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Music of France

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.


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, Pascal Lefeuvre and Trio Violon are also popular.


Corsican polyphonic singing is perhaps the most unqiue of the French regional music varieties. Sung by male trios, it is strongly harmonic and occasionally dissonant. Modern groups include Canta u Populu Corsu, I Muvrini, Tavagna and Chjami Aghjalesi.


One of the biggest stars of the French roots revival was Perlinpinpin Folc, whose Musique Traditionelle de Gascogne was a popular release that sparked interest in the traditional music of Gascony. The boha pipes are distinctive as well.

Central France

Central French bagpipe and hurdygurdy music is popular, having been recently given new life by performers like Eric Montbel, Philippe Prieur, Gilles Chabenat and Jean Blanchard.

Auvergne is known for cabrette bagpipes, and its legendary master Joseph Ruols. This is the instrument that 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.


Main article: Music of Brittany

Uniqely 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. It is swift dance music and has an older vocal counterpart called kan ha diskan. Unaccompanied call-and-response singing was intersperesed 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.

Classical music

Some of the earliest manuscripts with polyphony are from 10th century French cities like Chartres and Tours. A group of musicians from the Abbey of St. Martial in Limoges are especially important, as are 12th century Parisian composers like Leonin and Perotin, from whence came the earliest motets. Secular music in medieval France was dominated by troubadours, jongleurs and trouveres, who were poets and musicians known for creating forms like the ballade and lai. The most famous was Adam de la Halle.

In the 14th century, Philippe de Vitry invented an improved system of musical notation and is sometimes said to have invented the isorhythmic motet. The motet was perfected by Guillaume de Machaut.

With the advent of the Renaissance, the musical capital of the French moved from Paris to Burgundy. Guillaume Dufay and Gilles Binchois were especially influential, and popular forms were highly evolved motets and the cyclic mass. French musical domination of Europe ended during the Renaissance, and Flemish and Italian musicians became more important. French composers include Pierre Certon and Jean Mouton. The French chanson became popular during this time, and was imported to Italy as the canzona.

With the arrival of Calvinism, music was greatly simplified. The only form allowed was singing French translations of the Psalms. Starting the with the 17th century, Italian and German opera was the most influential form of music, though French opera composers like Balthasar de Beaujoyeaux, Jean Philippe Rameau and Jean Baptiste Lully made in distinctive national style characterized by ballet, spoken dialogue and a lack of Italian recitative arias.

The Baroque period saw a flourishing of harpsichord music. Influential composers included Jacques Champion de Chambonnières and François Couperin. A composer named Rameau wrote on musical theory, especially in the subject of harmony and he also introduced the clarinet into his orchestras.

During the French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic wars, the Paris Conservatory was established and foreigners like Frederic Chopin flocked to France. The only major French composer of the time was Hector Berlioz.

In the late 1800s, pioneers like Georges Bizet, Jules Massenet, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy revitalized French music. The subsequent 20th century saw neo-classical music flourish in france, especially composers like Albert Roussel, Erik Satie and Les Six, a group of musicians who gathered around Satie. Later in the century, Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Boulez proved influential and incorporated non-native influences.

Popular music

French popular music in the 20th century included singers like superstar Edith Piaf and more art-house musicians like Brigitte Fontaine. American and British rock and roll was also popular in the 1950s and 60s, and indigenous rock achieved some domestic success. Punk rock, heavy metal and, especially, electronic music, found some French listeners. In the latter genre, the French electro-pop band Air and techno artist Laurent Garnier found a wide audience in the late 1990s and early 2000s, both locally and internationally. Algerian rai also found a large French audience, especially Cheb Khaled. Moroccan chaabi and gnawa is also popular. American hip hop music was exported to France in the 1980s, and French rappers and DJs, like MC Solaar, also had some success. (see French hip hop).