gascon small pipes, called boha (bouhe), are a well-known part of the local scene. They have a rectangular chanter and drone combination, which is unique to Gascon, and are made out of sheepskin with the fleece showing.

Auvergne Auvergne is known for cabrette bagpipes. The cabrette (little goat in Auvergnat) is a bagpipe made of goatskin (goats being an integral part of Auvergnat traditional life) and without drones, blown by elbow-drived bellows. The master Joseph Rouls taught many modern players, including Dominique Paris, Jean Bona and Michel Esbelin. They play both slow airs (regrets) and swift, 3/8 dance music. Joseph Canteloube was a well-known composer from Auvergne in the early 20th century, and produced a famous collection of folk music called Songs of the Auvergne.

Limousin Limousin is known for its violin music, as well as the chabrette bagpipe. Eric Montbel is the biggest star of Limousin folk, while Françoise Etay, Jean Pierre Champeval, Olivier Durif, Valentin Clastrier and Pascal Lefeuvre are also popular. Instruments include the cabrette bagpipe and the ancient army fife, pifre. Limousin violin music, focussed in Corrèze, has produced stars François Etay and Trio Violon, while more modern fiddlers include François Breugnot, Olivier Durif, Jean Pierre Champeval and Jean-François Vrod. The hurdy gurdy in Limousin has been extended to avant-garde styles utilizing electronic music, jazz and other influences, including Pascal Lefeuvre, Dominique Regef and Valentin Clastrier.

Basque The Basques are a unique ethnic group, unrelated to any other in France and with uncertain connections abroad. The main form of Basque folk music is called trikitrixa, which is based on the accordion and includes popular performers like Benat Achiary and Oldarra. The Spanish Basques have had a much more active music scene, especially in the field of traditional music.

Corsica Corsican polyphonic singing is perhaps the most unique of the French regional music varieties. Sung by male trios, it is strongly harmonic and occasionally dissonant. Works can be either spiritual or secular. Modern groups include Canta u Populu Corsu, I Muvrini, Tavagna and Chjami Aghjalesi; some groups have been associated with Corsican nationalism. Corsican musical instruments include the bagpipe (caramusa), 16-stringed lute (cetera), mandolin, fife (pifana) and the diatonic accordion (urganettu).

Brittany Uniquely Celtic in character, Breton folk music has had perhaps the most successful revival of its traditions, partially due to the result of Lorient, France's most popular music festival. The documented history of Breton music begins with the publication of Barzaz-Breizh in 1839. A collection of folk songs compiled by Hersart de la Villemarqué, Barzaz-Breizh helped keep Breton traditions alive. Couple de sonneurs, consisting of a bombarde and biniou, is usually played at festoù-noz celebrations (some are famous, like Printemps de Chateauneuf). It is swift dance music and has an older vocal counterpart called kan ha diskan. Unaccompanied call and response singing was interspersed with gwerz, a form of ballad. Probably the most popular form of Breton folk is the bagad pipe band, which features native instruments like biniou and bombarde alongside drums and, in more modern groups, biniou braz pipes. Modern revivalists include Kevrenn Alre Bagad and Bagad Kemper. Alan Stivell is perhaps the most influential folk-rock performer of continental Europe. After 1971's Renaissance of the Celtic Harp, Breton and other Celtic traditional music achieved mainstream success internationally. With Dan Ar Bras, he then released Chemins de Terre (1974), which launched Breton folk-rock. This set the stage for stars like Malicorne in the ensuing decades. Pure folk of modern Brettany include harpists like Anne-Marie Jan, Anne Auffret and Myrdhin, while singers Kristen Nikolas, Andrea Ar Gouilh and Yann-Fanch Kemener have become mainstream stars. Instrumental bands, however, have been the most successful, including Gwerz, Bleizi Ruz, Strobinell, Sonerien Du and Tud.

Bagpipe and hurdy gurdy

The hurdy gurdy, or vielle-á-roue, is a cross between a violin and a piano accordion. It is made up of a curved, oval body, a set of keys and a curved handle, which is turn and connected to a wheel which bows the strings that are stopped by the keys. There is a moveable bridge, a variable number of drones and hidden sympathetic strings, all of which can also effect the sound. Simpler forms of the hurdy gurdy are also found in Spain, Hungary and Russia.

The bagpipe is found in a wide array of forms in France, which has more diversity in bagpipes than any other country. The cabrette and grande cornemuse from Bourbonnais and Berry are the most well-known. These forms are found at least as far back as the 17th century. Prominent bagpipers include Bernard Blanc, Frédéric Paris and Philippe Prieur, as well as bandleader Jean Blanchard of La Grande Bande de Cornemuses and Quintette de Cornemuses. Frédéric Paris is also known as a member of the Duo Chabenat-Paris, a prominent duo who use elements like mixed polyphonic ensembles and melodies based on the bourrée. Bernard Blanc and Jean Blanchard, along with Eric Montbel from Lyons, were among the musicians who formed the basis of La Bamboche and Le Grand Rouge. It was these two bands who did more than anyone to revitalize the traditions of Central France during the 1970s folk revival. The festival of St. Chartier, a music festival held annually near Chateauroux, has been a focal point for the music of Auvergne and Limousin. The provinces of Morvan and Nivernais have produced some traditional stars, including Faubourg de Boignard and Les Ménétriers du Morvan, respectively. The Nivernais collector Achille Millien was also notable in the early part of the 20th century.


The hurdy gurdy became the basis for bal-musette music, which arrived in Paris by 1880 as a result of Auvergnat migration. The influence of Antoine Bouscatel led to bal-musette incorporating the Italian accordion, which soon came to dominate the music. This is the period that produced internationally known masters like Léon Chanal, Emile Vacher and Martin Cayla. Vacher's light style, rhythmic nature and distinctive tremolo defined the genre for many audiences in France and beyond.




  • (cordofoni) vielle-á-roue - cetera - violin

  • (aerofoni) cabrette - grande cornemuse - biniou, - bombarde - caramusa - pifana - - pifre - bouhe - bodega - aboès - graille - galoubets

  • (ancia libera) urganettu

  • (membranofoni) tambour de Béarn

  • (idiofoni)

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